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The Writing’s on the Cat Specialty Food Bag

Consumers want details when it comes to food and supplements that target specific health needs in cats.



Cat specialty foods and supplements have made a lasting impact on the market, and the category continues to grow. Owners are becoming increasingly cognizant of their cats’ health. As the consumer demand for foods and supplements that target specific needs grows, manufacturers are responding with new products.

Tom Rogers, owner of Panhandle Pet Supply in Tallahassee, Fla., said he’s seeing a surge of interest in nonprescription cat specialty foods at his store. Consumers, he said, are looking for specifics when it comes to the food’s purpose.

“When I started out in this industry, we had feline, feline light and kitten [foods],” Rogers said. “Now we see everything, and there’s no question the consumer demand is there for it. It’s not enough to just have the ingredients that manage a problem—they want it spelled out on the bag. And ‘hairball management’ isn’t enough. They want ‘indoor hairball and weight management.’ It’s gotten very specific.”

Alison Schwartz, manager of All Pets Considered in Greensboro, N.C., said she’s seeing the same demand for specificity—and for details to be clearly written on the bag.

“We had a formula that had more fiber and was well suited for hairball control, but that wasn’t enough,” Schwartz said. “Consumers want to see it say ‘hairball control’ on the package. Besides hairball, foods formulated for urinary tract health are also big sellers.”


What’s New in Specialty Foods and Supplements

Several new products have joined the cat specialty category. Feline Caviar in Norco, Calif., has launched Open Range Grain Free Entrée for Cats and Kittens. The new buffalo formula is a limited-ingredient diet intended for short- and long-haired cats and hairball control, said owner Jeff Baker. It is the perfect addition to the company’s current product line, as it is consistent with Feline Caviar’s belief in protein rotation, which gives cats or kittens a different amino acid profile and maintains an overall healthy immune system, Baker said.

In response to the ever-increasing issue of obesity and the lack of awareness among pet owners that their cats are in fact overweight or obese, In Clover in Boulder, Colo., launched Svelte to help support feline fitness, said Courtney Taylor, director of customer care and marketing.

“Svelte contains natural active ingredients proven to burn fat and build muscle, helping overweight cats shed the extra pounds and allowing healthy felines to maintain an appropriate weight,” Taylor said.

The vitamin and supplement market also continues to grow for cats. Tomlyn, a division of Vetoquinol, in Fort Worth, Texas, recently launched multivitamins for cats that will help maintain their overall health and keep them in peak condition, said Tabitha Cromer, marketing manager. The multivitamins are a great source of vitamin E, digestive enzymes, omega 3 and selenium for immune support, Cromer said.


Educating on Specialty Foods and Supplements

“The first step to educating the consumer is educating the retailer,” said Courtney Taylor, director of customer care and marketing for In Clover in Boulder, Colo. “Store owners should foster a culture of ongoing learning. Reach out to your vendors to ask for regular training. Once employees feel comfortable with products’ ingredients and how they work, educating the consumer will be a breeze.

“To complement an educated staff, use in-store signage to call attention to cat health issues and products by highlighting factoids, sharing customer success stories and posing questions to spark conversations.”

Alison Schwartz, manager of All Pets Considered in Greensboro, N.C., agreed that educating the consumer begins with staff training. With the number of foods on the market these days, it can get confusing. That’s why Schwartz created a go-to short list so that the sales staff always knows the right product to recommend.

“This short list includes the foods that we would recommend for various needs that a customer might come in with,” Schwartz said. “We keep a copy of the list behind the counter as well as in several easy-to-access spots in the store. Of course, we have regular meetings and keep staff up-to-date on all the foods, but that information often changes, and when you’re put on the spot, sometimes it’s easier to have a list to reference.”


Displaying Specialty Foods and Supplements

More often than not, cat products are relegated to the back corners of the store, said Courtney Taylor, director of customer care and marketing for In Clover in Boulder, Colo. But Taylor suggested that moving cat items to more visible areas is important as the demand grows.

“Create fun displays centered on current events or specific health issues such as dental care, litterbox issues, shedding or hairball solutions,” Taylor said.

Alison Schwartz, manager of All Pets Considered in Greensboro, N.C., agreed that having some fun with a theme or display can be an effective way to promote cat wellness. This past February, her store called the month “Furbruary” and spent an entire month promoting cat health needs.

“Cats do have really specific needs, and customers can forget that since they tend to be an easygoing pet,” Schwartz said.

Mike Palmer, owner of Premier Pet Supply in Beverly Hills, Mich., has found that cat owners might initially be reluctant to think their cat could have specific health needs.

“The reality is that cats are a pretty low-maintenance pet, and, as a result, their owners often assume they’re fine as long as they aren’t seeing an outward problem,” Palmer said. “But just like other pets, they do have specific health needs. We’re not a pushy store, so we aim to find ways to bring up a conversation, whether it is through signage or just some simple suggestions.”

Glenda Bone, owner of Gallery of Pets in Austin, Texas, said specialty foods are displayed in the very front of all the cat food. She agreed with other retailers on the fact that some cat owners are reluctant to try something new and said those who own many cats might feel like they already “know it all.” But by placing the food in the front, it at least catches the consumer’s eye and might prompt them to consider it, she said.


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

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