From pâtés to shredded formulas, wet cat food is a top choice among cats and owners alike, as the category expands with more flavors, textures and solution-specific formulas.
According to Jeffery San Souci, director of marketing for the Hagen Group, a manufacturer in Mansfield, Mass., consumers are searching for high-quality ingredients in wet cat food, and protein sources are under greater scrutiny. Dried Pet Food
“We also see the superfood trend continuing to grow,” he said. “Pet parents like to feed their pets like they feed themselves. Sweet potato, kale and pumpkin are becoming very popular in pet foods. Diets that use quality fish as a protein are still top performers.”
San Souci added that “natural” formulas are still resonating with shoppers and that they are better educated on the benefits of taurine. Cats require relatively large amounts of this essential amino acid for optimal health.
Hagen introduced Catit Creamy Superfoods at SuperZoo in Las Vegas in August.
“While not a complete food, these lickable superfoods are a great way to hydrate your cat while giving them a highly nutritional does of moisture and superfoods,” San Souci noted.
Dr. Danielle Bernal, global veterinarian with Wellness Pet Co., a manufacturer in Tewksbury, Mass., said natural formulas account for a growing segment of the category, as consumers become increasingly discerning about what they feed their cats.
“Natural wet cat food makes up about half of the full wet cat category sales in the pet specialty market,” she added. “Cat consumers also continue to be thoughtful about the life stage of their cats and ensuring they are providing them with the best nutrition to meet their needs.”
This is especially true in the kitten category, Bernal said, adding that sales for the company’s wet kitten range are up 72 percent over the year-ago period.
Eyeing the other end of the age spectrum, Wellness recently introduced Wellness Complete Health Age Advantage.
“Approximately 55 percent of U.S. pet households have a senior pet, but it is estimated only 8 percent are fed a senior age-appropriate diet,” Bernal said. “Wellness Complete Health Age Advantage recipes are specially made for 7-plus-year-old cats by supporting immunity, energy, healthy muscles, strong joints and healthy coat—all of which are essential for the health of aging cats.”
Holly Sher, president and owner of Evanger’s Dog and Cat Food Co. and Against the Grain Pet Foods, based in Markham, Ill., said there has been a noticeable increase in sales of canned cat food over the past six months. She said that many cat owners are recognizing the benefits of wet food, including the moisture and hydration it provides—but also the recyclability, value and longer shelf life of food in cans.
“Wet food provides an abundance of benefits such as higher moisture content, higher protein content, less processing, and more omegas and amino acids,” Sher added.
Many cat owners are also looking for foods that can help with specific health concerns. Sher said Evanger’s EVx Cat Foods are specially formulated to help solve problems. Nutritional focuses include bland diets, and formulas geared toward urinary tract health, weight management, low phosphorous levels, and senior joint and health.
Katie McCarron, founder of Portland Pet Food Co. in Portland, Ore., agreed that more cat owners are seeking out “ultra-hydrating” options. She said they also want food made from high-quality proteins and simple ingredients.
Portland Pet Food Co. recently expanded into the cat category with the release of two Homestyle Meal formulas: Boots’ Salmon N’ Pumpkin and Luke’s Chicken N’ Pumpkin.
“The two new products are designed to be used as a rotational meal or topper to complement a cat’s routine meal, providing a fresh, natural boost to a cat’s regular diet,” she said. “The whole-food, limited ingredients are easily digestible and perfect for all cats, particularly those with digestive issues and food sensitivities.”
Today, wet cat food is available in many formats—shreds, bits, gravy, pâté and more. A food’s format as well as the packaging it comes in are important factors for retailers to consider as consumer—and pet—preference varies.
Alicia Moxley, store manager for Choice Pet–Southbury, a pet store in Southbury, Conn., said that the smaller cat food cans (3 or 3.5 ounce) are always a top seller. For one, they allow cat owners to sample different flavors or try something new. But, she added, they’re also the perfect serving size for a single meal without having to put leftovers in the fridge.
As far as texture, Moxley said there has been a trend toward chunkier textures but that many cats still seem to prefer the “formed” shape.
“There will never be a one-size-fits-all for cats, so variety will always be important,” Moxley added. “Cats are so finicky and are all quite different from one another.”
Kristen Strilka, manager of retailer Long Dog Fat Cat’s Tiburon location in Omaha, Neb., noted that cats establish eating preferences early on.
“Since cats are imprint eaters, they are going to choose a particular texture they prefer and likely stick with it,” she said. “Overall, we do see pâté being the preference, with shredded coming in after that.”
