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Creating Cat Healthful Cuisine

Posted: June 21, 2011, 2 p.m., EDT

Sizzling Stock: Cat Food

New, natural and grain-free ingredients are among the leading trends in feline diet formulas.

By Janet Randall

As the market continues to prioritize pet health, cat food manufacturers respond with products that not only meet high nutritional standards but also accommodate choosy feline eating behavior.

All-natural and Grain-free

“Grain-free is a continuing trend, and I believe it will be strong for many years to come,” said Anthony Giudice, national sales manager for Weruva, in Natick, Mass. “Anytime there is a strong category in the industry, it only serves to further the concept. And the tight economy may have hit the organic segment, but hasn’t seemed to affect the healthy/natural trend. Weruva’s growth can only be described as explosive.”

Weruva just released their very first line extension, “Weruva Presents Cats in the Kitchen,” which are all grain-free.
 
Guidice predicted that the next phase in cat food trends will be low-carbohydrate varieties.

“Since cats are obligate carnivores, they don’t metabolize carbohydrates as well as dogs,” he added.

Fromm Family Foods LLC in Mequon, Wis., dedicated to pet health and nutrition, according to Lauren Grimm, PR director, has also grown.

Retailers have more options than ever before when it comes to deciding which healthful cat foods to stock on their shelves.
Retailers have more options than ever before when it comes to deciding which healthful cat foods to stock on their shelves. 
Photo Courtesy of Natural Balance
“We are opening a new factory in Madison, Wis., in June, which will enable us to meet increasing production demands and conduct greater product development,” she said.

Tom Nieman, CEO and owner of Fromm doesn’t see the grain-free trend letting-up either.

“The grain-free trend is one that shouldn’t be ignored.  It’s important to listen to what your customers want. Today’s customers are savvier and definitely more plugged into understanding good health and nutrition. Our grain-free entrees have quickly become one of our most successful new product launches,” Nieman reported.

Fromm’s newest product, Surf and Turf, is a grain-free, dry formula.

“With the internet, people can further research, discuss topics and form personal relationships with brands and other pet parents, Nieman continued. ‘Using the Internet allows them to search for the best nutritional options, which means our company must remain highly motivated to continually turn out new and better products.”

The company’s 4 star gourmet line of cat food is variety driven, Grimm reported.

“A different entrée can be offered every night of the week with no concern for digestive upset,” she said. “The various recipes can be switched easily because they all have similar ingredients and similar ratios between protein, fruits, and vegetables.”

Natural Balance in Pacoima, Calif., has also launched two new grain-free products: Alpha, a dry food collection and Platefuls, a wet collection in pouches.

“The need for grain-free products is growing as consumers become more aware of certain grains that may cause sensitivities in their pets which result in stomach or skin issues,” said Heather Govea, senior vice president of independent sales & marketing for Natural Balance. “We launched these products because the market was missing a multiple-protein, multiple-carbohydrate, grain-free diet with moderate levels of protein.”

When asked what direction the company may take in the future, Govea said there is an increasing need for limited-ingredient diets (or elimination diets) due to the growing number of pets with food sensitivities.

“Limiting the number of ingredients in food can help owners identify the root cause of a pet’s problems,” she said.

Freeze-dried

The newest product release for Stella and Chewy’s in Muskego, Wis., is a specially formulated freeze-dried cat food which comes in four flavors and is 100 percent meat.

”Our new freeze dried line, which falls into the super, high-end category, is highly palatable and designed specifically for cats,” said Marie Moody, company founder. 

She reported that the freeze-dried formulation addresses two concerns.

“Typically raw diet cat food has been frozen, but cats don’t like cold food as much. Often, too, cats don’t drink enough water,” Moody continued. “Adding warm water to the raw food helps hydrate the cat, while making the food more palatable to them.”

New Research

Royal Canin in St. Charles, Mo., recently conducted scientific research to learn what causes cats to choose one food over another.
 
Brent Mayabb, DVM, manager of education and development for Royal Canin, said that cats fall into one of three categories with regards to food preferences.

 “A cat’s choice is triggered by either the aroma of the food, the taste/feel of the food, or the post-ingestion feeling they receive from the food, he said. In other words, not all cats place the same importance on the smell of their food. Also, cats that are triggered more by aroma aren’t as concerned about flavor or the post-ingestion sensation.”

The resulting “selective” line of products, Aromatic Preference, Savor Preference, and Nutrients Preference, target each individual penchant.

 “Palatability is a complex issue and there is no blood test to determine this,” Dr. Mayabb said. “As a result, we developed what we call a ‘Discovery Box’ with samples of the complete selective line. All three types of food are offered at each feeding over several days. It doesn’t talk long to determine which one a cat prefers.”

While the first two preference triggers, smell and taste, are more easily understood, the third category, post-ingestion feeling, is more complex and prompted further research, the results of which were recently published in the March, 2011 Journal of Experimental Biology.

“We found that a cat’s preference depends on the specific percentage of energy coming from protein, carbohydrate, and fat,” Mayabb said. “This concept is called the Macro Nutrient Profile or MNP for short. The MNP has a potent effect on driving long-term palatability and new diets have been formulated as a result of these new findings.”

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