Secret sauce? Target again refuses to name the ‘expert’ veterinarians involved with new in-house pet food brand Kindful — or even to name the manufacturer

After a series of email exchanges with officials at Target (TGT) over several days including executive vice president Katie Boylan regarding the Minneapolis, MN-based company’s just-launched pet food brand Kindful, company spokesman Konnor Schmaltz told TCR late Monday that the company would decline to name any veterinarian who was involved in any capacity with the research and development of Kindful, which includes 50 dry dog and cat dry foods, canned foods, meal toppers, and treats. The company also refused to name the entity responsible for manufacturing the food.

CEO Brian Cornell did not return our email request for comment.

In its “Guidelines for Selecting Pet Foods,” a resource your own veterinarian likely keeps at the ready in a stack of hard copy printouts for clients, the World Small Animal Veterinary Association notes:

“If the manufacturer cannot or will not provide any of this information, veterinarians and owners should be cautious about feeding that brand [World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA), Guidelines for Selecting Pet Foods].”

 TCR’s inquiries to Target – which has joined a growing list of retailers getting their paws into the booming $42 billion US pet food market — began last Thursday morning with the same questions we ask every pet food brand. Our questions draw largely from the World Small Animal Veterinary Association’s Guidelines on Selecting Pet Foods, a resource that the vast majority of general practice veterinarians keep at the ready for clients when questions arise, as they so often do, about a particular food or diet. The guidelines offer a map for any pet owner (or reporter) whose objective is to evaluate a pet food product. Does the company employ a nutritionist? What is that person’s name and credentials? Is there research on the product and is it published in peer-reviewed journals? Who makes the food?

We received no responses initially and continued to follow up with more senior officers. On Saturday, company spokesman Konnor Schmaltz responded to our requests for names saying, “We don’t share these specifics.” He continued:

“What I’m happy to share is that Target’s in-house owned brand and design team created Kindfull to offer affordable, healthy options that are better for their dogs and cats. Our in-house team worked with pet food and nutrition experts for over a year developing this new brand.

 Also, all Kindfull foods, treats, and dry toppers are developed by scientists and pet food experts with training and experience in pet food product development, manufacturing, nutrition, food safety, quality, and regulations.”

As we explained, however, TCR’s policies and standards require that we independently confirm any knowable, checkable information and that without the names of the “pet food experts” and “scientists,” we would be unable to do that checking.

True, it is sometimes the case that pet food companies do not wish to provide the public with research, development, or production specifics such as names of nutritionists or names of manufacturing facilities. However, no company we have covered until Target has fully declined to provide any such details. The Farmer’s Dog provided its manufacturer’s name to us on the condition that the information would not be for publication, but we were able to do the requisite cross-checking. And to the credit of Trupanion’s leaders, the pet insurer’s still-in-the-works but highly anticipated pet food venture Landspath, like its parent company, has been an open book throughout the course of a long-term reporting project. Not only do we have names, but we have also been able to speak with many of them at length and fully on record. In fact, only one individual, the company’s lead vet-nutrition consultant Rebecca Remillard, has declined repeated requests to speak. Yet we know her name and we were able to confirm that she is involved, which is certainly more than can be said for Kindful.

Following that information-less Saturday statement, Schmaltz, the press aide for Target, pledged to come back to us on Tuesday to address specific questions about the production of the food.

Since the launch occurred on Sunday, we felt it was appropriate to proceed with a story over the weekend noting the launch and outlining the information that we still had not received. Our plan was to follow-up on Tuesday with the additional information promised by the company.

The good news is that Target communications officer Konnor Schmaltz got back to us on Monday night, not Tuesday. The bad news is that what we got was pure pablum. Nothing specific. Would you buy food for yourself – or your dog – if this is all you knew about it?  

“As with all of Target’s owned brands, guests will find quality, value and ease as they shop for Kindfull in our stores or online. We are committed to safety and high-quality products. We worked alongside board-certified veterinarian nutritionists and our vendor partners for over a year to ensure Kindfull met the expectations established by AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) and the needs of our guests. Guests can  head to Target.com to learn more.”