How has the category of specialty/functional
foods for cats changed?
“I’ve witnessed food for pets follow
a side road down the same trends
we have going on for humans. I
think the difference is care and
awareness. People have such an
easier time nowadays with the
advance in technology—sharing on
blogs and forums and being able to
research any ingredient or symptom
so simply.”—AMANDA MORTON,
store manager for Bon Pet Supply in
Colorado Springs, Colo.
CONVERSATION DRIVES UNDERSTANDING
In cat food, education is everything, according to both retailers
and manufacturers. Most recommended conversation with
customers as the most effective way to inform pet owners
about specialty and functional cat foods.
“Consumer education is very important to the industry
as a whole,” said Tracy Alford, owner of Animal Nutrition &
Grooming Center in Roseville, Calif. “It gives people facts and
information not given by their vet. Talking to the customer is
key; have a conversation with probing questions.”
Because “buzzwords like ‘natural,’ ‘whole’ and ‘organic’
are cluttering the pet food aisles and overwhelming con-
sumers,” Missy Werges, brand director for Nature’s Variety in
St. Louis, emphasized the importance of offering “resources
that provide credible and simple information pet parents are
The first step for retailers is to truly understand what’s on
their shelves, said Chanda Leary-Coutu, director of consumer
experience for WellPet in Tewksbury, Mass.
Kathy Gross, director of clinical nutrition for Hill’s Pet Nutrition in Topeka, Kan., said that transparency with customers
about what pet foods contain is important from both pet food
companies and retailers.
Leary-Coutu also recommended that retailers offer on-site
demonstrations so cat owners can explore new recipes and
ask questions firsthand.
One way to ensure that staff are prepared to answer shoppers’ questions is to rely on manufacturer partners for detailed
information on products.
“Working directly with the manufacturer to help educate
consumers and store associates is paramount to correctly
marketing premium, natural pet food diets,” said Lindsay
Tracy, director of new business and business development at
Redbarn Pet Products in Long Beach, Calif.
Experts report that the more cat owners understand about
the importance of quality nutrition, the more likely they are to
consistently offer their pets the best diets available.
“Consumer education helps drive compliance, and diets
often cannot help a pet unless the owners are compliant,” said
Catherine Lenox, DVM, a board-certified veterinary nutritionist and scientific affairs manager for Royal Canin USA in St.
Charles, Mo. “When owners have a better understanding of the
overall plan and know why a recommendation is made, there is
a better chance that compliance will happen.”
Despite how much more savvy consumers are, a lot of
misinformation remains, Lenox said, adding that “having
things like brochures available for them to read will help get
them started in terms of understanding why a recommenda-
tion is made.”
As part of its consumer education, Furry Face in Redlands,
Calif., keeps a model of a cat’s jaw and diagrams of their
physiology so staff can “show and tell how [cats] eat, what
their teeth are shaped like, and why the shape indicates what
they’re meant to eat, and how their physiology and digestive
system works to process what they eat,” said owner Lorin
Grow. The store also uses social media to communicate with
cat owners through posts, blogs, shared articles and more.
“No one buys a functional food that we don’t ask if they
have questions, what’s going on and if there are issues,” she
Similarly, at Bon Pet Supply in Colorado Springs, Colo.,
store manager Amanda Morton said they spend a lot of time
talking to cat owners to educate them. Staff members also
share what’s worked with their own pets.
“More people are asking questions about what they put in their pet’s bowl
each day: What ingredients is it made with? How will this impact my pet’s
health? Where do these ingredients come from? This has led to a stronger
interest in the natural category.”—CHANDA LEARY-COUTU, director of
consumer experience for WellPet in Tewksbury, Mass.
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