Feeding Feline Demand

Not long ago, the dietary needs of cats weren’t being met quite as quickly as those of dogs. Today, that nutritional landscape is evolving, and feline food selections are encompassing a wide range of healthful offerings, including wet and dry formulations.

"Cat ownership is thriving, and, subsequently, demand for cat nutrition and care products is expanding," said Paul Cooke, vice president of industry relations for Nestlé Purina PetCare Co. in St. Louis. "This growth is being driven primarily by premiumization and increased consumer demand for products featuring natural ingredients, unique proteins and grain-free formulas."

Also being sought by cat owners are ingredient simplification and higher biological value proteins in food, noted Gina Zaro, marketing director for Dr. Elsey’s Cat Products in Englewood, Colo.

As cats have only been truly domesticated during the past century, their ability to absorb and convert nutrients from today’s commercial foods is imperfect at best, said Ann Hudson, vice president of marketing for Whitebridge Pet Brands in St. Louis.

"As true carnivores, formulations must replicate natural prey diet—a high-protein, high-fat, grain- and carbohydrate-free food with plenty of broth," she said.

When it comes to wet versus dry, pet owners are mixing it up.

"We know that as many as 60 percent of cat owners are mixing, but they often don’t have a dry option that comes close to matching the real needs of the cat," Hudson said.

However, many pet owners are willing to go out of their way to obtain that nutrition, she added. 

"Moisture is critical for a healthy cat’s diet," Hudson said. "It’s an enormous opportunity for pet specialty retailers offering a high-quality range of nutritious wet foods to effectively compete within the marketplace."

At Animal Connection in Charlottesville, Va., owner Pattie Boden noted that in the canned category, she only selects products that feature organic or human-grade ingredients. 

"I am really picky about what I sell," she said. "I would rather not stock a product unless I believe it to be truly good for the pet." 

The cat category is experiencing growth in both the wet and dry food categories, said Annabelle Immega, trade marketing manager for Petcurean Pet Nutrition in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada. For this reason, demand for new proteins and premium ingredients in kibble continues to rise, resulting in new developments. 

The pet humanization trend also is driving sales. 

As with human food, brands with clean labels, as well as organic, raw and natural ingredients, are seeing substantial growth, said Robert Hernandez, national sales manager, USA, for Snappy Tom Pet Supply, which has U.S. headquarters in City of Industry, Calif. 

Sustainability is another issue impacting demand, Immega said. For manufacturers, that call includes partnering with producers that are adhering to responsible environmental and social practices whenever possible, she said. 

Consumers are looking for single-serving convenience in packaging, as well.

"Cat foods in a 3-ounce pouch with liquid are definitely popular; cat owners like the convenience of just popping open a pouch," said Anna De Paolo, owner of Dollys Pet Shoppe in Sandy, Ore. "My 3-ounce cans also sell better than the 5-ounce servings." 

What’s in the Bowl

Mealtime choices for the feline set have taken a great leap over the past decade, and manufacturers are fueling that evolution by offering new recipes and formulations.

"We’ve seen a growing trend toward natural ingredients with more formulas focused on targeting specific health benefits, such as aging, weight management or dental," said Paul Cooke, vice president of industry relations for Nestlé Purina PetCare Co. in St. Louis. "Flavor is another big consideration when we’re developing new formulas and why we look for ingredients that we know cats love."

Manufacturers reported an expanding awareness regarding food sensitivities, with protein cited as one of the main causes of dietary intolerance. In response, an array of limited-ingredient, grain-free and novel-protein recipes are being introduced.

The call for ingredient clarity in the human sector has spilled over into the pet industry, as well.

"Consumers want to know exactly what is in each recipe, the nutritional benefits and where ingredients are being sourced," said Annabelle Immega, trade marketing manager for Petcurean Pet Nutrition in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada. 

Many pet owners want to take their cat’s diet back to its roots.

"There is an overall focus on simplification and getting back to the ancestral diet of a cat, and this trend should continue," said Gina Zaro, marketing director for Dr. Elsey’s Cat Products in Englewood, Co.

The Wet and Dry Syllabus

With the vast array of pet food options available on the market today, selecting the best recipe to suit the individual needs of a cat can be overwhelming for consumers, said Annabelle Immega, trade marketing manager for Petcurean Pet Nutrition in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada. 

At Pawz on Main in Cottonwood, Ariz., co-owner Denise Strong said inquiry is crucial when assisting customers in cat food selection.

"It’s one-on-one with each pet," Strong said. "I want to know their age, environment, needs and medical history."

