Once perceived as costly and inconvenient, raw diets for cats are continuing to gain fans and positive repute. Along with people being more educated on the category, industry insiders credit product diversity for helping raw become more mainstream.

“There was a preconceived notion that raw had to be ‘all or nothing,’” said Emma Kumbier, veterinary outreach coordinator for Primal Pet Foods in Fairfield, Calif. “Partial raw feeding is becoming more commonplace. The shift in the industry is being driven by inclusivity in the raw category, spearheaded by items like the raw toppers and economical hydrator items like goat’s milk and bone broth.”

Independent pet retailers across the nation reported rising sales in raw cat diets. They attributed the boost to diverse offerings and staff consultations.

“We added some new SKUs of frozen raw, freeze-dried as well as air-dried cat foods to our assortment last year and early this year,” said Jenn Holloway, category manager of dog and cat food for Pet Food Express, a chain of pet stores in the Greater Bay Area and Southern California. “We put a training focus on raw cat with our store staff and, through education and excitement, our sales consultants drove our raw cat sales up.”

Some of the most popular offerings at Pet Food Express are frozen and freeze-dried nuggets, she said, because they’ve been around a while, thus offering familiarity and reliability.

Adding frozen raw tubs to Pet Food Express’ assortment was met with immediate sales that are continuing to grow, Holloway said, adding that crunchy-style freeze-dried nibblets also have been popular with consumers.

“This is attracting kibble customers whose cats wouldn’t eat raw otherwise,” she explained. “Texture is one component of food that is important to consider for picky felines, and this is helping to convert those cats over to the raw space.”

Frozen and freeze-dried patties are favored formats at Smitten Kitten, a retailer and groomer in Des Moines, Iowa, according to owner Betsey Qualley.

Retailers said that top flavor choices in raw cat diets are chicken and turkey, though sales are high in novel proteins as well. In particular, Qualley said customers like venison, rabbit and duck.

Top demands of cat owners looking into raw diets include palatability, complete and balanced nutrition, and limited, quality ingredients, insiders reported.

“There’s an overall desire for functional cat foods,” said Melinda Miller, CEO of Bravo Pet Foods, a manufacturer in Manchester, Conn. “Less is best in terms of processing and ingredients, and if it’s sourced and made in the USA, even better.

“At the heart of it all is the desire for a food that will benefit the overall health and well-being of the feline family members,” she said. “All that said, it also needs to be a product that cats will like and want to eat.”

Easing Their Entry Into Raw

Manufacturers are offering a variety of products that make it easy to introduce cat owners to the category.

For those who are new to raw or simply supplementing with it, Primal Pet Foods offers Raw Toppers.

“They are frozen, pourable, meat-first toppers that are convenient like freeze-dried toppers with less cost per calorie and more moisture,” Kumbier said. “We just reimagined our mix and grind products that were packaged in the traditional chub format … pressed them into small pieces, like our Pronto product, and branded them to be more approachable for new-to-raw customers as a topper for more processed foods.

“We also have exciting new additions to our Bone Broth line coming later this year,” she added.

Fresh Is Best, a Milwaukee-based manufacturer, currently offers small-batch, freeze-dried cat food, with Chicken Recipe being the company’s hands-down best-seller. The company plans to launch a meal topper for cats as well, “to help introduce people to the complete, balanced foods,” said founder and owner Stacy La Point.

“People are waking up to the fact that food is medicine,” she said. “Food is where health starts.”

Bravo Pet Foods’ Bravo! Blends is a popular intermittent or supplemental raw feeding option, Miller said.

“Our frozen raw formula is a consistent best-seller with cat parents,” Miller said. “It’s a fine grind of meat, bone, organs and a very small percentage of vegetables.”

Customers can choose from six flavors: Beef, Chicken, Duck, Lamb, Pork and Turkey. All the flavors are available in frozen chubs and frozen burgers, except for Pork, which comes as frozen chubs only, and Duck, which is available as burgers only.

Consumer and Retailer Education

Expanding Raw Sales with Knowledge

Misunderstandings about raw pet food continue to affect public perception, but in-store and online education campaigns have made huge progress in this category.

“Our sales consultants aim to speak with every consumer that walks through the door about what their pet is eating,” said Jenn Holloway, category manager of dog and cat food for Pet Food Express, a chain of pet stores in the Greater Bay Area and Southern California. “We put a lot of emphasis on nutrition training with our staff, so they understand the complexities of the options available and how and why to recommend a food to a particular pet.”

Retailers and manufacturers agreed that education is crucial for selling raw food in stores.

“We truly believe that you cannot sell raw without truly understanding the reasoning, so, for us, education is the best way to sell products like ours,” said Melinda Miller, CEO of Bravo Pet Foods, a manufacturer in Manchester, Conn. “It’s important to understand ingredients and why a biologically appropriate, minimally processed food or treat is going to have positive effects on the health and longevity of their furry family members.”

