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Giving Cats What They Crave

Cat owners are finally giving the raw food category a chance, in part thanks to the ancestral diets trend.


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The trend toward raw cat food has not only emerged, but it’s grown, with consumers seeking a more healthful, raw food diet for their cats. 

Despite faster growth on the canine side, Alison Schwartz, manager of All Pets Considered in Greensboro, N.C., reported steadily increasing demand for a raw cat diet among her customers. As they hear more about it, they come in wanting to know how it can benefit their pet and whether they should make the switch.

Samantha Henson, a certified clinical pet nutritionist and merchandising manager at Premier Pet Supply, which has stores in Michigan, agreed and said that interest in raw diets for cats has steadily increased in her area as well. Once customers begin to understand the benefits, they want to learn more.

“Cats benefit from raw diets because it is so close to what their bodies were meant to have in the first place,” Henson said. “Nearly all cats can thrive on a raw diet.” 

The interest in more healthful ingredients and whole foods appears to be driving this trend.

“Pet parents want to see simplification of ingredients, meaning real, whole-food ingredients similar to what they’d eat themselves,” said Tracey Hatch-Rizzi, vice president and co-founder of Radagast Pet Food Inc. in Portland, Ore. “People are really learning about what ‘ancestral diets’ truly are, and the general trend is toward our pets eating an evolutionary diet—or as close as consumers can get to that and still fit their budget. For cats, that’s a raw diet.”

Trends in the raw cat food category mirror those in human foods and the dog food category, said Bette Schubert, co-founder and senior vice president of sales, new product development and education for Bravo Pet Foods in Manchester, Conn.

“Consumers are seeking more healthful diets based on products made from whole food and quality ingredients,” Schubert said. “Some of the leading drivers behind the increased interest in raw foods are the desire for a high-quality diet that will benefit the overall health and wellness [of cats], as well as the fact that so many of our companion animals suffer from allergies, have become overweight or suffer from other medical conditions.”

In response to consumer demand for alternative, exotic protein selections for their pets, Fairfield, Calif.-based Primal Pet Foods Inc. extended its freeze-dried raw line to include Freeze-Dried Feline Venison formula, said Matt Koss, president.

Consumers also take care when selecting treats to complement their cats’ diets.

“Treats are now being recognized as an extension of a cat’s daily diet,” said Ward Johnson, co-founder of Sojos in Minneapolis. “As healthful, raw diets continue to gain traction, so does the demand for raw treat options. And human-grade, freeze-dried treats are at the forefront.” 

 

Displaying Raw Cat Food

Getting creative when it comes to selling raw cat food can pose a challenge—particularly for frozen products. The most fundamental thing that retailers can do is upgrade their older freestanding freezer to one of the newer glass-front units, said Bette Schubert, co-founder and senior vice president of sales, new product development and education for Bravo Pet Foods in Manchester, Conn.

“This allows the customer to shop the category and quickly find what they’re looking for,” Schubert said. “The newer freezers have increased storage capacity, which allows for less restocking. It tells the customer that the store is serious about its commitment to raw diets and healthful pet foods. This is why we offer a freezer program to help cover the cost of the upgrade.”

If retailers don’t have glass-front freezers, it is important to draw attention to frozen raw foods in other ways. Tracey Hatch-Rizzi, vice president and co-founder of Radagast Pet Food Inc. in Portland, Ore., said that using empty packages on shelving or close to the register can bring attention to what is sometimes “hidden” back in the freezer section.

“Having colorful and informative signage for freezers is always helpful for stores that don’t have glass-front merchandisers,” Hatch-Rizzi added. “It really draws the eye to an otherwise white freezer and encourages conversation about what is waiting for them behind the door.”

 

Educating Consumers on Raw Cat Food

Raw is one of those categories for which consumers tend to have a lot of questions. Matt Koss, president of Primal Pet Foods Inc. in Fairfield, Calif., said that pet owners new to the category often need significant guidance and education about the mechanics and benefits of feeding raw to their pets.

“A better understanding and true commitment to feeding raw is best achieved through direct experience,” Koss said. “Thus Primal invests heavily in educating our retail partners as well as their staff. Many successful transitions start from a sales associate’s recommendation.”

Tracey Hatch-Rizzi, vice president and co-founder of Radagast Pet Food Inc. in Portland, Ore., agreed that a majority of pet owners receive their education through the retailer; therefore, it is incredibly important that store employees are knowledgeable about the products.

“Many pet parents think that all raw cat foods are mostly the same, but that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Hatch-Rizzi said. “It really helps for store employees to understand the differences between brands and to be able to help customers find a raw food that fits their cat’s needs best.”

In addition to questions, it’s not uncommon for consumers to express concerns. Darrell Perkins, co-owner of Fin & Feather Pet Center in Richmond, Va., said that his customers sometimes have concerns about salmonella or other bacteria. Since receiving some negative press as a result of the American Veterinary Medical Association and U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s stance on feeding raw, concerns about pathogens are the biggest worry, Perkins said.

“Education is really critical in this category,” Perkins said. “It’s important that staff is knowledgeable, as consumers do have a lot of questions—mostly about safety.”

Alison Schwartz, manager of All Pets Considered in Greensboro, N.C., agreed, and added that misinformation is prevalent when it comes to understanding a raw diet. Her staff works to educate consumers about how pets digest bacteria and are much better built to handle it than humans. Aside from safety concerns, most of the other questions her staff receives are about how to make the transition. In order to guide consumers, retailers must first be educated themselves, she said.

Ward Johnson, co-founder of Sojos in Minneapolis, said that while making the leap can be intimidating, if cat owners are worried about frozen raw, then freeze-dried might make for an easier transition.

“Pet specialty retailers should be ready to explain that freeze-dried alternatives combine the shelf-stable convenience of customers’ current kibble or canned foods with the superior nutrition of raw,” Johnson said. “And while they’re at it, remind consumers that shelf-stable raw treats can provide many of the same nutritional benefits.”

Consumers might consider freeze-dried foods to be a pricey option, but Johnson noted that because the pet owner isn’t paying for water, freeze-dried foods actually are quite affordable.

 

This article originally appeared in the July 2016 issue of Pet Product News.

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