Dogs have dominated the world of modern pet brands – but now the focus is shifting to felines.
Compared to dog owners – who can pamper their pups with sulfate-free haircare, chef-prepared meals and even their own wrinkle creams – there are slimmer pickings for cat owners who want to spoil their pets.
But, while dog owners are a more lucrative customer base – 63.4 million households in the U.S. own dogs compared to 42.7 million with cats – a number of entrepreneurs and investors are starting to turn their focus towards felines.
2020 saw the launch of Cat Person, backed by shaving company Harry’s innovation lab, and French pet food brand Ziggy, which makes protein-rich pâtés for cats. Just a few weeks ago, another cat food brand hit the scene: Made by Nacho, founded by chef Bobby Flay, makes wet and dry cat food with “chef-inspired flavors.”
Investment dollars are also flowing into cat-centric brands. In November 2020, U.K. brand KatKin, which sells high-protein pouches of cat food, raised $4.5 million from investors. In August, Smalls, which sells “human-grade” food for cats, raised $9 million. Its pet food subscription is not cheap, costing around $4 per day per cat, according to TechCrunch.
According to a survey from Cat Person, 80% of cat owners describe the U.S. as having “a dog-centric culture,” while 47% said cat products are underrepresented in pet stores. Another survey conducted by market researcher Packaged Facts corroborates these findings, saying that 44-51% of U.S. cat owners think retail channels treat cats “as second-class citizens.”
The issue comes down to, in part, money. According to the American Pet Products Association, dog owners spend around 50% more each year on their pets compared to cat owners. But as pet ownership has soared throughout lockdown – it’s estimated that 11.8 million U.S. households adopted a pet during the pandemic, while 3.2 million households in the U.K. have done the same – the opportunity for brands targeting cat owners has increased.
It’s trickier to develop products for cats than it is for dogs, according to Katja Lang, Made by Nacho’s veterinary consultant. “Cats are very finicky. I see cases all the time where I say ‘OK, I want you to feed this to your cat’, and two or three days later [the owner] calls me and says it’s not going to happen. If the cat doesn’t like it, they’re not going to eat it,” she explains, adding that cats also have unique nutritional requirements that makes it harder to create products that mirror human food trends, as dog food brands often do.
“There are certain proteins that cats can’t make, and that’s very unique from humans and dogs. Specifically, taurine and arginine are two amino acids that are important for health, and if you don’t give that to cats it can lead to all sorts of problems,” she says.
Lang worked with Flay (whose cats she has been treating for the past seven years) to ensure the products were nutritionally balanced. Flay, meanwhile, utilized his skills as a chef to source ingredients “from the best places, that are going to taste the best,” Lang explains. She says no amount of lab testing can determine whether or not cats will like the food, and that taste testing is the only way to go. The verdict from the 100 cats that tasted Made by Nacho before launch? “Almost unanimous acceptance.”
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