The Key to Selling Natural Cat Food | Current Issue

As cat owners become more familiar with the nutritional needs of their pets, manufacturers of natural cat food are realizing that shoppers can expect to be able to understand the ingredients in their pet’s food.

“As the humanization of pets continues, and trends in excellence and wellness extend into the pet category, pet parents are paying more attention to ingredients and the quality of their pet food,” said Stephanie Arnold, commercial director of Freely, a manufacturer in Brentwood. Mo. “At Freely, we believe what we feed to our pets is a critical choice and pet parents should know and understand what goes into their cat’s bowl. We truly want what’s best for each cat parent and their cat, which is why all Freely recipes are made with the highest quality and sourced ingredients. Carefully “.

With no specific definition of “natural” that the industry reserves for manufacturers, different manufacturers have different approaches to this category.

For Nulo Pet Food in Austin, Texas, “natural” in cat food constitutes a nutritional approach that aligns with the needs of carnivores, uses high-quality ingredients from reputable suppliers, and takes into account elements such as protein sources, diets that are a life focused phase and solution. , Superfood ingredients.

“This means that most of the protein in a cat’s diet should come from meat, poultry and fish, rather than plants, carbohydrates should be kept to a minimum, and unnecessary ingredients, such as artificial colors or controversial preservatives, should not be included,” Heather Product Development Director Akov.

Dr.’s products focus. Elsey’s Cat also helps cat ancestors meet their high protein requirements without fillers and additives. The Cheyenne, Wyo-based manufacturer launched its Cleanprotein diet in 2017. The diet was formulated to provide a similar nutritional profile to a mouse, with high protein and low carbohydrates.

“A cat’s instinctive diet should be derived from animal proteins, not from plants and filler ingredients that are high in oxalate,” said Gina Zarrow, director of marketing. Macarons require over 36 percent protein to prevent muscle wasting and over 50 percent protein to promote ideal body mass.

Low oxalate levels promote healthy kidney function and an active lifestyle for cats, Zaro said. Oxalic acid is an organic acid produced in animals and plants when they metabolize sugars, other carbohydrates and carbon sources. Plant-based ingredients are high in oxalate, and Dr. Elsie keeps oxalate levels low by excluding certain plants from his clean protein recipes — more than 90 percent of the diet’s protein comes from animals, Zaro said.

What cat owners want

Limited ingredient diets are booming for cats, and customers are increasingly interested in feeding wet or canned diets, said Kristin McCoy, owner of The Natural Pet Enrichment Center, a pet store in North Royalton, Ohio.

Patti Zeller, owner of Animal Connection, a pet store in Charlottesville, Virginia, said shoppers are buying more frozen, dried and shredded canned foods.

Texture is one of the most important elements for cat owners to consider when looking for a diet that their cat will enjoy. Acuff said the top-growing Nulo formats are those that feature a variety of protein and texture options.

“[Nulo’s] Sales of cat food have soared in the wet food category, which is a driving factor in determining where we should focus our attention on new product development.” “We offer a variety of product formats that each bring unique textures and flavors to the bowl, from kibble, pancakes, fritters, purées, mousses, gravies, and freeze-dried raw foods.”

Most Nulo cat foods contain three to five different sources of animal protein from similar types, such as red meat, poultry, and fish combinations.

While chicken and fish are still major proteins sold at Zeller, newer proteins such as rabbit, lamb and pork are becoming increasingly popular.

Both products released by Dr. Elsey’s Cat and Freely recently had new recipes for rabbits.

“Freely has seen success across our cat lineup, with our rabbit recipes becoming particularly popular,” Arnold said. “Rabbit is a low-fat, high-protein option and a great choice for picky eaters or cats with sensitive diets.”

new products

Introductions from Emerging and Established Brands

Freely, a new manufacturer based in Brentwood, Mo. , the premium pet food category in 2020 and brought dry and canned grain-free turkey, rabbit and salmon recipes to market. The Company’s Limited Source Animal Protein Diets are made with picky cats and sensitive stomachs in mind. Freely also offers limited-edition bone broth wraps made with 100 percent human-grade ingredients.

“We focus on making foods that provide all the nutrients cats need to thrive, and nothing they don’t, which is why our recipes contain no fillers, artificial flavors or preservatives,” said Chief Commercial Officer Stephanie Arnold. “We use real ingredients – real animal protein, real vegetables, real vitamins and minerals that serve a real purpose for cats.”

In March, Dr. Elsey’s Cat Products in Cheyenne, Washington, released three new premium clean protein diets: turkey, rabbit, and duck. These recipes join chicken, salmon kibble, and nine patty flavors in the Cleanprotein assortment. Every Cleanprotein diet contains at least 90 percent animal-derived protein and contains no grains, GMOs, meals or fillers.

“At Dr. Elsey’s we talk about cats, and providing cats with a high-protein food for all cats, especially older cats who can suffer from muscle wasting, has been very rewarding,” said marketing director Gina Zaro. “We have also seen an incredible amount of positive response from cat owners with prediabetic or diabetic cats. Clean protein is an ideal diet for this audience because it is high in protein and low in carbohydrates.”

