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Forward-Thinking Cat Food Formulas

New products introduced at Global Pet Expo meet cat owners’ demands for unique protein sources and grain-free foods.


PPN LLC at Furly's

Today’s cat owners spend as much time worrying about their pets’ nutrition as they do their own—and sometimes more.

“We are seeing pet parents increasingly focus on what goes into their pets’ food and treats as much as they are aware of what is going into their own foods,” said Chanda Leary-Coutu, senior manager of marketing communications for Tewksbury, Mass.-based WellPet. “As pet parents become more aware of what they are eating, they are looking to feed their cats similar, better-for-you ingredients.”

As owners become more discerning about the foods they offer their pets, manufacturers meet their demands with limited ingredient diets, unique protein sources and grain-free formulations. At Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Fla., this March, several companies introduced new products to satisfy the growing trend toward more healthful ingredients and special formulas.

WellPet and Merrick Pet Care were among those companies with new products. WellPet’s offerings included Wellness TruFood Baked Blends Dry Food and Wellness TruFood Healthy Pairings Wet Food, while Merrick introduced a 7-pound size of its Purrfect Bistro dry food and a full line of Limited Ingredient Diets for cats.

“We developed our new Merrick Limited Ingredient Diets because we know pet parents are seeking simplicity in their pets’ diets,” said Pete Brace, vice president of communications and pet parent relations for Amarillo, Texas-based Merrick Pet Care.

The new line of dry and canned cat foods features real meat, poultry or fish as well as the amino acids, vitamins and minerals cats need, he said.

“These new dry and canned recipes keep it simple, with complete and balanced nutrition from a single source of animal protein and the fewest, most essential natural ingredients for pets with food sensitivities,” Brace said. “Like all Merrick recipes, these new recipes are made in the USA in our own kitchens, with no ingredients from China, and they deliver on the quality, nutrition and taste that sensitive pets deserve.”

WellPet’s TruFood line also focuses on natural ingredients, Leary-Coutu said.

“TruFood offers grain-free recipes for cats (as well as dogs) that are made with whole foods from farm, field and sea,” she said, noting that the foods also contain fresh fruits and vegetables as well as antioxidants. “These products are easy to use and easy to access, merging the desires of raw feeding with the convenience pet parents are seeking.”

TruFood dry formulas include raw protein ingredients such as “whole-prey protein and living superfood nuggets,” Leary-Coutu said.

It might have started in the dog food market, but the desire for novel proteins has caught on with cat owners, too.

To answer this call, Evanger’s Dog & Cat Food Co. in Markham, Ill., will release duck and rabbit and quail canned formulas at SuperZoo in Las Vegas in July, said Holly Sher, president.

“Consumers are finally understanding that cats need canned food for moisture,” Sher said.

Made and sourced in the USA cat foods are in high demand as well, Sher noted.

Attracting Attention
As manufacturers introduce new products to meet consumer demand, they also provide tools to help retailers educate and satisfy customers. For example, Natural Balance Pet Foods Inc. offers a range of promotional tools, including off-shelf displays, point-of-sale items and shelf talkers that feature key talking points about the company’s products.

“We recommend that our retailers … create promotional displays on their endcaps, and we encourage them to host promotions,” said Heather Govea, general manager of the Burbank, Calif., company. “Taking advantage of social media platforms is another great way to help retailers get the word out … and encourage sales. Marketing in the digital age allows retailers to quickly find out what consumers want and need and, in turn, respond to their questions and comments efficiently.”

Brace of Merrick emphasized the importance of an appealing pet food display to attract customers’ attention.

“Merchandising goes a long way to captivate cat parents,” he said, noting that manufacturers play a role in such merchandising as the creators of the food’s packaging. In the case of Merrick, Brace said, “the whimsy of the Purrfect Bistro name allows for display impact” and allows store staff to start conversations with customers about the food’s features and ingredients.

Educational Topics
Such conversations become valuable in creating repeat business, said Brent Mayabb, DVM, director of corporate affairs for St. Charles, Mo.-based Royal Canin USA. Retailers can enhance these opportunities by educating staff members about the nutritional needs of cats.

“It’s important for store owners to ensure that their employees are aware of and understand specific health issues in cats,” he said. “By understanding [these issues], a retailer becomes a point of reference, and cat owners can be confident they are choosing the right cat food for their cat.”

Leary-Coutu of WellPet said employees also should know the basics about each food’s label.

“A key approach to training employees on food labeling is understanding the order in which ingredients are listed, where the ingredients are sourced, and what the nutritional value and health benefits of these various ingredients are,” she said. “Pet owners are becoming savvier when it comes to reading labels, and they are looking for healthful, nutritious food and treats for their four-legged friends.”

Armed with this information, store staff can help customers find the foods that will best meet their cats’ nutritional needs. After all, as Brace noted, as cat owners become more knowledgeable, they seek better nutrition for their pets.

“Interest in natural, limited ingredient diets for pets is on the rise as pet parents seek the simplicity of [such] diets,” he said. “Limited ingredient diets now account for 8 percent of the natural pet food segment, according to GFK data, and [that] is expected to increase.”  

This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of Pet Product News

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