Why Chef Bobby Flay is now making food for cats

Chef Bobby Flay has spent his career focusing on providing high quality ingredients and flavors to customers in his various restaurants and through his appearances on the Food Network. Flay is now looking forward to success with a new audience: cats.

The pet food market has exploded in recent years with US pet ownership hitting an all-time high with 70% of American households, or nearly 90.5 million homes, according to the American Pet Products Association.

Of course, spending on pet products is up, too, growing to $103.6 billion in 2020, up 6.5% year over year, according to APPA. The largest category is pet food and processing, which makes up $42 billion of that total and is up 9.7% year over year as more people aren’t just adopting pets, but spending more on them.

But even Fly, the self-proclaimed “cat boy,” said he wasn’t sure what meals to put in front of his two Maine Coon cats, Nacho and Stella.

Celebrity chef Bobby Flay and his cat Nacho Flay appeared on a radio show on November 23, 2015 in New York City.

Astrid Stewars | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images

“I myself had a hard time trying to figure out what to feed my cats, so I kind of took it upon myself,” Fly said on CNBC’s “The Exchange.” Fly said he drew inspiration from “characterizing human food and bringing it into the cat trade.”

While the idea started out as a passion project, Flay said the goal with Made by Nacho was “to make this a real business, so it’s not just a hobby — it’s definitely a passion, but it’s real.”

Flay reached out to Elly Trusedell, who was previously the global director of local brand product innovation at Amazon’s Whole Foods and was CEO of food production studio Canopy Foods, to join him as its co-founder.

In August 2020, they appointed former Petco CEO Julie Nelson to serve as the company’s president, helping develop the brand’s overall distribution. When the brand launched in April, Made by Nacho was available on its website and exclusively at PetSmart. Fly said the company has seen an average customer return rate of 64% so far, and now also has a subscription service for its products.

“We had the human food trade, cat food and pet food sort of covered,” Fly said.

After several more months — during which time Fly said the brand experienced “immediate growth, basically growing week to week” — the company hired Tessa Gold, a former CEO of SoulCycle and Buzzfeed who also worked as CMO for the Kinship Group, the innovation and projects division at Mars Petcare.

They’ve also headed to the brand name – seven-year-old Nacho Flay has over 240,000 followers on Instagram.

While Flay said the food’s flavors are geared toward cats, there are more chef-inspired ingredients and recipes like treats made with liver of Alaskan duck and wild salmon, and dried foods made with beef, rabbit, and grass-fed animals. Pumpkin.

Pet products are constantly growing

The boom in online shopping and pet ownership amid the pandemic has benefited companies working in the pet food business.

Chewy reported a 27% increase in annual revenue to $2.16 billion in the second quarter, thanks in part to more customer spending. The company’s net sales per active customer were $404, up 13.5% from last year, while Chewy reported it had 20.1 million active customers, an increase of 21.1% over last year.

Petco saw its revenue grow 19% to $1.4 billion in the second quarter, as the company also noted increased spending as pet owners spend more time and care with their pets. “I have this theory that pets helped Americans psychologically weather the pandemic, bonded, and took better care of their pets,” Petco CEO Ron Coughlin said on the company’s second-quarter earnings call.

Previously on CNBC’s “Closing Bell,” Fly said he believes “what we feed our pets is an important component of their happiness, but also for pet parents to make sure they’re eating well.”

“Because of the pandemic, we are all becoming closer to our pets,” he said. “They were such an important part of my life before that, and I think over the past year, we’ve all realized how incredibly important they are to us.”

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