The feline set is notoriously discerning when it comes to mealtime. For this reason, cat owners are always in search of the perfect feast offering natural, species-appropriate nutrition that will have kitties meowing for more.
Lorin Grow, owner of Furry Face in Redlands, Calif., has noted a definite increase in the demand for high-quality, natural cat food.
"As more and more cats develop medical issues that can absolutely be eliminated or controlled by a better, high-quality diet, cat parents are looking for life-changing improvements without the use of drugs and/or chemicals," she said. "All illness, and all wellness, begins with food."
Consistently sought-after attributes in the cat food category include grain-free formulas, functional benefits, and high protein, said Leasa Moltke, manager of nutrition and regulatory affairs at Solid Gold Pet, a Chesterfield, Mo.-based pet food manufacturer.
"There’s also been a lot of expansion in the wet category as cat owners look to add variety and increase hydration in their cat’s diet," Moltke said.
Retailers and pet owners are seeking moisture-rich, minimal-ingredient cat food with no unnecessary fillers, said Lonnie Schwimmer, founder of Koha Pet Food in Delray Beach, Fla.
"Cat owners are doing their research and educating themselves about the role of food in their pet’s health," added Schwimmer, whose company produces limited-ingredient pet foods. "Limited-ingredient food is very popular."
The market has also seen growth in super-premium cat food formulas, said Holly Sher, owner and president of Evanger’s Dog & Cat Food Co. in Markham, Ill. Sher cited the company’s certified U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) organic line of canned cat foods as an example of a product that reflects this trend.
Price is another issue for both retailers and cat owners, she added.
"It is an oxymoron to have a high-quality product at a ‘cheap’ price," Sher said. "What’s great is that customers are now realizing the importance of high-quality USA ingredients in a great product that is priced at a good value."
Rob Flanagan, president of Wag N’ Wash Natural Food & Grooming, which has locations in eight states, sees further development in the raw food category for cats.
"I really see a big movement in both cat and dog food towards raw," he said. "I think it’s a niche that’s only going to grow."
Shoppers’ preference for natural and holistic cat foods is definitely on the rise, driven by top-of-mind safety concerns and a quest for simpler, cleaner ingredients, said Patrick McGarry, general manager for Gott Pet Products, parent company of Hound & Gatos Pet Foods in St. Francis, Wis.
"Since felines are notoriously finicky, [consumers are] also searching for novel flavors they hope their cat will embrace," McGarry added.
Offer Your Expertise
When it comes to assisting cat owners in finding the ideal natural diet for their pet, manufacturers reported that offering brand knowledge, variety and solutions for pets’ problems are key ways retailers can stand out.
Sharing brand knowledge will assist customers in making informed choices, said Lonnie Schwimmer, founder of Koha Pet Food in Delray Beach, Fla.
"Our customers are looking for solutions to their pets’ issues, such as food sensitivities, finicky eaters or minimal-ingredient foods to maintain a cat’s health," Schwimmer said.
With so many options to choose from, brand education at the retail level and at the shelf is a differentiator, noted Leasa Moltke, manager of nutrition and regulatory affairs for Solid Gold Pet in Chesterfield, Mo.
"Shelf signage should answer specific questions, like how a product is unique, if it helps a particular issue, and what might be right for the particular breed, age and size of your cat," Moltke said.
Solid Gold Pet focuses on using ingredients that will support the gut for overall wellness and immune health, and it offers solutions-oriented formulas, she added.
"We look for ingredients and nutrients such as antioxidant-packed superfoods, prebiotics and probiotics, and omega-3 fatty acids to give cats holistic nutrition," Moltke said. "We also don’t take a one-size-fits-all approach and craft our food specifically for different needs of cats and the issues they may be facing, including activity level, age, lifestyle and certain health issues."
Variety and competitive pricing are other components to strong sales, said Holly Sher, owner and president of Evanger’s Dog & Cat Food Co. in Markham, Ill.
"Our USA organic foods are typically priced to be more competitive relative to other brands, since we are an actual manufacturer that is also privately held," Sher said.
On the Market
The call for natural, high-quality cat foods is escalating, and, in response, manufacturers are formulating nutritious selections.
Koha Pet Food recently introduced a line of Limited Ingredient Diet Shredded Entrées in Gravy, available in Beef, Lamb, Chicken, Duck and Turkey.
"We already have our popular line of Limited Ingredient Diet Pâtés with many protein options," said Lonnie Schwimmer, founder of the Delray Beach, Fla.-based company. "The addition of the Shredded Entrées gives cat owners even more LID choices in different textures to find the option that their cat will love most."
Solid Gold Pet’s wet food offerings for cats include its Triple Layer line. Available in Beef, Chicken, Salmon and Turkey flavors, the foods contain a variety of textures and flavors to tempt the feline palate.
"Just as the name suggests, there are three delectable layers of palatable textures: classic pâté, whipped pumpkin mousse and real meat shreds," said Leasa Moltke, manager of nutrition and regulatory affairs for the Chesterfield, Mo.-based company. "All flavors offer high-quality sources of proteins, with added fiber-rich pumpkin to support healthy digestion."
Evanger’s Dog & Cat Food Co. recently released a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) certified organic beef canned cat food that is 100 percent made in the USA.
"We also will be launching another new organic protein, which will be hitting the market later this year," said Holly Sher, owner and president of the Markham, Ill.-based manufacturer. "Our new dry cat food, Catch of the Day, is also available and doing very well."
Food maker Hound & Gatos is sporting a new look. The brand’s logo and packaging have been completely refreshed for greater stopping power at point of sale, said Patrick McGarry, general manager for Gott Pet Products, parent company of Hound & Gatos Pet Foods in St. Francis, Wis.
"We introduced retailers to our bold new look at Global Pet Expo in March," he said. "Now we’re in the midst of developing a game-changing, high-animal-protein kibble line, which will be debuting for fall 2019."
Cat Food: What Is Natural?
The term "natural" often leads to confusion in the pet food space. Knowledgeable retailers can broaden consumer understanding through education, which might also include a discussion of how organic foods and ingredients fit in to the category, manufacturers report.
The definition of "natural" is the use of ingredients that have not been chemically synthesized beyond some necessary vitamins, minerals and amino acids, according to Leasa Moltke, manager of nutrition and regulatory affairs at Solid Gold Pet in Chesterfield, Mo.
Further, natural cat food is free of any artificial colors, flavors or preservatives, she said.
"There should be no added fillers such as a cellulose powder, also known as wood chips, that are seen in some products," Moltke noted. "Ingredients should serve a purpose—for instance, pumpkin for fiber and digestion support."
Koha Pet Food, in Delray Beach, Fla., focuses on offering minimal ingredients and no unnecessary fillers, said founder Lonnie Schwimmer. Transparency and sourcing are also focal points, he said.
"We don’t use the term ‘natural’ on our labels because it has been abused in the pet food space," Schwimmer said. "Our food is not organic. We would love to make a true organic food one day; however, if we were to do it now, our prices would be 40 percent higher, and consumers will not pay for that."
The definition of natural in its simplest form is food left in its natural state and free from any artificial ingredient or process, said Holly Sher, owner and president of Evanger’s Dog & Cat Food Co. in Markham, Ill.
"In being certified organic, we are avoiding GMOs, synthetic ingredients, processes, hormones and antibiotics, to name a few, excluding the essential added vitamins, minerals and amino acids," she said.
Animal husbandry, or how animals are raised, is another fundamental consideration for Evanger’s, Sher added.
"Being locked up in a cage for weeks is not natural," she said. "This is why we seek the certified organic inspection seal, as it does address and include best practices in animal husbandry as well."