Nulo Pet Food in Austin, Texas, has several new products planned for 2021. Later this summer, the Nulo Frontrunner for cats and kittens will be available to specialty pet retailers. The high-value, high-quality kibble line contains animal protein levels of up to 85 percent.

Leading cat formulas include turkey, salmon, herring, beef, and lamb paired with ancient grains such as oats, barley, and millet. The diets also feature functional supplements, including taurine and the patented GanedenBC30 probiotic.

The company is also launching Nulo Hydrate, a functional water enhancer for cats. The shelf-stabilizing liquid does not require refrigeration and will be available in beef and chicken liver flavors.

“Our goal with this product line is to provide a new sanitary solution by focusing on the water bowl,” said Heather Acoff, Director of Product Development. “Encouraging cats to drink more water can have many health benefits, and simply squeezing our water enhancers provides exceptional flavor as well as a nutritional boost with B vitamins, electrolytes, and amino acids like taurine and DL-methionine.”

Consumer awareness

Cat owners support

Manufacturers and retailers agree that cat owners, in general, are becoming more interested in learning about their pets’ nutritional needs.

Gina Zaro, Marketing Director of Dr. Elsey’s Cat, manufacturer in Cheyenne, Wyo: “There is a general focus on simplifying and returning to the ancient cat diet. Consumers want to feed high-quality ingredients that help their cats live longer, healthier lives.”

Kristen McCoy, owner of The Natural Pet Enrichment Center, a pet store in North Royalton, Ohio, said shoppers are increasingly aware of the need for moisture in cats’ diets.

“Customers are more educated now and have spent more time researching,” she said. “They are beginning to understand that cats need moisture to stay healthy and avoid kidney and urinary problems.”

McCoy said her canned meals are her best seller, with many owners adding freeze-dried lids or desserts. She tries to encourage clients to add raw food whenever possible, but has found that many cat owners try to introduce raw food too quickly for the cat to accept it, rather than adding it slowly and gradually.

Patti Zeller, owner of Animal Connection, a pet store in Charlottesville, Virginia, encourages budget-conscious cat owners to enhance the kibble diet with broths, toppers or mixers, and gives out credits, exchanges or returns if they don’t make it.

“Often we suggest a mealtime with add-ons for a better bowl of food,” she said. “The best pet food is definitely a higher price tag, but when you feed better pet food, your vet bills can definitely go down.”

Freely Corporation, a new manufacturer, was founded in Brentwood, Mo. , with the goal of being a better pet food brand that is an honest partner for pet owners, said Chief Commercial Officer Stephanie Arnold.

“The industry has grown a lot, and with that growth getting around with pet parents has become very complex,” she said. “The number of choices, confusing claims, and feeding methods have left the pet parent largely unsupported and left the answer ‘What is best for my pet?’ “All on their own.”

Arnold said the Freely Nutrition Center is a free pet nutrition service staffed by experts who provide advice and counseling to pet owners. She can be reached via live chat at, email at, or by phone at 833-918-1236.

Arnold noted that the resource is geared specifically toward millennials, who have become the largest group of pet owners and have higher expectations of the brands they choose than the generations that came before.

“Millennial pet parents want to feel informed and involved in every choice they make for their pets, and now we’re making that possible in pet food by arming them with resources they never had before that allow them to learn, ask questions, and feel supported with a transparent resource and unbiased.” “Our commitment is to be an honest broker to the pet parent – even if that means recommending a food other than Freely.”

improvement group

wide net cast

Retailers looking to attract the maximum audience should diversify their assortments across protein, shape and price point to offer something for everyone.

Animal Connection in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the Natural Pet Enrichment Center in North Royalton, Ohio, each carry about 30 natural cat food brands with diverse protein and formula options.

Patti Zeller, owner of Animal Connection, said they stock frozen, freeze-dried, soft-cooked, then freeze-dried, canned, and low-fat diets in a range of prices.

“Our market ranges from young professionals to retirees, so we have a good variety,” she said. “We are close to Pet Valu that recently closed and have accommodated many of their previous customers, so we have foods at a price that allows for an easy transition to shopping with us.”

When building the store’s assortment, Zeller focuses on levels of taurine and the first five to ten ingredients in each food.

Kristen McCoy, owner of The Natural Pet Enrichment Center, said she looks for high-quality foods without by-products, high-quality protein and low carbs.

“Cats are very picky,” she said. “We carry as much as we can put on the shelf. … Since we carry only high-quality cat food, we are looking to take on many different price points, as we feel it is very important to add wet food to cat diets.”

McCoy said some of her favorite wet foods are made by Weruva, which offers lower-cost options in its Best Feline Friend (BFF) line and more premium options through its TruLuxe line; Fromm Family Foods, which offers a variety of proteins at a mid-level price; and Dave’s Pet Food, which offers premium ingredients at a more affordable price. For dry diets, the go-tos for McCoy are Fromm and Fussie Cat.

“We offer good, better and better options, so that customers can have healthy, natural options on different budgets,” she said. “We are looking for options within a food line that cater to our customers, which may mean we’ll only carry a few SKUs of the brand so we can offer a broader selection.”


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