These days, there is no shortage of food options for cat owners to choose from. However, dry food is still the top choice among many who have cats who prefer the crunchiness and palatability it provides.
Cat owners are raising their standards for dry food options, said Heather Acoff, Ph.D., director of research and development for Nulo Pet Food, a manufacturing company in Austin, Texas.
“Elements such as high-quality protein, life-stage and solution-specific formulations, and premium superfood ingredients have proven to resonate with health-conscious pet owners,” she said. “But most impactful are the associated health benefits, such as unique formulas for breeding indoor and adult cats and senior cats, as well as solutions for special needs such as weight and hairball management. Distinguished cat food consumers expect the same solutions as conventional products with the added confidence that what they put in In their pet’s bowl it really is the best option for their long-term health.”
Acuff said Nulo cat formulas are made with high protein from animal sources, low in carbohydrates, and contain low-sugar, grain-free carbohydrate sources. It also provides solutions to problems. For example, Nulo’s FreeStyle Senior Cat recipe addresses the palatability of elderly cats by highlighting Alaskan pollock as the primary source of protein; Muscle strength and maintenance through its high meat/low carb design; and weight management with the inclusion of natural insoluble fiber from the miscanthus herb, Acuff noted.
“As omnivores, cats’ acceptance of our naturally high-meat formulations is very high,” she added. “By reducing the level of carbohydrates and using only low-glycemic ingredients, the Nolo Diet along with our active lifestyle is critical in the battle against cat obesity and other weight-related issues.”
Dana Paris, chief marketing officer for Canidae Pet Food, a manufacturer in Stamford, Connecticut, points out that cat owners are looking for foods that are highly nutritious and delicious, too. This combination makes both humans and cats happy.
“The quality of the protein source remains extremely important,” she added. “Having real poultry, fish or meat as a first ingredient is important for pet parents.”
Canidae recently launched a dry cat food line based on the problem/solution called Goodness. Joints and Skin & Coat formulas contain real salmon as the first ingredient, Indoor Cats formula contains real white fish as the first ingredient, and Digestion formula contains real chicken as the first ingredient.
Overall, the trend has been toward luxury foods, said Celeste Nemeth, team leader at The Barking Lot, a pet store in Wheaton, Illinois. No matter which form pet owners choose, she said, they want to know that the food contains the highest quality ingredients.
“There has definitely been a move more toward raw among our cat owners,” Nemeth said. “But for those who prefer cable, they want something higher quality.”
Of course, palatability must also be taken into account. Caroline Gunther, owner of Wag! The unique pet boutique in Hendersonville, North Carolina, said that premium, inedible food isn’t very good for cats.
“I would argue that palatability should come first – even before quality – because cats are very picky,” she said. “Ideally, if cats are not currently on a healthy diet with high-quality food, we can look for ways to help them transition slowly.”
Switching up a cat’s food or adding something new to the diet can take time and patience, said Alison Schwartz, general manager of All Pets Consiced, a retailer with two stores in Greensboro, North Carolina.
“It can be difficult to switch a cat from one food to another because the cat gets used to the shape of the food it eats on its tongue,” she explained. “We are diligent in promoting wet and raw foods, because cats need hydration, but we also know that it is absolutely essential to carry a kibble because that is all some cats eat. For cat parents who want to start introducing some wet or raw foods into the diet. They have to do it slowly.”
Schwartz said she learned from a raw training session that feeding raw food in a separate area — where dry food isn’t fed — and making it more like the activity of playing hide and seek can interest cats.
“Once you involve them, you may be able to start adding this as a top cover to dry food over time,” she said. “But it can take weeks or months for difficult cats to try something new.”
Nemeth said owners should watch out for an upset stomach when adding anything new to a cat’s typical diet.
“Besides being selective, many cats have sensitive stomachs and won’t feel comfortable if you introduce something new too quickly,” she said.
Acuff said retailers may need to support pet owners as they easily make changes.
“Because cats are notoriously difficult, trial sizes, free samples, and/or money-back guarantees are all excellent tools for encouraging parents to try something new,” she said. “This low-cost entry point can provide consumers with assurance that their cat will enjoy the product.”
Gunther notes that free samples are much more popular with her cat-owning clients than with dogs. She said that this is entirely due to the selective preferences of cats.
A variety of products on the market, including wet raw, frozen, freeze-dried, bone broth, and mixers, provide cat owners with more options than ever before. Retailers and manufacturers said it doesn’t have to be “all or nothing”.
Paris said that many pet owners feed their cats a range of options.
“Cat parents are more likely to use a mixture of dry and wet food,” she said. “This presents an opportunity to cross-promote wet and dry products in the same product line to encourage this behavior and build the basket. At Canidae, our wet and dry formulations complement each other or can be used on their own for a complete, balanced meal for cats. We know that taste and variety are really important for pet parents, So serving a variety of wet food as a cover for dry food can serve to push both types of food.”
Calling Attention To Cat
Given the many different types of cat foods available, specialty pet retailers should devote ample space to promoting cat food choices.
Gunther said that in her shop there is an entire room dedicated to cat food and treats, as well as other cat products.
“Cat parents sometimes feel as if cats don’t get as much attention as dogs – so we tried to combat that feeling with a room entirely dedicated to cats,” she said. “People in cats are willing to spend a lot of money on their pets when they are presented with options.”
Acuff said the retailer’s education and support is really important when it comes to selling more cat food.
Additionally, adding clip-on strips and end caps with trial size bundles within primary kibble lanes can help suggest a mixed feeding approach, while clip-on strips in sections such as nutritional supplements can suggest a customized solution for those looking to solve a common problem such as dry skin, he said. Acuff. “For owners who aren’t ready to commit to a diet overhaul, putting small packages around the store can be an interesting invitation to try.”