Seeking the Source
Consumers are asking questions about the sourcing and production of cat food, and many
are equating USA-sourced ingredients with higher quality and safety standards.
BY LIZE TT BOND
When it comes to nutrition, modern pet owners are shrewd, and many have an exacting list of demands and must-haves when purchasing products designed
to boost the health and wellness of their feline companions. For
many, USA-sourced ingredients top the list.
“Simply put, consumers want better ingredients and foods
that will benefit their pet in the long term,” said Bette Schubert,
co-founder and senior vice president of sales for Bravo Pet
Foods in Manchester, Conn. “Consumers are more comfortable
with, and trusting of, products offering ingredient transparency
and local manufacturing under watchful eyes.”
These savvy shoppers study ingredient panels, research
sourcing and scrutinize manufacturing practices with a well-de-
veloped appreciation for what “the best” truly looks like, said
Jen Loesch, general manager of Sojos in Minneapolis.
Further, pet owners rely on federal agencies such as the U.S.
Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of
Agriculture (USDA) to ensure food quality and safety, said Karen Neola, founder of My Perfect Pet in Poway, Calif.
While inquiry of this type has been evident in the dog products category for some time, the call for transparency in sourcing for feline nutrition is gathering momentum.
“We’ve certainly seen the made in USA trend make its way
over to the cat food category for many of the same reasons that
are driving the industry as a whole,” Schubert said. “The pri-
mary driver continues to be consumer demand for better foods
for our feline friends—foods that are nutritionally sound and
manufactured using stringent safety protocols.”
Historically, many of the wide-reaching health issues sur-
rounding pet foods have developed as a result of ingredients
sourced from other countries, said Noelle Selleck, California
sales manager for Smallbatch Pets in Portland, Ore. For this
reason, consumers often generalize and deride all ingredients
that arrive from outside the USA, she added.
“Consumers equate USA-sourced and -made ingredients
with quality,” Selleck said. “It’s a convenient box to check when
evaluating myriad available options.”
Samantha Cohen, vendor relations manager and corporate
buyer at Woof Gang Bakery, which has headquarters in Orlan-
do, Fla., said that offering a mix of cat foods featuring the high-
est-quality ingredients and nutrition is the first and foremost
“Most of our kibble diets are USA made and sourced,” she
said. “With that in mind, cats require a higher level of moisture,
and sometimes simply supplying water does not suffice; therefore, it is important to include some canned food in their diets.”
However, canned offerings are not strictly limited to USA
sources, Cohen said.
“We also carry brands that are packed in human-food facili-
ties around the world following other guidelines, such as strict
EU standards,” she said. “Ultimately, when it comes to sourc-
ing, we want foods from the highest-quality suppliers around
the world. For example, many manufacturers source their lamb
and venison from New Zealand.”
Consumer interest in freeze-dried, USA-sourced cat food
products is growing dramatically, Loesch said.
“With cat parents looking for safe, convenient ways to feed
their pets, using the freshest ingredients possible, raw food has
become an important part of the made in the USA movement,”
With cats’ rising status in the household, some
owners are paying more attention to where
their food is made and sourced.
Helping customers to find the best food to meet
the needs of their individual pet at a bud-
get-pleasing price can be a challenge, said Karen
Neola, founder of My Perfect Pet in Poway, Calif.
“Products containing high-quality, USA-
sourced ingredients will never be cheap, so pet
specialty retailers must assure shoppers that they
are making a healthier, safer choice,” Neola said.
It is also vital that independent retailers
building awareness for USA-sourced products
share their research findings and reasons for se-
lecting a product with sales associates, said Bette
Schubert, co-founder and senior vice president of
sales for Bravo Pet Foods in Manchester, Conn.
Noelle Selleck, California sales manager for
Smallbatch Pets in Portland, Ore., agreed.
“A knowledgeable, effective staff is often
what sets brick-and-mortar retail stores apart
from mass-market chains and e-commerce, and
independents should definitely take advantage
of the training offered by manufacturers,” Selleck
said. “In an age where anyone can publish any-
thing online and put it forth as fact, it’s important
to cultivate a sense of expertise that consumers
feel they can trust.”
Following trends in human foods, pet owners
are demanding easier-to-understand labels and
more wholesome, natural ingredients, yet many
remain unaware of the source of those ingredi-
ents and might become confused by conflicting
pet food company claims, Neola said.
For example, she said, retailers can play a
role in helping pet owners understand the difference between diets formulated with synthetic
chemicals versus those prepared with fresh, natural sources of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants
At Odyssey Pets in Dallas, co-owner Sherry
Redwine noted that retailer expertise plays a vital
role in simplifying the food selection process for
“Our customer base wants a quality product
from a reliable source at a decent price,” she
said. “They trust us to offer the very best in pet
foods, and we do not carry foods containing
corn, wheat gluten, byproducts or Chinese in-
gredients. However, when I have a conversation
with a customer about the particular sourcing
of ingredients and the intricacies of co-packing,
their eyes glaze over.”
In addition to in-store knowledge, education
methods such as email blasts and social media
marketing can increase reach, Selleck said.
Visibility is another linchpin to building
“I’ve seen stores create an entire made in the
USA product section to help the customer find
what they are looking for,” Selleck added.
The independent retailer continues to be
instrumental in advocating, educating and
spreading the word on good nutrition and, because of these efforts, more and more pet owners
are recognizing USA-made foods as superior, safe
and convenient alternatives to highly processed
foods, said Jen Loesch, general manager for Sojos