A Bountiful Assortment
Nutritional science, as well as consumer and feline
preferences, drive trends and variety in the cat food aisle.
BY LARUE PALMER
The finicky nature of cats is legend- ary, which can make it challeng- ing for a pet owner to maintain a
healthful diet for them. Pet food manufacturers are burning the midnight
oil trying to create the right formula of
food that will satisfy not only the nutritional needs for every life stage given
cats’ picky nature, but also the humanistic values and tastes of the doting pet
The category is expanding with new
options as manufacturers seek to meet
customers’ varied demands.
“The cat food category is clearly
following in the footsteps of dog food,
with an increased number of natural
offerings and unique protein sources,” said Ann Hudson, vice president
at Whitebridge Pet Brands in St. Louis.
“The pursuit of the perfect feline diet
has led manufacturers to new sources
of meat and fish, and new ways of processing to be able to incorpo-
rate more fresh proteins into dry foods. Everyone knows cats are
carnivores, but figuring out how to get the perfect carnivore diet into
a can or bag is still a challenge for most manufacturers.”
Dry cat food continues to dominate sales in the category. Accord-
ing to a report published by Statista—an online statistics company
based in Hamburg, with regional headquarters in London and New
York—in 2016, U.S. premium dry cat food sales topped $534 million
in sales, compared to just $219 million for the wet varieties.
“Dry food is certainly still favored for its convenience and pal-
atability,” said Tracey Hatch-Rizzi, vice president and co-founder
of Radagast Pet Food Inc. in Portland, Ore. “But balancing that dry
food with wet food is more widely recommended now. Consumers
are also showing more interest in formulas that address their cat’s
specific lifestyles or life stages.”
Hudson agreed that dry foods are more popular with customers.
“The wet category is clearly under-penetrated in pet specialty. It’s an enormous opportunity for pet specialty retailers, and a
high-quality range of nutritious wet foods gives [pet specialty retail-ers] a way to effectively compete,” she said, adding that Whitebridge
recently released its Tiki Cat After Dark wet food line, with unique
proteins and real organ meat in a safely prepared and ready-to-serve
Raw foods are also gaining traction for cats with consumers. In
fact, Leasa Greer, manager of nutrition and regulatory affairs for
Solid Gold Pet based in Chesterfield, Mo., said raw feeding is not
merely a trend, but a movement among cat owners.
“More and more people are catching on to the fact that it’s a cat’s
evolutionary diet,” Greer said. “Cats were the ones that would be
put into the granary not to eat the grain, but to eat the vermin that
would eat the grain. In the end, at least feeding your cat a little bit of
raw is better than none at all.”
Still, Hatch-Rizzi said there is a great of deal misinformation cir-
culating in the cat-owning community about raw food diets.
“It is really because the veterinary community is much divided
about raw food diets, but when you walk into your local indepen-
dent pet store, you see raw diets all over the place,” she said. “So
you’re left wondering why there is division on one side, but the
healthful pet stores are all carrying all kinds of raw, raw freeze dried
and even kibble with raw incorporated into it.”
Stephanie Catalfio, store manager for Lou’s Pet Shop in Grosse
Pointe Woods, Mich., for 48 years, sees a trend toward high-end
premium cat food choices that carry a reputable, trustworthy name.
“Personally, I feed my cat raw food and freeze dried,” Catalfio
said. “We usually recommend the higher-quality brands of canned
for our customers who we know would appreciate it. If they’re going
to go dry, we have brands like Fromm Family Pet Food or Champion
Petfoods, for example.”
KIBBLE IS STILL KING
Despite the increasing popularity of raw foods, kibble is still a mainstay in the cat food category, and many consumers appreciate the
“It is correct to say that carbohydrates are not an essential nu-
trient for cats,” said Rick Rockhill, executive vice president of Lucy
Pet Products in Thousand Oaks, Calif. “They need protein, fat and
fiber. Yet carbohydrates fulfill a function in that they provide texture
and they are literally what gives the kibble its form by pulling all the
other nutrients together.”
Rockhill said he believes that sometimes people forget that cats
have been domesticated for thousands of years and no longer live
in the wild, which is why manufacturers continually strive to create
nutrient-dense formulas that are healthful and pleasing to the cat,
and easy to deliver for the pet owner.
Dr. George Fahey Jr., the University of Illinois at Urbana-Cham-paign professor emeritus who helped developed formulas for Lucy
Pet, pointed out that, occasionally, diets are tailored to address particular issues, such as hairballs.
“We know how to control that with a specialized diet that prevents it from happening,” he said.
Brendan Sykes, a sales representative for Specialty Pet Supplies
in Plymouth, Mich., recommended specific diets for certain ailments.
“We go to a specific hairball control formulation, which, usually,
will be higher in fiber, making it easier for a cat to pass a hairball
rather than them having to throw it up.”
Fahey added, “Others may be predisposed to renal issues, but
prescription as well as over-the-counter diets can address these
problems or prevent them from developing. Making these informed
choices is up to the pet parent, so educating them is critical.”
Manufacturers are often more than willing to help educate pet
“When consumers reach out to Solid Gold with pet nutrition
questions, they talk to our consumer engagement specialist,” Greer
said. “The consumer engagement specialist’s job is to keep our customers and sales reps properly educated and trained in the nutritional needs and functions of cats.”
Manufacturers are making healthful
diets to appeal to finicky felines.