Companies offered these education tips for success in raw:

Start a conversation.

“Knowing how to engage customers in diet conversations is key,” said Emma Kumbier, veterinary outreach coordinator for Primal Pet Foods, a manufacturer in Fairfield, Calif. “Advising to change a pet’s diet can be really stressful for a pet parent, so bringing in the [idea of adding fresh and unprocessed foods to help with common pet ailments] can be really beneficial.”

Use personal experience.

“The foods that do the best at our store are the foods that we feed to our personal cats,” said Betsey Qualley, owner of Smitten Kitten, a retailer and groomer in Des Moines, Iowa. “We sell foods that we know the most about, so an employee feeding program, or an employee rewards program, goes a long way.”

Get manufacturer assistance.

“It’s really important for the companies who make raw food to send reps out to the stores for trainings,” Qualley said.

Many companies said they offer in-person and online staff training for retailers. Others also provide informational blogs, standard sales collaterals and social media support in their arsenal of retailer and consumer education tools.

Miller said Bravo is attentive to pet stores.

“We work closely with our retailers to make sure they are able to answer all of the questions consumers may have and that they are able to talk knowledgably about the features and benefits of raw diets in general and of our products,” Miller said. “This includes teaching them about the philosophy behind feeding raw, the benefits to companion animals, how to best match customers with the right products, how to transition cats over to our products, etc.”

Pricing Trends

What Are Cat Owners Willing to Spend?

While some consumers still believe raw pet diets can be costly, more people are discovering that adding in fresh food can be quite economical, said Emma Kumbier, veterinary outreach coordinator for Primal Pet Foods, a manufacturer in Fairfield, Calif.

Overall, retailers find that a price point around $20-$25 a week works.

“Our customers seem to be OK with paying around $25 a week to feed a raw diet,” said Betsey Qualley, owner of Smitten Kitten, a retailer and groomer in Des Moines, Iowa. “We have several people who come in on a weekly basis to buy a bag for the week.”

For entry into the category, however, less-expensive options are helpful, retailers said.

“Diets available for around or under $20 are tolerable for cat consumers,” said Jenn Holloway, category manager of dog and cat food for Pet Food Express, a chain of pet stores in the Greater Bay Area and Southern California. “They look for cheaper, trial-size options (just a few days’ worth of food) when trying a diet for the first time and are willing to pay a higher premium for novel proteins if their cats’ needs require it.”

Stacy La Point, founder and owner of Fresh Is Best, a manufacturer in Milwaukee, agreed.

“People have a range of income levels and will do what they have to do to feed the food they feel is the best for their pets,” she said.

To build trust and repeat business for premium-priced products, foods must be worthy of their price tag, noted Melinda Miller, CEO of Bravo Pet Foods, a manufacturer in Manchester, Conn.

“For the most part, we find that pet parents are willing to pay a premium for our products,” she said. “That said, the product

has to deliver on the promise. Customers are willing to pay more, but your product has to be of the highest quality to justify the price tag.”


Trade Talk

Ann Hudson, vice president of marketing for Whitebridge Pet Brands in St. Louis

Are more consumers embracing raw cat food than in the past? What can retailers do to make switching to raw or incorporating raw into their pets’ diets easy for consumers?

Cats are obligate carnivores, which makes raw food an ideal diet. A complete and balanced raw diet is high in protein, provides natural hydration and is easy to digest. But feeding raw was not the easy choice, and there were not many good options unless you wanted to formulate a diet yourself.

Today there are more brands, and more retailers have freezer space, so the decision to feed raw is less difficult, causing the category to grow. We wanted to simplify the process even further and make it easy for cat owners to choose raw. After speaking with vets, breeders and cat owners, we launched Tiki Cat Raw diets, keeping four things in consideration:

Nutrition: Cats cannot utilize carbohydrates. Tiki Cat Raw diets are formulated to be complete and balanced and are made with only meat and added vitamins and minerals. They do not contain other unnecessary ingredients like grain, fruit or vegetables.

Safety: Tiki Cat Raw diets are pasteurized to protect against pathogens like salmonella, E. coli and listeria. Pasteurization is not a cooking process and does not use heat, so the natural enzymes and nutrients found in raw meat remain intact.

Freshness: Tiki Cat Raw diets are packed in plastic, easy-to-store, resealable cups that reduce freezer burn. Once thawed, the cup is a convenient way to keep the product fresh in your refrigerator without leaking or contaminating your own food.

Quality: Tiki Cat Raw is made in our own Missouri-based, SQF3 [Safe Quality Food 3] certified manufacturing plant. USA-sourced meats are received from nearby suppliers and quickly turned into a soft-textured, complete, and balanced diet that is packed by hand and immediately sent to be pasteurized.

Single-serve options are an ideal way for retailers to introduce raw feeding into a household. The commitment is greater than feeding a prepared diet, and both pet parents and pets will experience a transition.