Felines Front and Center
Pet specialty retailers have a big opportunity to cater to underserved cat owners in the raw food category, says Tracey Hatch-Rizzi, vice president and co-founder of Radagast Pet Food, Inc.
Pet Business: Why should retailers carry a good selection of raw cat foods? What are some of the advantages these diets?
Tracey Hatch-Rizzi: In the raw category, cats are relatively underserved. There are many raw options for dogs, but there isn’t much of a selection of raw food for cats.
Typically, the more products that are carried in a particular category, the more attention it will receive. Pet parents are continuously looking for healthy options for their cats. Increased dialogue with customers is great for the store, helpful for the customer and important for smaller categories, like raw cat food.
Also, cats have very discerning palates. The better variety of raw there is in a store, the higher the likelihood of pet parents finding the perfect raw food their cat will enjoy and eat consistently.
We believe that feeding cats their evolutionary diet, which is based on feeding raw muscle and organ meats, is important for optimal health. There are many cats with serious health conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD), dermatitis and diabetes, that no longer have to rely on medications and are thriving after their pet parents transition them to raw. There are many opponents to raw feeding, but the testimonials speak volumes.
High-quality, human-grade ingredients are not only more palatable for cats, they are more nutritious, which is often quickly reflected in the health of the cat. Retailers and pet owners are realizing how much of an impact diet has on the overall health of their cats as disease prevention, but also for cats that have health concerns. There are more manufacturers entering the market with foods that are higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates, which is really the appropriate diet for cats.
Consumers want to feed foods that contain free-range and organic meats and sustainably farmed ingredients. These ingredients are significantly more expensive than conventional ingredients, but consumers are willing to pay more for organic, natural foods.
PB: How educated is the average cat owner on the benefits of feeding a raw diet?
Hatch-Rizzi: Raw diets still hold only a small percentage of the overall pet food category, but that percentage is continuously growing. Since raw is a smaller segment, I’d say the average cat owner may not have ever heard of raw for cats. There are also many people that feed their dogs raw, but haven’t thought to explore raw options for their cats.
As pet owners are thirsty for knowledge, it’s important to know what sets each brand apart. Therefore, education for store employees is very important. The more knowledgeable the staff is about products in the raw category, the easier it will be to impart information to customers to help them decide on products that are best for their cats.
PB: What separates Radagast from other raw food manufacturers in the marketplace?
Hatch-Rizzi: We are the only company that produces products specifically designed for the nutritional requirements and discerning palates of cats, and only cats. We are also the only company that does not add vegetables or grains, and we do not add ground bone to our diets, as it can be very difficult for many cats to digest. We formulated our diets for our kitty, Juno, who suffered from IBD as a kitten, and the amount of bone we would need to add to make the diet complete was just too challenging for her digestion. As a result, the products we have formulated are not only highly digestible, they are considered by many retailers to be the most palatable raw foods for cats.
PB: What are the company’s newest and most popular products? What are some of the key features of these products?
Hatch-Rizzi: For 10 years, we have offered Free-Range Chicken (which is actually made with certified-organic chicken), Free-Range Turkey and Pasture-Raised Lamb. Even though we’ve only produced these three varieties, they have kept us very busy. The chicken and the turkey have been the most popular, but I have a feeling our two new varieties will be about as high in demand.
We have just come out with Grass-fed Beef and Pasture-raised Venison, which have been two of the most commonly requested varieties from customers.
As we don’t grind bone in our products, we’re able to keep the phosphorus levels low. Beef and venison are naturally lower in phosphorus, which may make these varieties good options for cats that need to eat diets with lower phosphorus values. Venison is also considered to be a hypo-allergenic meat, so cats that have issues with poultry and don’t find the lamb particularly palatable might do well with the venison.
It’s important for us to only use meat from sustainably and humanely raised animals. We have been able to find reliable ingredient sources for these varieties that we are very comfortable with.
PB: What are the best ways to merchandise these products?
Hatch-Rizzi: I always love to see freezers positioned in the stores where customers can easily find them, especially for retailers that use solid door freezers. Manufacturers typically have colorful signage for the sides and doors that lets people know there’s something good inside. For retailers, this can open a dialogue with customers and give employees a chance to highlight the benefits of raw foods and to hand out samples.
I think retailers are becoming very savvy about nutrition and are having conversations with their customers about what they’re feeding their cats. Many storeowners have started feeding their own cats raw foods and have seen the changes in their pets’ health, which can really make a difference when they consult with their customers.
There are a growing number of retailers that are opting for glass-front freezers, which merchandise very well and they give the customer the opportunity to explore the freezer section fully, without ever having to open a door to look inside.