Curating a Winning Wet Cat Food Assortment

Wet cat food sales are on the rise, according to pet retailers and manufacturers, and consumers are seeking products that contain high-quality ingredients and are convenient to serve.

Peter Berman, owner of Rock Dog & Cat, a pet supply store in Eagle Rock, Calif., said that he has seen big growth in wet cat food at his store, a fact that he attributes to increased consumer awareness about the importance of moisture in a cat’s diet. Berman said that multiple customers have been interested in switching their cat to an exclusively wet diet—often at their veterinarian’s recommendation.

"In their search for wet cat food, there are two things that are most important to them—the quality of the ingredients and where they’re sourced from," Berman said. "My customers respond best to companies that are transparent with this information."

There’s no question that cat owners increasingly care about quality—a trend that has been seen across the board, said Jasmine Galligan, founder and owner of Wet Noses, a Monroe, Wash.-based pet food and treat maker.

"Customers are looking for options that aren’t filled with preservatives," she added. "They want ingredients that are simple, clean, balanced and high quality. We Noses was founded on the guiding principle of, ‘If you wouldn’t eat it, don’t feed it to your pet,’ and we’re starting to see more and more cat parents feel the same."

In response to this demand, Wet Noses introduced its Wet Whiskers Cat Food in Jars at SuperZoo in Las Vegas in August. The food is made with 100 percent human-grade ingredients, is Non-GMO Project verified, and is free of grains, gluten, corn, soy and dairy, according to the company. All varieties—Beef, Chicken, Fish and Turkey—are made with hormone-free, antibiotic-free, humanely raised meats and fish, with no artificial ingredients, company officials added.

Neil Thompson, vice president of sales for Pets Global, a pet food manufacturer in Valencia, Calif., said that the biggest trends in wet cat food are a continued interest in whole shredded items with high meat content. He has also seen an increase in consumers seeking lower-priced pâté items. The company is working to fill that need and recently launched Essence Cat Food in both kibble and matching cans. The 5.5-ounce cans contain 96 percent meat ingredients.

"The new line of Essence cans meets the size of can we commonly receive requests for with both a high meat inclusion and a price point under two dollars," Thompson said.

Annabelle Immega, trade marketing manager for Petcurean Pet Nutrition, a pet food and treats manufacturer in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada, said that a specific trend they have noticed involves the growing interest in wet recipes that provide functional benefits to address challenges such as picky eating, itchy skin, dull coat and food sensitivities.

"In October 2019, we unveiled seven new recipes for cats as part of our Go! Solutions wet food collection," she said. "These pocket-sized packs of solutions-based nutrition have been specifically formulated to support pets with unique dietary needs and preferences, including those who thrive on higher levels of meat protein, those who have food sensitivities that may benefit from a limited number of ingredients and those who are simply picky eaters."

Packaging Preferences

Another trend in wet cat food has been a shift in packaging. While there’s no question that cans are still popular, some manufacturers are introducing products in alternative packaging formats. For example, Petcurean Pet Nutrition uses sustainable Tetra Pak cartons for all of its wet food recipes. The packaging has a number of environmental and safety benefits, in addition to being more convenient for distributors, retailers and consumers, Immega said.     

"Tetra Pak cartons are manufactured from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified paperboard and other controlled sources," Immega said. "They are made from 67 percent renewable materials, they are recyclable and they are BPA free. The cartons use fewer raw materials and are 40 percent more compact than cans. With an easy-to-open tear-off strip and no sharp edges, Tetra Pak cartons are much safer to handle and are reclosable for easy storage in the refrigerator."

New packaging options seem to be catching on with consumers. For example, Berman said that the pouches sold at Rock Dog & Cat have been a popular addition.

"My customers appreciate that there is a TerraCycle seal on the back of some of the pouches, and they’ve told me that they received a free envelope to ship the packaging back—and it’s fully recycled," Berman said. "There’s something to be said for the convenience of pouches, but the fact that they also make recycling easy is an added bonus."

Bill Vallas, owner of Quality Pet Market in Austintown, Ohio, said the convenience of pouches is definitely important to his customers.

"The ease of use makes a pouch format popular," he said. "The food slides right out and isn’t messy. They’re generally sold in a single-serving format, and it’s just really easy for the customer."

Haley Legge, a clerk at Woodlands Pet Shop in San Francisco, said that customers also perceive that there is more liquid in the pouches, which makes them more desirable. She agreed that ease of use is a driving factor in the growing interest in this format.

Pouches aren’t the only can alternatives available. Wet Noses is using glass jars in its small-batch production process.

"Our glass jars enable the customer to see each simple, clean and balanced ingredient," Galligan said. "An added bonus is the ability to reseal it and save it in the refrigerator with no gross opened can to be worried about."

Merchandising

Curating a Winning Wet Cat Food Assortment

Creative Displays

There are many ways pet specialty retailers can get creative with wet cat food displays and, ultimately, draw more attention to the category.

Neil Thompson, vice president of sales for Pets Global, a pet food manufacturer in Valencia, Calif., suggested using a variety of products to attract customers’ interest.

"We personally like endcaps that incorporate more than just food by adding items such as litter, cat trees or toys," he said.

Making sure that customers can see the products is also important. Jasmine Galligan, founder and owner of Wet Noses, a food and treat maker in Monroe, Wash., suggested that retailers add some height with a riser.

Different packaging formats can also help with displays.

"One of the reasons we opted to use Tetra Pak cartons for all of our wet food recipes, in addition to being a more sustainable packaging choice, is because they take up 40 percent less space on the shelf," said Annabelle Immega, trade marketing manager for Petcurean Pet Nutrition, a pet food and treat manufacturer in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada. "They also allow more visual space to stand out on the shelf, and to communicate the benefits of each recipe to retailers and pet parents alike. With Tetra Paks having more visual real estate and ease of stacking, retailers can get really creative with endcaps and window displays, combining wet cat food with hard goods for cats, for example, to create eye-catching displays for customers passing by."

Assortment Optimization

Curate an Ideal Mix of Wet Food

Pet specialty retailers that create a well-rounded assortment of wet cat food will give customers the options that they desire.

Peter Berman, owner of Rock Dog & Cat, a pet supply store in Eagle Rock, Calif., said that he has found cat owners like to have choices. Of course, they also want to know that retailers have carefully selected foods that they believe in, he added.

Neil Thompson, vice president of sales for Pets Global, a pet food manufacturer in Valencia, Calif., agreed that cat owners appreciate variety.

"We believe retailers must provide an abundance of cat can selections, the more high-quality items for consumers to select from, the better," Thompson said.

Annabelle Immega, trade marketing manager for Petcurean Pet Nutrition, a pet food and treat manufacturer in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada, recommended setting up an assortment of wet food that complements a store’s dry food selection, as many pet owners are interested in providing a "multiformat meal plan."

"Mouth feel and texture are important aspects of palatability, and some cats appreciate a crunchy kibble while still requiring the moisture benefits of wet food," Immega added. "Curating an easily shoppable assortment of both dry and wet food options that

work well when fed in combination is a great way to meet this consumer demand and increase sales."