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Catering to the cat's meow.

The country didn't need a "First Cat" in the White House to boost feline popularity, but it certainly won't hurt. According to the Pet Food Institute, cats have outnumbered dogs by about 10 million since the start of the decade. Currently, there are more than 62 million cats curled up on their owners' favorite chairs across the country.

Although everyone knows how finicky cats are, the creatures still have to eat. Cat food represents $2.4 billion, or nearly 40%, of the total pet food market. Canned products are the segment's power players, accounting for 55% of cat food sales; dry items represent 35%. Semi-moist products and cat treats account for 8% and 1% respectively.

Although the recession and alternative retail outlets have managed to take a bite out of supermarket pet food sales, including cat food, there is good news on the horizon. Consumers are becoming more aware of the importance of health and nutrition in their pets' diets.

Ralston Purina Company extended its optimum nutrition O.N.E. product line to include formulas for cats and kittens. And the company recently targeted older felines with Cat Chow Mature. These lines are all part of the "Purina Life System," according to Keith Schopp, manager of corporate communications. "They're designed to let consumers choose foods for each stage of their pet's life."

Both Ralston Purina and Alpo Petfoods, Inc., a subsidiary of Grand Metropolitan PLC, have introduced cat foods formulated to alleviate symptoms of feline urinary syndrome (FUS). According to Chuck Kantner, senior marketing manager of cat foods for Alpo, 10% to 15% of all cats suffer from FUS. Purina's Cat Chow Special Care is a dry food specially developed to lower urinary tract pH and provie low dietary magnesium.

Alpo's new Dairy Cat, a low-lactose milk drink, targets another special dietary niche -- cats that have digestibility problems with regular milk.

While there is a definite shift toward healthier, more nutritious products, manufacturers also report strong sales for products, targeted to value-seeking consumers. Ralston Purina's Alley Cat, a low-priced dry cat food, experienced a 4% volume growth last year, according to the company.

"There's been a lot of attention to value in recent years," says Debbie Bolding, communications manager for Heinz Pet Products. "We're working very hard with our customers to provide the products shoppers are looking for and, at the same time, improve those products' profitability."

Grocers need to keep in mind that cats do more than just eat and sleep. There are strong profit advantages in marketing to the "Total Cat." In the cat box filler segment, for instance, the new "clumping" litters have displayed strong growth since their debut. Retailers like the new clumping products because they offer higher price points and their smaller package sizes take up less shelf space.

Clumping litters are designed to turn moisture into solid clumps that are easily removed from the litter box. "Consumers really like these products because they only have to discard the clump, not the whole pan of litter," explains Jack Thomason, president of Sorb All, makers of Sorb Away cat box filler.

According to Tom Ramey, vice president of marketing for Golden Cat Corp., which manufactures TidyCat, "We've done lots of consumer testing on the clumpable products. Cat owners like them because the control odors better and because the owner can wait longer between cat box changes."

Finally, retailers should not overlook the profit potential of cat toys and accessories. Flea collars are a must, and decorative collars are becoming more popular, especially as holiday gift items. Merchandising these items on end caps and near pet food displays is the key to quick and profitable impulse sales.
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Title Annotation:cat food industry
Publication:Progressive Grocer
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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