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‘Voluntary Code’ starts to bite
Major players respond to ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ over sponsorship

ALMOST ONE year on from the regulation change passed last June by the KC General Committee with regard to entries in the Pedigree Stakes’ classes, and after a 'summit' meeting of pet food manufacturers earlier this year, Purina has announced that it is to dissolve its exclusive Gold Club for breeders.

Following hard on its heels came a statement from Pedigree reopening the entry to their Pedigree Champion, Veteran and Breeder Stakes to ‘all exhibitors who now operate within the voluntary code of conduct’.

The regulation change passed last June by the Kennel Club General Committee with reference to entries in the Pedigree Stakes’ classes was a spirited response to the challenges Pedigree had received from aggressive marketing and advertising campaigns by other large manufacturers.

From mid June 2005 if an exhibitor had an exclusive contract with another food manufacturer, they could not enter Pedigree’s stakes’ classes at championship shows. The new rules were clear enough although the company, quite rightly, had the good grace to honour existing qualifiers from the first half of 2005.

Last March we saw an extension of this with an agreed voluntary code between the ‘big six’ food manufacturers involved in show scene sponsorship.

There is little doubt that sponsorship is here to stay. Pedigree support of shows (excluding Crufts) must cost it upwards of £2m per year. In the 35 years since Pedigree really began to work with the world of dogs in the UK, its breeder service and its elite and dedicated sales force has maintained important links with successful exhibitors and has been a model for other countries and other companies to follow. Their success and strength was demonstrated by this change in the show regulations.

The subject of ‘contractual sponsorship’ has had its benefits in recent years and has tempted many successful breeders, exhibitors and judges. They are not only offered food at advantageous rates but in many cases companies also take care of ‘breeder advertising’ in much the same way as some food companies on the continent offer branded adverts and heavily branded business cards. Overseas’ travel for some group and best in show winners was also a major attraction.

OUR DOGS expressed concern last year that this natural commercial competition had overspilled onto the showground. ‘Contracted’ exhibitors should only be allowed to serve one master. It was said at the time that those who until now have been able to hunt with the hounds and run with the hare will have to make a choice.

Almost 12 months ago the Kennel Club announced a review of the sponsorship of individuals by companies. What we now have is a consensus and an agreed voluntary code of conduct between six of the UK’s leading pet food manufacturers, which are actively involved in the sponsorship of dog shows, regarding the effect of such sponsorship on Kennel Club licensed shows.

Last March the KC press release said:

‘Following discussions with the Kennel Club Chairman, Ronnie Irving, and Chief Executive, Rosemary Smart, the Managing Directors of Pedigree Masterfoods, Nestle Purina, Iams, Royal Canin, Arden Grange and Hill’s have agreed the code of conduct which is aimed at protecting the integrity of shows.

‘The Kennel Club is concerned with the effect that sponsorship has had on other sports, particularly with regard to fragmentation of competition and over-commercialism. The Kennel Club is determined that this should not happen in the world of dogs and that all participants should be able to benefit from the generosity of pet food manufacturers in a broad sense.

‘To address these concerns, the Kennel Club has sought to achieve an agreement on a code of conduct regarding the sponsorship of participants at shows, which has now been adopted by the six manufacturers listed above.

‘This code will be further communicated to other pet food companies through the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association.

‘The voluntary code of conduct agreed is as follows:

1. To stop arrangements which contain continuing obligations on the part of a breeder/exhibitor/handler to endorse a product by requiring exclusive feeding claims and/or exclusivity on the use of photographs.

2. To avoid any monetary payments being made to individuals.

3. To stop aggressive recruiting of potential product endorsers at shows and events.

4. To advise against the wearing of branded clothing by exhibitors in the ring/at events.

5. To advise against the wearing of branded clothing by judges when officiating at a show or event.

‘Furthermore, in respect of Crufts, it has been agreed by all sponsoring pet food manufacturers that no direct approaches will be made to exhibitors or competitors to solicit sponsorship contracts. The Kennel Club believes that this will make the experience of Crufts and other shows more enjoyable for exhibitors and in particular for Best of Breed winners.’

On the face of it we said at the time that the decision to agree the code came just in time. We have seen some interpretation and implementation in past months and last week Nestlé Purina PetCare (UK) Limited announced an extensive review of its breeder strategy, including its investment in breeder support programmes and related events:

‘Further to this review, Nestlé Purina PetCare will no longer be sponsoring individual breeders and their dogs. As a result, its Gold Club for breeders will be dissolved as of 31st July 2006. Nestlé Purina PetCare will also be reviewing its future attendance at Championship Shows.

Neil Thompson, National Breeder Manager of Pedigree Masterfoods told us:

‘The rule that was put in place last year, in conjunction with the Kennel Club, was as follows:

‘The Pedigree® Champion Stakes, The Pedigree® Veteran Stakes and The Pedigree® Breeder Stakes competitions are open for entry to all exhibitors, excluding Mars employees and their families and those exhibitors who have chosen to have an exclusive feeding or advertising arrangement with any other pet food manufacturer.

‘With the Kennel Club recently agreeing a voluntary code of conduct with the leading manufacturers prohibiting exclusive feeding or advertising arrangements, all exhibitors who now operate within the voluntary code of conduct are eligible to enter the Pedigree Champion, Veteran and Breeder Stakes.’