Raw Cat Food Increasing in Popularity
From frozen food to freeze-dried offerings, feeding (and selling) raw cat food has never been so convenient.
Often, cats need time to adjust to the texture of raw diets before they find them palatable.
Stocking raw cat food is a no brainer for Miles Rowland, manager of Tomlinson’s Pets’ Westlake store in Austin, Texas.
“As we learned more about the benefits of raw, we started carrying it and recommending it to every customer,” he said. “And once [the customers] see the difference that a raw diet makes in their cat’s health, there’s no going back.”
Indeed, raw cat food continues to increase in popularity with cat owners as they learn more about the benefits of such diets.
“They’re drawn to raw food because it’s the most natural form of nutrition and it mirrors what cats would eat in nature,” said Eric Emmenegger, senior brand manager of the Instinct line of foods offered by Nature’s Variety in St. Louis. “The raw cat food market has been growing rapidly and clearly outpacing the general cat food market. We have been realizing growth rates in excess of 30 percent annually.”
Ward Johnson, owner and president of Minneapolis-based Sojos, reported similar gains in sales of the company’s freeze-dried-raw cat food products.
“We find that consumer adoption of innovations in cat nutrition tend to follow dog products by two to three years,” he said. “That’s definitely been the case with our raw diets. The sales of Sojos Complete dog recipes have exploded in recent years, and now, as expected, we’re seeing the leading edge of a similar surge in cat interest.”
Increased owner awareness of cats’ nutritional needs has contributed to that surge, said Lee Hessenthaler, director of marketing for Milwaukee-based Stella & Chewy’s.
“As pet owners become more educated and concerned with nutrition for their families, they are beginning to extend this philosophy to their pets,” Hessenthaler said. “They are more aware of the importance of quality ingredients and the benefits of feeding a proper diet to their pets.”
Sales of Freeze-Dried Pet Foods
January to August 2014 ... 43.8% Growth
Recognizing the surge, retailers are selling more raw diets in their stores and increasing their knowledge about the foods’ compelling features. Tomlinson’s Pets stocks diets from Nature’s Variety, Radagast Pet Food, Vital Essentials and Primal Pet Foods, Rowland said.
Furry Face in Redlands, Calif., also carries a range of raw foods.
“We carry predominantly wet and raw cat foods,” said owner Lorin Grow. “We encourage variety and rotational feeding. What makes a cat finicky is boredom, lack of palatability and no change in routine.”
To that end, manufacturers offer a range of protein combinations and raw food types, from frozen nuggets and kibble to freeze-dried kibble and meal mixers.
The Instinct line offered by Nature’s Variety contains several raw food types, such as raw frozen diets, freeze-dried-raw meals, Raw Boost Kibble and Raw Boost Minis treats.
“Instinct has made it very easy for pet parents to feed their cats the way nature intended by offering a wide variety of raw solutions,” Emmenegger said.
Know the Facts
Retailers make sure cat owners have all the facts about raw cat foods before they choose the food that will work best for them and their pets. At Wylie Wagg, a chain of stores in Virginia and Washington, D.C., employees engage customers in conversation to learn their pets’ specific needs.
“Our customer-service model is based on personal consultation and discussion,” said owner Laura Clark. “We focus heavily on educating our teams and promoting individual assessment of a customer’s issue rather than leaving it to chance that the customer will choose the right option.”
Other retailers follow similar customer service models with success. The staff at Tomlinson’s Pets receives extensive training on pet nutrition in order to point customers to appropriate solutions, and employees often feed new foods to their own pets, Rowland said.
|Sales of Refrigerated/Frozen Pet Foods in the U.S.|
January to August 2014 ... 17% Growth
“We can pass on what we learn to customers and personally vouch for each product we recommend,” he added.
Many stores also send customers home with brochures and pamphlets for additional education. At Furry Face, employees encourage cat owners to conduct further research.
“The more research one does, the more the facts become undeniable,” Grow said.
Understanding the need for education and research, Primal Pet Foods in San Francisco offers informative brochures and directs retailers and customers to its website for more information. The company also invites retailers and consumers to ongoing educational seminars that allow for direct question-and-answer sessions with Primal representatives, said Matt Koss, president and founder of the San Francisco company.
“At Primal, our marketing philosophies are based on properly educating consumers as to the benefits of feeding a raw food diet to their companion animals,” Koss said. “When a consumer is well-informed about the nutritional benefits of feeding raw, they can feel more comfortable in their decision to try an alternative feeding program.”
|Sampling Helps Picky Eaters|
Heard the one about the finicky cat? A cat’s reputation for turning up its nose at mealtime can make cat owners reluctant to invest in raw food diets.
“Most cats can be transitioned to an ultra-healthful diet, but it takes time and patience on the part of the pet parent,” said Ward Johnson, owner and president of Minneapolis-based Sojos. “That can be difficult to sell to a cat owner who puts initial appetite appeal above long-term health considerations.”
That’s where sampling can help.
“We provide free samples for all of our products,” Johnson said, adding that Sojos also is “exploring options for expanding our cat food line with new formulations that are more broadly appealing to finicky eaters.”
Wylie Wagg, which has stores in Virginia and Washington, D.C., makes it a point to offer customers a wide range of free samples.
“Cats can be particular about what foods they will eat,” said owner Laura Clark. “It can be very beneficial for the owners to be able to try several options before making a purchase.”—SNH
This article originally appeared in the May 2015 issue of Pet Product News