The Taste Test
by Melissa Breau
June 1, 2013
Once a category in which price was all important, the cat nutrition segment is now largely focused on wellness—and retailers need to make sure they’re keeping up with the trend.

 

 

 

For years, when it came to cat food, independent pet stores tried to compete with grocers and mass merchants on price, leading to almost non-existent margins. So while the category was a must-have, it was not necessarily profitable. But pet humanization has ushered in major changes in the cat food category.


Today, the average cat owner is looking at cat food differently than in the past, and while price is a factor that shoppers consider, it is rarely the most important one. “Cat owners want to insure they are providing a healthy diet and a product their cats will enjoy,” says George Johnson, director of sales for Fromm Family Foods. “Our experience has been pet parents are willing to spend a bit more for a better food because they know it is the best thing for their cat in the long run.”


Consumers are looking more closely at ingredient lists, and they are making note of where ingredients are sourced and products are made. Pet owners are also more knowledgeable than ever about what their cats’ nutritional needs are and are looking for high protein, meat-based products. “Cat owners seem to be very engaged in online social media where they share their experiences with various foods, safety concerns and wellness issues,” says Christine Hackett, president of Petropics Gourmet Whole Foods, LLC.


She adds that cat owners’ heightened focus on wellness can be a boon to independent pet stores. “Wellness issues will be the driving force behind grocery consumers who shop, perhaps for the first time, in an independent pet retailer making their reputation for wellness products and solutions paramount to their growth and success,” says Hackett.


But if retailers want to have a reputation for wellness products, they have to actively curate it. To this end, Hackett says retailers should have a mission statement that guides their purchasing decisions. “A well-defined criteria for product selection should be established and communicated to their consumers,” she says.


Having a specific criteria for their product assortments can help retailers sort through the flood of new nutrition products in the marketplace and make it easier to decide which products and brands are a good fit for their stores. Listening to customer comments and inquiries can also help a store develop a mission statement and adapt it to remain on top of trends that are important to shoppers.


Collecting customer feedback and working to incorporate it into the store’s cat food selection, however, requires that retailers train staff on how to listen and how to communicate what they’ve learned. The store’s sales team will also need to be well educated on products the store has available, so they can make appropriate recommendations and answer customer questions. Storeowners and managers should set up an ongoing training program to keep employees briefed on the latest new products.

 


 

To see some of the newest cat diets on the market, scroll down or click HERE.

 


 

 

Manufacturers and distributors can be an essential partner in this process. Many are willing to send representatives to stores to help explain the benefits of their products and to go over common customer questions in detail. These reps can sometimes point out customer concerns or important features that may have been otherwise overlooked.


Manufacturers and distributors can also help retailers develop a winning sales strategy, which might include product demonstrations, merchandising displays, special in-store promotions, sample giveaways, special signage and/or educational materials. These tactics can help make customers aware of the new product and help overcome any hesitancy to buy.


Of course, a product can’t take up valuable space in a display forever. But once a store moves a product from its introductory display to a shelf, it is all too often forgotten. Retailers need to make sure the customers who gave the product a try when it was new can easily find it again when they come back. That means making the cat department easy to navigate.


“Taking time to clearly merchandise products by their category and function with special signage helps consumers to confidently shop and select the products that best meet their needs,” says Hackett. “All-natural, grain free, low carb, whole meat, gourmet, and other key words should be considered and tested in-store.”


Many successful pet retailers recognize identification of great products is just the beginning. They keep up with the recent nutrition trends, partner with suppliers and properly integrated new products into the store.  By comparison, Hackett says less proactive retailers tend to wait and watch how new products establish themselves in their community. “The challenge with this strategy is that consumer’s tend to be loyal and emotionally tied to retailers that are responsive to their needs and that work hard to bring exciting new products for them to explore with their pets on a regular basis.”


It can often seem like a risk to choose higher priced, wellness-focused products instead of stocking only those that let a store compete on price; but when the rising demand for these products and the benefits of stocking them is made clear, the choice suddenly seems a lot more tasty.

 

 

 


 

 

New on the Market


Weruva (weruva.com) recently added three products to its line of cat food processed in a plant that makes food for people: Cats in the Kitchen cans, Freeze Dried Treats for cats and dogs, and BFF pouches for cats. Cats in the Kitchen cans come in 10 flavors, in both 3.2-oz. and 6-oz. sizes, with new protein options, such as turkey and lamb. Weruva’s new Freeze Dried Treats are bite-sized treats packed with protein and minimal carbohydrates, fit for the carnivore. They come in two flavors: Paw Lickin’ Chicken and Blue Water Whitefish. BFF Pouches contain the high moisture that’s important for cats; they are just as flavorful as BFF canned food.

 


Sojos (sojos.com) has introduced its Sojos Complete Cat Food Mix in a new, 1-lb. bag. The same raw, freeze-dried Turkey Complete mix is now available in a smaller size. Sojos Complete Cat Food is designed to make homemade pet food easy. Cat owners just add water for a healthy meal, suitable for cats in all stages of life. Sojos uses quality ingredients, including a mix of fresh fruits and veggies; it is grain-free.

 


CATSWELL (catswell.com) has launched Nutrisca Cat. Nutrisca dry food for cats is low in carbohydrates and uses animal proteins sourced exclusively from a single category to help cats with food sensitivities. The food includes no grains, potatoes, gluten, corn, wheat or soy. The recipes include antioxidant-rich ingredients to help maintain a healthy immune system and include cranberries to maintain urinary tract health. They also feature added vitamins and chelated minerals. Nutrisca dry food for cats is available in chicken and salmon, in both 4- and 13-lb. bags.

 


Fromm Family Foods (frommfamily.com) added two new cat recipes to its Four-Star Nutritionals Menu. The new grain-free flavors are Grain-Free Game Bird Recipe and Salmon Tunachovy. Fromm Game Bird Recipe for cats is prepared with duck, turkey, quail and pheasant together with real Wisconsin cheese and an assortment of fresh hand-selected fruits and vegetables. Each recipe is made fresh daily in small batches to ensure quality and palatability. Salmon Tunachovy is a blend of wild salmon, tuna and anchovy together with tomatoes, spinach, zucchini, eggplant and olive oil. This Mediterranean-inspired recipe expands the feline Four-Star offerings to six entrees in total.