Pattie Boden, owner of Animal Connection in Charlottesville, Va., agreed. 

"We want to know how many cats our customer has, do they need different diets or are they all eating the same food," she said. "Finding the right food—one that fits budget, time and what’s going on with the animal—is important."

Retailers can create supplemental thought-leadership and educational materials through a social media and digital presence, said Gina Zaro, marketing director for Dr. Elsey’s Cat Products in Englewood, Colo.

"Consumers today are well educated, they read labels and know about ingredients," Zaro said. "They ask very specific questions, such as phosphorus levels and where the ingredients are sourced."

Still, knowledge at the retail level, with well-educated staff members, is a differentiator for the independent pet retailer when compared to big-box competition, said Robert Hernandez, national sales manager, USA, for Snappy Tom Pet Supply, which has U.S. headquarters in City of Industry, Calif.

Feeding Feline Demand

What’s Cooking

As demand grows for palatable wet and dry cat food featuring sustainable, novel and transparently sourced ingredients, manufacturers are developing products to meet these requirements.

Tiki Pets recently introduced Tiki Cat Velvet, a silky-smooth indulgence for cats, said Ann Hudson, vice president of marketing for Whitebridge Pet Brands in St. Louis. Available to pet specialty retailers only, the six recipes offer chicken, wild salmon, egg, tuna and mackerel combinations. 

"Each selection is GMO and carbohydrate free and packed in BPA-free pouches," Hudson said. "For rotation feeding, a 12-pouch variety pack is available."

New Tiki Cat Grill and Luau whole-food diets offer hand-packed poultry and seafood combinations. Single-protein varieties, such as chicken or tuna, provide solutions for sensitive cats. 

A highly palatable, chunky, all-meat food, new Tiki Cat After Dark is a healthful indulgence offering the benefits of nutrient-rich organs, such as liver, gizzard and hearts, without the fuss of a raw diet, Hudson said. 

As a treat or meal topper, new Tiki Cat Stix is a creamy-textured mousse with a taste that cats love, Hudson added. Available in chicken or tuna, Stix toppers come in single-serve, easy-to-open pouches.

Petcurean Pet Nutrition recently expanded its Go! Sensitivity + Shine limited-ingredient line to include a Marine Stewardship Council-certified Alaskan pollock kibble recipe for cats, which provides an excellent source of protein, minerals and omega fatty acids, and is low in carbohydrates, cholesterol and fat, said Annabelle Immega, trade marketing manager for the Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada-based company. 

"We have also expanded our Now Fresh line with new stew and pâté recipes for cats, made with 100 percent fresh wild salmon, turkey or pork in nutrient-rich turkey bone broth, and packed with a variety of superfoods," Immega said. 

Purina recently developed several new recipes for cats. Cat owners wishing to indulge their pet’s love of gourmet flavors with an "irresistible, decadent taste" and a touch of real milk can do so with Fancy Feast Creamy Delights, said Paul Cooke, vice president of industry relations for Nestlé Purina PetCare in St. Louis.

Purina’s new Beyond Simple Origins Non-GMO Project Verified wet cat formulas are grain free and available in four 3-ounce pâté recipes.

Kittens have unique developmental needs, and Purina’s new Pro Plan True Nature Grain-Free kitten formula is created to meet those requirements. The food is high in protein with real chicken as the No. 1 ingredient, Cooke said. 

"This formula contains no corn, wheat, soy, or added artificial colors, flavors or preservatives," he said. "We also added DHA to help with brain and vision development, and antioxidants to support a kitten’s immune system."

Purina One True Instinct Natural Grain-Free formula offers a protein-rich food cats crave, with real chicken as the No. 1 ingredient. The grain-free recipe features crunchy bites and tender, meaty morsels to provide the texture variety cats prefer in nature, Cooke said.

Dr. Elsey’s Cat Products’ new Cleanprotein cat food is inspired by the protein levels found in natural prey, with 90 percent-plus of that protein being animal based, said Gina Zaro, marketing director for the Englewood, Colo.-based company. The high-protein kibble is formulated to help cats maintain an ideal weight and body mass, in addition to a healthy, active lifestyle.

"The primary ingredients are among the highest biological value proteins available," Zaro said. "Our ingredients are grain free and non GMO with no meal or fillers."

Australian brand Snappy Tom recently launched a U.S.-centered website designed to help cat owners throughout the country gain access to high-quality cat food. The brand’s wet cat food is all natural with no grains, or artificial ingredients or colors, said Robert Hernandez, national sales manager, USA, for Snappy Tom Pet Supply, which has U.S. headquarters in City of Industry, Calif.