The made in the USA pet products category is carrying more weight than ever as supply chain issues have made certain cat foods less available. As a result, independent retailers who have already long supported made in the USA products are faring well right now, with some even seeing an influx of new customers.

“It used to be that seeing ‘made in the USA’ was important to our customers because they were worried about recalls and products made in China,” said Melissa Whitton, owner of Most Valuable Pets, a pet store in Lexington, Ky. “But now, it’s also a matter of literally being able to get a product. With the supply chain issues that are occurring, products that are made in the U.S. are some of the only ones that we can get.”

Manufacturers that have been focused on making products in the USA are also reporting that this has benefited their companies logistically.

“Having our products made in the U.S. has been incredibly beneficial over the past year and a half,” said James Crouch, CEO and founder of Bixbi Pet, a manufacturer in Boulder, Colo. “While many companies had products stuck in ports and containers, Bixbi products were readily available for our retail partners and consumers. It was a real win for Bixbi.”

Bixbi recently launched a line of freeze-dried foods for cats that is made and sourced in the USA. Bixbi Rawbble Freeze-Dried for Cats is 94 to 95 percent meat, organs and bone, with no added hormones or antibiotics, and no artificial preservatives or colors.

Holly Sher, president and owner of manufacturers Evanger’s Dog and Cat Food Co. and Against the Grain Pet Foods in Markham, Ill., agreed that making products in the USA is especially good for business right now.

“Approximately 90 percent of all our raw materials are sourced within 50 miles of our manufacturing plant in Illinois,” she said. “Our trucks go out every morning to collect our raw materials, which has benefited us immensely when it comes to supply chain and other shortage issues. We are very proud to support local farms for our meats, fruits and vegetables.”

Sher added that sourcing ingredients in the U.S. has been a pillar of the company since it was founded in 1935.

“Right now, the cost and reliability of transportation from overseas is higher than it has ever been,” Sher continued. “It can be more than five times what it used to be—a $5,000 container might be $30,000. At Evanger’s, we source fresh, locally, and daily and always will. To get our product manufactured and out the door, we rely on our family and team to make that happen onsite, not [on] an ocean freight container waiting to be unloaded at a port or a manufacturing plant we don’t oversee. From ordering to when the ingredients arrive to making the foods onsite, everything is made in our plant every single day.”

Sher added that Evanger’s EVx Restricted Diet Cat Foods offer a new approach to problem/solution feeding. The dietary focuses of the line include bland diet, urinary tract, weight management, low phosphorus, and senior and joint health. The specially formulated food will make it easy for retailers to answer questions and make recommendations for issues that cat owners are experiencing, Sher said.

Shortages Driving a Switch

One interesting phenomenon to arise out of the supply chain shortage has been an increase in the number of cat owners needing to switch their pet off of a food they haven’t been able to get.

Claudia Loomis, president of CB Pet Market, a small chain of pet stores in New Jersey, said that she has seen a daily influx of customers in search of new foods due to lack of availability at the grocery or big-box store.

“Fortunately, we have lots of variety to offer them,” she said. “We have been very successful transitioning cats to the higher quality of food on our shelves. Cats imprint on taste and texture. So, if a cat only eats pâté, we switch them to one of the brands of pâté cans we sell. Cats who eat stews will switch to a stew. Often, these new customers leave with several new cans of food to try and a couple of sample bags of kibble. We also have cans, pouches, kibble and tubs, in multiple price points. Often, customers leave discovering that with frequent-buyer programs, specials and loyalty points, they can feed their cats a better-quality food for not much more than they were paying at the grocery store.”

But Loomis said that while many independent retailers have been fortunate enough not to suffer as a result of supply chain issues, there have been other concerns to contend with.

“Though our shelves are well stocked, we are experiencing price increases associated with higher ingredient, manufacturing and transportation costs,” Loomis added.

Alison Schwartz, general manager of All Pets Considered, a retailer with two stores in Greensboro, N.C., said that she is also seeing more cat owners interested in switching brands because their typical cat food has been unavailable. She added that independent retailers are in a good position to help them make a switch.

“The fact that cats are imprint feeders does make it difficult to switch them from a food they love,” she said. “However, the nice thing about independent retailers like us is that we have a lot of great exchange programs, and we’re willing to take food back if a cat won’t eat it. With canned food, it’s also easy to buy a bunch of different flavors and test it out to see what they like best.”

Focusing on USA Made

Whether owners are looking to make a switch because their regular standbys are unavailable or they’re just browsing, independent pet supply retailers can help shoppers understand what sets made in the USA foods apart.

Crouch said that it’s important to educate customers on the differences between their options. There’s not just made in the USA, but also made and sourced in the USA. And then there are products made outside of the U.S.

“Each of these comes with a different set of values, and it’s crucial for the consumer to understand that not all foods are manufactured in the same place and in the same way,” Crouch explained.

Sher said that she has seen many independent retailers focus more exclusively—or entirely—on made in the USA products, which can be a mark of distinction.

But whatever their product mix, retailers can draw attention to U.S.-made items.

“Stores also put out signs or shelf talkers to spotlight products that are made in the USA,” Sher added.

Schwartz said that at her stores, there aren’t many products that aren’t made in the USA. She said that has always been a differentiator for the stores.

“Our customers know that most of the products we carry are made here in the U.S., and that’s something they’ve come to appreciate,” Schwartz said. “These days, that is even driving new customers into the store.”