Pet owners are increasingly embracing products that are made in the USA, particularly when it comes to what they are feeding their pets, according to industry insiders.
“‘Made in USA’ resonates in pet treats as a checks and balances for safety and trusted manufacturing processes with strong AAFCO [Association of American Feed Control Officials] oversights,” said Glenn Novotny, president and CEO of Emerald Pet Products, a manufacturer in Walnut Creek, Calif. “Overall, there is a big focus with pet parents to ensure they are choosing products for their companions that are manufactured in trusted and safe facilities that meet the high USA standards of manufacturing.”
While talk of made in the USA products tend to be more centered on dogs, cat owners are just as eager—if not more so depending on whom you ask—to focus their buying decisions on this factor.
“Innovation seems to be heavily focused on dog products, with cat not having as much focus,” Novotny said. “At Emerald Pet, we see some of our most devoted fans and strongest growth in the cat category.”
Chelsea Sher, vice president of marketing and export at Evanger’s Dog & Cat Food Co., a manufacturer in Markham, Ill., said she has more cat-owning customers asking where the Evanger’s line of cat food is sourced and made than dog owners. (Both are sourced and made in the U.S.) Customers are even asking about the type of fish used in certain products, such as whether it’s a bottom feeder or other type, Holly Sher, president of Evanger’s, added.
Cat owners are definitely tuned in, they both said.
Brian Bouldin, CEO of Primetime Petz, a manufacturer in Rockwall, Texas,
expects the feline sector to continue to grow as customers become more discerning about their pet food.
“This consumer group is demanding a higher-quality product with nutrition supplements to specifically address cat-specific health issues, such as digestive and urinary problems,” Bouldin said.
At Treats Unleashed, a retailer with stores in Missouri and Kansas, “made in USA” has always been a selling point for products, said Teresa Miller, owner and founder.
“Customers want to know what they are feeding their pets and where it is made,” Miller said.
Merrie Morris, co-owner of Tail Waggin’ PetStop, a retailer in Kansas City, Mo., has had a slightly different experience.
“While we don’t consider our store a ‘boutique,’ most folks recognize from our location and atmosphere that we focus on quality products,” Morris said. “Our customers are more focused on quality than on specific geographic origins. So, we rarely have a customer request products that are made in America. Interestingly, many of our customers are young professionals, and I’ve read that for that demographic, ‘made in America’ is not as important as other traits such as eco-friendly, fair trade and high quality.”
Spotlight on Sourcing
Whether a product is made in the USA isn’t the only factor cat owners are considering when selecting a pet food. Educated pet owners also want to know where the ingredients are sourced, Miller said.
Mel Abernathy, vice president of sales at Primetime Petz, agreed.
“There is an increasing number of discerning cat owners who are well read in this regard,” Abernathy said. “Ingredient panels are of greater importance to consumers, and suppliers adapting their package messaging to ‘U.S. Sourced Ingredients’ is evidence of this.”
Primetime Petz takes measures to ensure consumer awareness.
“U.S.-farmed protein is and will remain a call-out on packaging,” Bouldin said. “Point-of-sale video and print sales collateral will be an advertising initiative moving forward.”
Emerald Pet Products also puts the message center stage.
“At Emerald Pet, we specifically call out ‘Made in USA with U.S. Ingredients’ on our label,” Novotny said. “We find retailers are typically aware of our U.S.-sourced ingredients, but consumers have been trained to just look for a ‘Made in the USA’ statement. Retailers have the opportunity to educate customers on products made in the USA with U.S. ingredients by engaging in-store.”
Indeed, Miller takes advantage of this opportunity to educate pet owners at Treats Unleashed stores.
“[Cat owners] make decisions based on our recommendations but also on our staff’s in-depth knowledge and ability to share information about sourcing and the companies behind the products we carry,” Miller said.
At Tail Waggin’ PetStop, sourcing may be on the consumer’s radar, but it is not as high as some other considerations, according to Morris.
