Most parents know that placing a plate of brussels sprouts in front of a young child is risky business, as it is common for the child to immediately discard the vegetable and, in extreme cases, toss the plate and its contents across the kitchen. Many cat owners can relate to the challenges of parenting a picky eater. Just because a cat likes a salmon dish one week does not mean they will enjoy it the next. That guessing game can bewilder some cat owners, who will likely turn to the local pet store for recommendations on food and treats that their cat will accept.
Stores that offer on-trend products and have employees that understand the basics of cat nutrition will be able to help cat owners provide their picky eater the proper food and treats they need. It simply begins with a basic understanding of the nutrition that cats need to live long, healthy lives.
“Cats in the wild consume warm-blooded prey with a minimum of 70 percent moisture held within the organ and muscle meat of their wild catch,” explains Christine Hackett, owner of Petropics, manufacturer of Tiki Cat Gourmet Whole Foods. “The closer a food is to its natural state, the better the taste, aroma and texture experience for dining felines.”
Many experts say that natural cat food offers a dining experience that will not likely result in a cat turning its head away from the food. “The natural diet for a cat reflects a diet that closely mimics that of their ancestors,” says Tracey Hatch, vice president and co-founder of Radagast Pet Food, which makes Rad Cat Raw Diet food.
“Their nutritional needs are different, but they are still obligate carnivores, and a natural diet for cats should closely mimic what cats would eat in the wild: lean muscle meat and organs.”
As consumers continue placing a stronger emphasis on health and wellness for themselves and their feline friends, the onus is placed on pet food manufacturers to make products that not only recreate what cats would eat in the wild, but also provide the nutrition they need. Fortunately, manufacturers are rising to the challenge, and the market of natural cat foods and treats includes more variety than ever before.
With a wide range of options, the industry is seeing more natural labels on food and treats; even traditional food formats like kibble and canned loaf products are making natural claims. Thus, the term “natural” can be interpreted many ways, which often confuses customers. “The greatest challenge to retailers selling natural foods is determining what foods are truly natural,” Hatch says. “Retailers really need to pay attention to the ingredient lists on foods they are looking to carry and decide what the term ‘natural’ means to them.”
Reading the ingredient panel can indicate whether or not a food is truly natural, says Melissa Werges, brand manager for Pride by Instinct, a new line of grain-free cat food from Nature’s Variety. “Retailers [need to] empower their customers to make informed purchases by educating them on the basics, starting with how to read the nutrition label,” she says.
Werges explains that on a nutrition label, ingredients are listed by weight, and the first ingredient is the most plentiful in the diet. “Those first five ingredients are a good indication of quality. It’s also really important to read through the entire ingredient deck to make sure that there’s no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives.”
Retailers also need to consider the latest trends in feline nutrition. Grain-free food and treats continue to dominate the market. “[In the past year], the pet food industry introduced grain-free diets, signaling the end of the grain era,” says Brian Drake, sales manager at Tuffy’s Pet Food, which recently introduced a grain-free cat diet.
“Removing grains from cat food helps reduce bloating,” Drake says. “Moreover, peas—a healthier alternative for cats—have replaced grains. Peas increase the overall fiber content in the diet, which in turn decreases the pH levels within the cat. Maintaining low pH levels is critical because it reduces the production of urinary crystal stones in the bladder, which is a common problem for many cat owners.”
Still, as more cat owners take to the grain-free trend and learn about ingredients, Hackett says cat owners are purchasing with caution. “Consumers interpret grain-free as a ‘more meat’ and a low- or carbohydrate-free option and are quickly realizing this is not necessarily the case,” she says. “With diabetes on the rise with humans and their pets, consumers are continuing to increase their knowledge of product nutrition, ingredient analysis and the need for a reduced glycemic index.”
In fact, along with grain free, retailers can expect to see low-glycemic diets gain more attention in the industry as consumers learn about the health benefits, says Brad Armistead, vice president of marketing for Dogswell, which recently introduced the Catswell-branded Nutrisca, a grain-free and low-glycemic diet for cats.
“Maintaining a low-glycemic diet aligns with a cat’s natural diet, as they are obligate carnivores and are not meant to eat foods full of carbohydrates,” Armistead says. “According to the Glycemic Research Institute, not only do low-glycemic diets align with the natural diets of cats, but avoiding high-glycemic foods can also help control weight and reduce the risk of many diseases.”
Despite the known benefits of natural foods and treats, a natural product’s higher price tag can be a turn off. Retailers should take the opportunity to share their own experiences with a reluctant customer, says Hatch. “Many storeowners have started feeding their own cats natural and raw foods and have seen the changes in their health, which can really make a difference when they consult with their customers,” she says.
Still, if a cat owner is not convinced, Hackett suggests that retailers include the cost to feed or cost per ounce on their price labels. “Consumers look for the cost to feed or cost per ounce when shopping for food products,” she says. “Giving consumers helpful tools to determine the best product within their budget will demonstrate the affordability and positive change they can make for their pets to prevent and treat wellness issues.”
On the Menu: A Sampling of Natural Food and Treats
Evanger’s Organic Dinners for Cats (evangersdogfood.com) utilizes organic USA-sourced ingredients certified by Oregon Tilth. Nutritionally complete and balanced, and cooked in its own juices, the foods combine organic turkey and organic chicken, natural broths, butternut squash, vitamins and supplements to promote a long and healthy life for cats. Available in two flavors: Organic Braised Chicken, and Organic Turkey and Butternut Squash.
Wellness Complete Health (wellnesspetfood.com) recipes are formulated with healthy, natural ingredients, plus super nutrients such as antioxidants, omegas 6 and 3 fatty acids, prebiotics and probiotics. Available in a variety of sizes and flavors, Complete Health is a complete and balanced dry food. Wellness also offers CORE, a grain-free, higher-protein line of dry and canned food for cats. The company also has a robust offering of natural canned food for cats in a variety of flavors, textures and sizes. The Wellness canned offering includes pâté, cubed, sliced, minced and the newest additions with their Signature Selects line—Shredded, Chunky and Flaked.
Radagast Pet Food (radfood.com) offers Rad Cat Raw Diet, a raw, free-range and organic frozen diet for cats. Each recipe is made from a single protein source from animals that are sustainably raised in the USA, and all meats are USDA inspected, as well as hormone and antibiotic free. Rad Cat varieties are complete diets that are grain and vegetable free and do not have fillers or additives. The company utilizes small batch processing, reliable ingredient sources, and strict quality-control and testing procedures to ensure product safety and consistency.
Instinct, by Nature’s Variety, has introduced the Pride by Instinct (instinctpetfood.com) line of cat food that was inspired by the vibrant, quirky and bold personalities of cats. The line brings high-quality nutrition and playful cat characters in 12 recipes. Made in the USA, Pride by Instinct is grain-free and available in six proteins: chicken, duck, lamb, rabbit, salmon and tuna. The food comes in 3- or 5.5-oz. canned flanked and minced varieties.
Loving Pets (lovingpetsproducts.com) offers Purrfectly Natural freeze-dried treats with one single ingredient. The collection features four varieties: Chicken, Beef Lung, Buffalo and Shrimp. Purrfectly Natural treats do not have additives, preservatives or by-products. The Beef Lung and Natural Chicken varieties are made and sourced in the USA.