The most important feline nutrition trends in pet stores include raw, natural and a focus on high-quality proteins.
Pet retailers know cats are obligate carnivores, and people who love their cats are obligate consumers. Felines are hard-wired to eat meat, and cat owners want to find the right meat for their furry loved ones. Retailers that can supply these shoppers with good information and high-quality foods can succeed in this important category.
Manufacturers say that the top trends in feline nutrition reflect the larger trend of consumers seeking healthful diets for the entire family.
“We’ve seen an increase in pet parents’ desire to learn more about species-appropriate diets for their four-legged family members,” says Kevin Malnor, vice president of marketing and sales for Vital Essentials, based in Green Bay, Wis. “Grains, fruits, vegetables or other types of fillers are not part of an appropriate diet and awareness of this fact is on the rise among pet parents.”
Vital Essentials offers Vital Cat raw diets and treats. The limited-ingredient foods are based on the Alpha Prey-Model Diet. Last year, the company launched the Vital Cat line, raw entrees in freeze-dried and frozen options. The foods contain no artificial ingredients, do not use fillers and are sourced, made and packaged in the USA.
“One of the recent changes we’re seeing is an increased interest in new pet food forms focused on health and health-related benefits,” Malnor says. “Many of our consumers know that their cat’s diet is directly correlated to the health, wellbeing and longevity of their four-legged family member. We’re seeing more consumers switching from commercially available foods to Vital Essentials in alignment with this sentiment.”
To help drive sales at retail, Vital Essentials offers frozen chubs in eight-ounce packages, and a “try me free” rebate offer.
“We know that trying a new food can sometimes be a challenge for our retailers,” Malnor says.
Educational efforts help too, and Vital Essentials invested in an educational initiative in 2017 for retailers and consumers. Stores hosted pet nutrition seminars for consumers, which Malnor says resulted in increases not only in single day sales, but also post-event purchases of Vital Cat products. The company offers two seminars, taught by animal nutrition experts.
For some cat owners, treats are an important part of nutrition, so these small bites have to also be meat-centric. NutriSource recently launched 13 new canned cat entrees and will soon launch freeze-dried treats.
“All of our new products have high percentages of meat protein and superior nutrition—vital for the long-term health of your beloved pet,” says Colin Redding, territory manager for Arizona, Hawaii, New Mexico and Las Vegas for Tuffy’s Pet Foods, makers of NutriSource, Pure Vita, Natural Planet and other brands. “We offer maximum bioavailability, which means pets get the most nutrition from their food as quickly as possible.”
Redding explains that cats digest their food in a very short period of time.
“Health starts in the gut with proper digestion. It’s our belief that, through proper mineral, prebiotic and probiotic support, we can empower your pet to break down their food more efficiently,” he says. “Our products help feline friends extract more vital nutrients than other pet food brands, which results in a robust immune system with fewer trips to the vet.”
Another important feature in feline nutrition is meat content, as well as how the meat is cooked. Redding says the new products offer higher meat content, and the kibble is cooked below 200 degrees. All the Pure Vita cans contain a minimum of 96 percent meat protein from a single source.
“The more bioavailable the food, the better it’s digested, which means a happy, healthy pet,” he says.
Responding to cat owners’ desire to add more protein options to their cats’ diets, Portland, Ore.-based Radagast Pet Food, Inc., makers of Rad Cat Raw Diet, launched Natural Pork Recipe this year.
“This is a variety that has been in development for quite a while, and we are excited to finally have it available,” says Tracey Hatch-Rizzi, vice president and co-founder. “It’s a great complement to our other five varieties and adds balance to our line of frozen raw diets.”
To help encourage trial, the company has samples available for retailers to give to customers.
Hatch-Rizzi adds that the trend now is toward evolutionary diets. “When pet parents consider diets that are high in protein, they’re also looking to ensure that the protein is coming from a high-quality source,” she says. “We’ve always used whole muscle meat and organs in our products, along with whole food ingredients, to closely mimic what felines’ wild ancestors would consume, while still providing a diet that is highly digestible.”
In addition to its most recent product launch, Radagast also redesigned its label and has a fresh new look for the brand. The new containers have been very well received, Hatch-Rizzi says, and the design is fresh and modern and still ties in the company’s label design. There is also a new tamper-evident seal on every container.
Wet vs. Dry
One of the biggest ongoing debates in feline nutrition is whether it is better to feed cats dry food or wet food. Dry food is convenient because owners can leave the kibble in the bowl and the cat can eat any time. Also, there is the idea that the dry crunchy bites are good for the cat’s teeth. However, some industry experts say wet food is better for the cat because the higher moisture content helps the cat stay hydrated.
“The bottom line is wet food is probably the best diet for a cat,” says Gina Zaro, marketing director for Englewood, Colo.-based Dr. Elsey’s. “But a huge number of people feed their cats dry food.”
Earlier this year, the company launched Dr. Elsey’s cleanprotein. The new food has a high amount of animal-based protein, inspired by the protein levels found in natural prey. The dry food is available in two varieties, Chicken Recipe and With Salmon. There are also cleanprotein canned patés in Turkey, Salmon, Ocean Whitefish, Chicken or Beef recipes. The food is designed for cats of all life stages.
Dr. Elsey’s helps retailers and consumers find out more about the food and about cats’ nutritional needs through shelf talkers, the website and social media. “We try to position ourselves as a thought leader,” Zaro says.
A focus on digestive health is another important trend in feline nutrition.
“A healthy immune system means the immune system can respond appropriately when faced with different challenges,” says Rick Rockhill, executive vice president and partner at Westlake Village, Calif.-based Lucy Pet. “Every day, a cat’s immune system is challenged by viruses, bacteria, environmental toxins and other pathogens. This includes from their litter box and the normal household environment.”
Rockhill explains that the microbiome plays an important role in cat health. “Science shows that the body relies on the microbiome for many processes, including digestion and immune system function, so, the stronger it is, the better off the body will be. To positively shape the microbiome, nutritionists recommend eating a diverse diet rich in complex carbohydrates and fiber.”
Lucy Pet Salmon, Pumpkin & Quinoa Formulas for Life cat food contains the company’s P.B.F. Prebiotic Balanced Fiber for Gut Health. P.B.F. works through the digestive system to deliver prebiotic fibers that nourish the billions of bacteria in the gut. According to the company, its prebiotic ingredients are resistant to digestion in the stomach and small intestine but are fermentable in the large bowel, which helps positively shape the microbiome.
Lucy Pet uses wild-caught Alaskan salmon, chicken meal, salmon oil and a variety of high-quality fiber sources, including pumpkin, quinoa, flaxseed, dried kelp, dried chicory root, chickpeas and others.
“Experts agree that gut health is the first line of defense to help keep the entire body healthy and strong,” Rockhill says. PB