Most consumers still prefer to feed kibble, and offering a wide
assortment can please picky shoppers and cats alike.
“Shopping dry cat food can be overwhelming with what seems like endless options.
Helping consumers understand why they would choose a specific food
makes the product selection less overwhelming.”
—Jennifer LaPointe of Solid Gold Pet
BY LINDSE Y GE TZ
Raw food might be the pet food category to watch, but for most cat owners, kibble is still king. According to the American Pet Products Association’s 2017-2018
National Pet Owners Survey, in 2016, 74 percent of surveyed
cat owners fed dry food most often. Pet specialty retailers
can cater to dry food buyers by promoting foods with quality ingredients and those that tap into the ancestral diet
“Consumers want to feed high-quality ingredients that
will help their cats live longer, healthier lives,” said Gina
Zaro, marketing director for Dr. Elsey’s Cat Products in En-
glewood, Colo. “There is an overall focus on simplification
and getting back to the ancestral diet of a cat.”
The need to feed cats a more healthful diet that they will
actually eat is an ongoing battle for cat owners and the re-
tailers that serve them.
“Cat parents want the best for their cats but know that
they can be finicky about their food’s texture and flavor,”
said Chanda Leary-Coutu, director of consumer experience
for WellPet in Tewksbury, Mass. “As a result, passing the
‘taste test’ is usually the first requirement for dry food.”
A high-quality dry food that does not sacrifice taste or
nutrition should keep cats satisfied. But Matt O’Leary, man-
ager of Felix & Oscar in Springfield, Va., said that cat owners
are still wary of taking any chances, which is why offering a
guarantee on all brands sold in the store helps ease owners
into trying something new.
“They know that if their cat absolutely won’t eat it, they
can bring it back for a full refund,” O’Leary said.
Kelley Parsons, manager of Denny’s Pet World in Kirkland, Wash., said that her store has the same policy.
“Cats are finicky,” she said. “That’s why we stress that
cat parents can return a bag of food for a full refund if their
cat won’t eat it. Without that promise, I think they’d be more
reluctant to try something new.”
CONVERT THEM WITH CONVERSATION
When a cat owner finds a food that their cat loves, it’s often difficult to get
them to try something different—even if they know the food is low quality. But
successful retailers said that education makes all the difference.
“It’s an uphill battle for sure,” said Matt O’Leary, manager of Felix & Oscar
in Springfield, Va. “Once a cat gets hooked on a particular food—even if it’s a
lower-quality brand—it’s hard to encourage a switch. But it’s not impossible.
It’s largely a conversation-driven effort, as we explain the benefits. Switching
from a low-quality food to a high-quality one also makes such a tremendous
difference in the cat’s health that once they do it, there’s no going back.”
Marni Lewis, owner of The Green K9 in Mount Dora, Fla., agreed. She also
called the effort to get cat owners to switch a “battle,” but said that it is worth
“Cat parents don’t always know that their pets need more protein and
fewer carbs,” Lewis said. “That’s where education really counts. While our
optimum choice would be a raw diet, a premium dry food diet is still much
better than the brand they were likely getting at the grocery store. Once they
start seeing healthy changes in their cat, they’re a customer for good. They
trust you, and they’ll come to you for advice going forward.”
Lewis said that one way the staff at The Green K9 educates customers is
to ask cat owners to actually bring in a bag of food they are currently feeding
their cat so that they can compare bags.
“We will compare the nutrition so that they can see with their own eyes
what the difference is,” she said. “People are often very visual, and they need
that side-by-side comparison to truly understand the difference.”
Jennifer LaPointe, brand manager for Solid Gold Pet in Chesterfield, Mo.,
said cat owners often welcome guidance as they shop. Education can give
them confidence about their choices.
“Shopping dry cat food can be overwhelming with what seems like
endless options,” she said. “Helping consumers understand why they would
choose a specific food makes the product selection less overwhelming. With
educational materials in-store and at-shelf product navigation, cat parents will
have the help they need in picking the right food for their cat.”
Of course, it is important that retailers know their stuff. Patrick Mendicki,
vice president of sales and business development for Pureluxe Pet Food
in Atlanta, said retailers should investigate the claims being made by
He posed these questions for retailers: “Does the manufacturer have
the back-up data to show their transparency, and is the back-up data being
provided by the company itself or supplied by a third party to verify the
accuracy of the statements being made?”