The Demand for Domestic
Today’s cat owners are looking for nutrient-rich foods and treats that are reputably sourced and made.
Today’s cat owners are discerning when it comes to nutrition for their pets, and they are studying ingredient panels, researching sourcing, and scrutinizing manufacturer practices when making food and treat selections. For many, products that are sourced and made in the USA top the list.
“Demand for USA sourced and made, as well as quality, all-natural products in general, has been steadily on the rise for the past five-plus years,” said Melinda Miller, CEO of Bravo Pet Foods in Manchester, Conn. “This demand is being driven by well-educated consumers who only want to feed foods and treats that are going to benefit the overall health and wellness of their companion animals.”
Sales of fresh-frozen raw diets and single-ingredient all-meat treats in the cat food category are holding steady, as they align nicely with the current consumer demand for products that are sourced and made in the USA, according to Miller.
Cat owners are searching for the safest, cleanest products to feed their pets and feel that USA manufacturing practices are regulated more stringently than those in many parts of the world, said Adrian Pettyan, CEO and co-founder of Caru Pet Food Co. in Vero Beach, Fla.
“The migration to made in USA feline diets has accelerated in recent years and shows no sign of slowing down,” Pettyan said. “Consumers are savvier about the difference between products that are both sourced and processed domestically and products prepared with overseas ingredients.”
Selecting products that are made in the USA serves as a safety check for consumers, said Glenn A. Novotny, president and CEO of Emerald Pet Products in Walnut Creek, Calif.
“Made in the USA helps to reassure the consumer the stringent standards are being followed in correspondence with U.S. regulations,” he said.
This month, Emerald Pet Products introduced Wholly Fish! cat treats, chicken-free and poultry-free crunchy treats made using salmon and tuna. They are available in limited-ingredient formulas in Salmon and Tuna flavors, and available with ginger root plus turmeric in Digestive Health formulas.
“These easy-to-feed cat treats were created in response to our customers’ requests for a clean-feeding, fish-based treat that does not include any poultry ingredients,” Novotny said. “We are excited to offer our Wholly Fish! treats as an alternative to feeding messy freeze-dried or wet fish treat options.”
Both star- and fish-shaped treats are included in each bag. The treats are made in the USA, and they are free from grains, gluten, soy and dairy.
At Animal Connection in Charlottesville, Va., the call for USA-made consumables is strong, said owner Pattie Boden.
“My customers only want USA-made food products with as many organic, human-grade ingredients as possible,” Boden said. “Our store’s recommendation is raw food, but we also stock dehydrated, freeze-dried and canned options with the most protein possible.”
Animal Connection’s kibble offerings have very high meat inclusion, she said, and best-selling treats are freeze-dried pieces of meat.
However, demographics can play a role in the call for USA-made products.
At Flying M Feed Co. in Houston, owner Trace Menchaca reported seeing little demand for USA sourcing and/or manufacturing in cat food.
“Our cat customers do not care where their cat food comes from,” she said. “It’s amazing, but they just don’t have the interest or knowledge like our dog customers. We are always giving away free cans of cat food to our customers because we really believe in adding wet to a cat’s diet.”
Conversely, in Redlands, Calif., Lorin Grow, owner of Furry Face, noted that cat owners are seeking the best for their pets and often want to improve their cats’ diets. They have a tendency to be even more specific in food and treat selections, including when it comes to sourcing, for their cats than for their dogs, she said.
“Cats rule the worlds of their people, and most are extremely picky, which makes their owners much more involved in every detail of their feeding,” Grow said.
Meeting the Challenge
Cat food manufacturers assert that they are stepping up to ensure food safety, nutritional efficacy and the integrity of ingredient suppliers for consumers.
“Let’s start with the benefits of sourcing locally,” said Melinda Miller, CEO of Bravo Pet Foods in Manchester, Conn. “Doing so provides an oversight advantage in that it is easier to get face time with suppliers and to check out their operation and ingredients firsthand.”
When raw ingredient suppliers are USA based, it is easier to find entities whose standards align with Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) standards. This proximity also allows manufacturers to keep a better handle on the quality of raw ingredients received, and it allows them to purchase from suppliers whose products have been U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspected and approved, Miller said.
“One of the greatest challenges in sourcing domestic raw ingredients are the fluctuations in market pricing and the availability of those ingredients due to overall market demand,” she added. “Salmon and poultry are good examples, as these ingredients are in very high demand on the human side.”
Thus, pricing for both has been rising, Miller said.
Another challenge manufacturers face in sourcing all ingredients locally is that some of the best-quality ingredients—for example, spices and/or vitamins and minerals—can only be found outside of the USA in countries rich in those particular resources, according to manufacturers.
“Any manufacturer can make a product that is completely USA sourced,” Miller said. “In doing so, the decision then becomes, do you source it all in the USA and run the risk of sacrificing some quality? Or do you choose best-in-class ingredients from reputable suppliers?”
Overall, manufacturers agreed that transparency regarding the provenance of all ingredients, and why some might be sourced from particular countries, is important.
“Certain ingredients are certainly in short supply within the borders of the United States,” said Adrian Pettyan, CEO and co-founder of Caru Pet Food Co. in Vero Beach, Fla. “But we believe it’s important to sacrifice profit margins sometimes to produce a no-compromise product line with quality pet parents can trust.”
Consumer Education & Merchandising
Guiding the Product Selection Process
Retailers can turn more cat owners on to consumables that are sourced and made in the USA by pointing out why these products are a good fit for their pets, according to industry insiders.
Education is the most cost-effective return on investment a retailer can make, said Melinda Miller, CEO of Bravo Pet Foods in Manchester, Conn.
“We work closely with our retailers to provide education, and impart the benefits of ingredient sourcing and product quality,” Miller said. “Our retailers, in turn, help to educate pet owners.”
Pattie Boden, owner of Animal Connection in Charlottesville, Va., noted that a well-educated sales staff makes for outstanding marketing.
“Although shelf talkers and brochures are helpful, our staff is our best sales tool,” Boden said. “We find that our customers prefer to speak with a person and spend a lot of time interacting and gaining confidence.”
Helping consumers to choose products that fit their preferences and explaining the benefits is key, Miller said.
“It has been our experience that successful retailers have an educated staff that is able to point out three or four products to match the customer’s need and to explain what makes each brand different,” Miller added. “Retailers able to do this effectively are not only going to get the sale, but they’re going to earn customer satisfaction and loyalty.”
Boden added that retailers that conduct product research and select the best choices available in the market will bolster consumer trust.
In terms of merchandising, retailers have plenty of flexibility, manufacturers and retailers agreed.
Holding a special promotion will focus attention on select brands, said Adrian Pettyan, CEO and co-founder of Caru Pet Food Co. in Vero Beach, Fla.
Resourceful retailers might also consider grouping products together in a “sourced and made in USA” section within the cat food aisle, Pettyan added.
This type of display makes it easier for customers searching for USA-made products, noted Miller, and it can also generate interest from shoppers who might not have considered these products before.
“From the retailer perspective, it helps with consumer education as like products are all within reach, making it easier to compare across brands,” Miller said.
Glenn A. Novotny, president and CEO of Emerald Pet Products in Walnut Creek, Calif., recommends a different approach.
“Create a merchandising display themed around healthier options in the food and treat category,” he said. “At Emerald Pet, we feel drawing attention to USA is not enough to warrant a change for a consumer to feed premium foods and treats. Relaying the importance of proper nutrition and healthy ingredients, backed up by USA manufacturing, is the key to converting customers to a healthier diet. It starts with nutrition and is reinforced with the made in USA quality assurance.”