“For cat owners specifically, the two traits that are most important are taste—because cats tend to be more finicky than dogs—and healthy ingredients, i.e., grain free, low in ash,” Morris said. “If we can assure them the product meets their needs in those areas, sourcing is significantly less important.
“However,” Morris continued, “we are based in the Midwest and our customers love products made in the Midwest—it’s definitely a selling point. The closer the product is to ‘locally made,’ the better, while products made on the coasts hold no more or less appeal than products made in other countries. I don’t think the love of Midwest products relates to quality as much as keeping the money in the local economy and simply love of home.”
Evanger’s Dog & Cat Food Co. gets 95 percent of its raw materials from within 50 miles of its manufacturing facility, Chelsea Sher said.
“That’s what ‘made in USA’ means to us—keeping it local,” she added.
When asked why pet owners and retailers should consider the importance and/or benefits of sourcing ingredients in the U.S., Novotny replied, “Just like manufacturing in the U.S., sourcing ingredients in the USA ensures they have met high standards during quality control and have undergone micro testing at time of production and during storage. You have to put in high-quality ingredients to produce high-quality products.”
Abernathy had a similar sentiment.
“U.S.-sourced ingredients are more traceable and have regulatory entities that are more trusted by consumers,” Abernathy said.
On the Market
Manufacturers are launching new U.S.-made food and treats for cats, and they’re targeting specific health needs.
At press time, Emerald Pet Products was gearing up to introduce its newest cat product, Emerald Pet Feline Dental Stixx, with shipping set to begin in April.
“Our innovative new dental treats in a stick form remove tartar and plaque through chewing action while also massaging the gums for proper dental hygiene,” said Glenn Novotny, president and CEO of Emerald Pet Products in Walnut Creek, Calif. “They are made in the USA with U.S. ingredients, and all four recipes include pumpkin to aid digestion.”
Emerald Pet Feline Dental Stixx is available in Chicken, Salmon, Tuna and Catnip.
New to market is EVx Restricted Diet Dinners for Cats from Evanger’s Dog & Cat Food Co. in Markham, Ill. The line, which is made in the U.S., is formulated to focus on cats’ most common health issues, such as weight management, aging, joint health, kidney disease, pancreatitis, urinary tract health and digestive disorders—all while still offering an affordable price point for cat owners seeking solutions, according to Holly Sher, president of Evanger’s.
All EVx Restricted Diet Dinners include Alltech NVGEN, a proprietary blend of supplemental ingredients for “feeding the gastrointestinal tract for healthy aging,” according to Evanger’s.
Primetime Petz in Rockwall, Texas, offers freeze-dried nutrition for cats. The Hauspanther freeze-dried line gives cats the protein they crave in a convenient and easy-to-serve form, according to company officials.
The single-ingredient cat treats are available in Chicken Liver, Beef Liver and Turkey Heart. The meal toppers, which include daily support supplements, are available in Chicken, Beef and Elk & Venison. Products are made in the U.S. with U.S.-sourced meat, according to officials.
On the Shelf: Is There Enough Selection?
The demand for U.S.-sourced ingredients in cat food and treat products may be increasing, but are manufacturers keeping up? Teresa Miller, owner and founder of Treats Unleashed, a retailer with stores in Missouri and Kansas, said there have been some difficulties in this regard.
“We do have challenges finding treats sourced and made in the USA, so we’ve had to broaden our range,” Miller said. “We definitely have a segment of customers that limit their purchases to only made in the USA, so having more options would be beneficial to our store and our customers.”
Most of the canned cat food that Tail Waggin’ PetStop carries is from Thailand, according to Merrie Morris, co-owner of the Kansas City, Mo.-based store.
“We make a point to say that Thailand has a huge—and very reputable—food processing industry and, more to the point, it is not China,” Morris added.
Verification of sourcing claims has also proven to be a challenge for some retailers.
“Recently, we’ve seen transparency regarding sourcing decline in a couple of our current vendor partners,” Miller said. “Manufacturers that rely on companies to source their ingredients and can’t confirm country of origin are eliminated from our assortment.”