Dr. Danielle Bernal, global veterinarian with Wellness Pet Co., a manufacturer in Tewksbury, Mass., said that pâté leads the category from a monetary perspective but other forms are outpacing pâté’s growth including flaked, shredded and bits.
“Consumers are looking to try new packaging forms for their wet cat food with boxes, pouches and tub package styles outpacing the growth percentage of cans,” Bernal added.
Moxley said that Tetra Pak cartons are definitely a hit with her customers.
“Pouches and cartons have a convenience factor that people like,” she said.
Katie McCarron, founder of Portland Pet Food Co. in Portland, Ore., said the company’s new cat meals are available in ready-to-serve, shelf-stable, BPA-free pouches—and that has resonated with both retailers and cat owners.
“The pouches are lightweight and offer easy portability and make traveling with cats less complicated,” she said. “Pouches take up less space on the shelf at the retailer and at home. The pouches are eco-friendly, as they are lighter to transport, and more pouches can be shipped in one truckload; thus, there are less emissions.”
Jeffery San Souci, director of marketing for the Hagen Group, a manufacturer in Mansfield, Mass., noted that the can shortage has also played a role in the emergence of new packaging options. He added that the company’s Catit dinners are packed in a plastic tray.
“It is simple to open and is made of recyclable material,” he said. “Our brand team also pays close attention to creating impactful consumer-friendly packaging that highlights key product features and benefits.”
While cat owners are increasingly educated on their pets’ nutritional needs, they are always ready to learn more. Retailers are in a unique position to provide shoppers with important information regarding their pet’s diet and the advantages of feeding wet food.
Jeffery San Souci, director of marketing for the Hagen Group, a manufacturer in Mansfield, Mass., said the leading benefit of wet food is making sure cats are adequately hydrated.
“Cats also appreciate trying new things, and the wet food varieties allow you to change things up,” he added. “Wet food can be mixed with dry to entice your cat to eat some dry. At the end of the day, the cat usually makes the final decision on what they eat.”
Kristen Strilka, manager of retailer Long Dog Fat Cat’s Tiburon location in Omaha, Neb., said that even though most cat owners are understand the importance of water in a cat’s diet, the store still has customers who feed exclusively dry food.
“We do provide a lot of education that explains how much cats rely on their meals for moisture,” she said. “Cats need wet food at a minimum of once daily—but ideally should be eating all of their meals either wet or raw.”
Working with cat owners who want to switch their pet to a different food can also take some coaching.
Dr. Danielle Bernal, global veterinarian with Wellness Pet Co., a manufacturer in Tewksbury, Mass., said that in these situations, one of the first priorities is finding a recipe that the cat will eat.
“It sounds simple, but cats are known for being picky,” she said. “Starting with a brand like Wellness that has 12 different forms—like gravies, shreds, morsels and pâté—and 26 different flavors for almost 80 different recipes is a great place to start at for cat parents.”
Bernal said that retailers should also talk to customers about the quality of the ingredients.
“After form and flavor have been determined, the final attribute that I encourage retailers to talk with pet parents about is the health benefits that a wet food will deliver,” she said. “In some cases, wet food can be delivering 50 percent or greater of a cat’s total daily calories. We want to help more cat parents feed a brand that will support their cat’s total well-being as well as provide a tasty meal.”
Erica Vogt, senior marketing manager at Whitebridge Pet Brands in St. Louis
Cat owners are turning to formulations that address a variety of solutions for the specific needs of cats based on their age-related needs and conditions or to target specific health concerns. In addition to life-stage and condition-specific formulations that are marketed along functional lines, the inclusion (or exclusion) of specific ingredients, meat/poultry as a first ingredient and the protein source/percentage are popular claims that cat owners are also more acutely aware of than ever before. Tiki Cat is hyperfocused on innovating in these territories and committed to delivering more solutions on shelf that meet cats’ true needs as carnivores.
Even though dry food is familiar to cat owners, feeding a complete and balanced wet food is the best way to deliver the most optimal nutrition for a cat. The drastic rise in wet food demonstrates cat owners are beginning to adopt this feeding model. Meal enhancers and toppers have also grown in popularity and will continue to drive premiumization in dry food. Pairing wet food with dry or transitioning to an entire wet diet are easy ways to upgrade a basic dry meal with the high-quality protein and hydration their bodies demand. Tiki Cat offers extensive ranges of complete and balanced wet food in whole foods, pâté and mousse textures in more than 50 flavors across life stages and will continue to design more individualized foods. Tiki Cat is a pioneer in building a comprehensive wet assortment designed to offer the format, texture and flavors cat owners are seeking.
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