Premium cat foods that are made in the USA continue to fare well on the market, with transparency and ingredient tracking an important selling point.
"Many consumers have become interested in providing better nutrition for all of their pets, not just their dogs," said Janet Scott, owner of Rawz Natural Pet Food, a manufacturer in York, Maine.

For manufacturers, made in the USA is a point of pride and indicator of quality.

"Consumers desire made-in-the-USA products overseas and at home in the U.S.," said Holly Sher, president and owner of Markham, Ill.-based Evanger's Dog and Cat Food Company. "The made-in-the-USA flag is correlated with quality and peace of mind."

Retailers say most consumers are not aware of the difference between made in the USA and sourced in the USA.

"And boy are they surprised when we tell them all about it," said Pattie Zeller, pack leader at Animal Connection All Natural Store for Pets in Charlottesville, Va. "We spend a lot of one-on-one time with customers and do nutritional consulting. We talk about sourcing and why it makes a difference, too."

Animal Connection is big on transparency. For example, Zeller is particularly fond of Open Farm's commitment to transparency, including QR codes on packaging that show ingredient sourcing.

Tabitha McKinney, senior category manager for dog and cat food at Feeders Supply Company in Louisville, Ky., agreed that made in the USA and sourced in the USA are one and the same in many customers' minds. In the past, these phrases would also be associated with a higher price tag, she said.

"In some cases, this is true," McKinney said. "However, in most cases, made in the USA items are comparable in price to items made elsewhere, at least in the food arena."
 

Making food in the USA: Benefits & challenges

For cat food manufacturers, there can be pros and cons to sourcing ingredients in the U.S.

Some benefits include:

  1. Maintaining supplier relationships. "[Rawz has] been able to work with the same manufacturers since we started our business in 2015," Scott said. "We have wonderful relationships and a great deal of trust in them, which certainly makes the process of making our foods in the U.S. worth it."
  2. Speed and logistics. "Making our food in the U.S. reduces lead times and logistical hurdles and helps us differentiate ourselves from the competition," said Grant A. Berry, director of sales for Bixbi, a manufacturer in Boulder, Colo.
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  3. High quality standards. Because the U.S. has strict regulations and standards for pet food, manufacturers can be assured that their products are meeting specific safety and nutritional requirements, Scott said.
  4. Environmental impact. "Not only does sourcing locally allow [Evanger's] to control the supply chain tightly, often picking up our raw materials in our fleet of trucks, but it also helps reduce our carbon footprint as a company," Sher said.

On the other hand, for manufacturers, some cons to sourcing ingredients in the U.S. can include:

  1. Higher costs. "Some ingredients cost more in the U.S. than outside the U.S.," Scott said. "Additionally, labor costs tend to be higher than in other countries, which can impact the overall cost of production."
  2. Ingredient availability. Some ingredients are not readily available in the U.S. to meet manufacturer needs or specifications, Scott said. Ingredient availability can also vary by season, Berry noted. While Bixbi focuses on sourcing most ingredients in the U.S., the company sometimes sources globally to ensure consistency.

At press time, Rawz planned to release a new Limited Rabbit Recipe for Cats at Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Fla., in March. The grain-free kibble features a freeze-dried raw rabbit coating on every bit and is free from eggs, potato, corn, rendered fat, dairy, wheat, soy and canola oil, Scott said.

"Sourcing within the U.S. is something that's very important to us, and we try to source domestically whenever possible," Scott said. "However, we have very high specifications for some of our ingredients, including high protein, and therefore we must source certain ingredients outside the U.S. to meet these specifications."

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Rabbit is one protein that Rawz has found to be difficult to source in the U.S., but the company has trustworthy suppliers in France and Italy, Scott noted.

"It's important to us that we're transparent with our customers, which is why shoppers can see a complete list of sources for every single ingredient we use when they visit our website," Scott added.
Today's shoppers seem to be understanding of the fact that some ingredients are sourced or processed in other countries, McKinney said.

On the other hand, Evanger's chooses not to source ingredients outside the U.S.

"Using 100 percent USA-sourced ingredients is everything to our company and is always our priority," Sher said. "We source most of our meat and farm fresh fruits and veggies within 50 miles of our Markham, Ill., plant to ensure freshness of our premium dog, cat and ferret foods."

One of Evanger's latest additions is EVx cat foods, a restricted diet line with solution-focused formulas including Bland Diet, Urinary Tract, Weight Management, Low Phosphorus and Senior & Joint Health.

"It was and continues to be very well-received by our retailers and customers, with more and more pet parents looking to their neighborhood indie pet retailer owner to help guide them on health decisions as well as solve problems with the most common health challenges," Sher said.

Manufacturers of U.S.-made premium cat food say they hold themselves and their suppliers to high standards.

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Bixbi puts its focus on high-quality ingredients, transparent testing, and meeting and exceeding standards set by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), Berry said. The company prioritizes sustainable sourcing, such as cage-free chicken and wild-caught tuna.

Its dry and freeze-dried foods are made at a family-owned facility and put through rigorous testing. Raw ingredients are tested based on their type and origin. Foods are batch tested for contaminants like salmonella, listeria, E. coli, yeast and mold—and also for nutritional content including protein, fat, moisture, fiber, minerals and amino acid levels. Products also undergo routine testing for heavy metals and environmental toxins.

"We want your pet to get the most out of every bioavailable ingredient we craft our food with," Berry said. "Therefore, our recipes are thoroughly tested for maximum nutrient absorption and industry-leading digestibility results."

Along with quality and transparency, Rawz places an emphasis on creating high-meat, minimally processed diets that are similar to feeding raw.

"While we believe that the best way to feed an animal is with a raw diet, we understand that not everyone feels that same way, nor can everyone afford to feed raw," Scott said.

When evaluating suppliers, the company researches and looks for options with a good reputation and transparent processes. "We've been using most of the same suppliers for the almost 10 years that Rawz has been in business, and we have a great deal of faith in them to deliver the best products for our customers," Scott said.
 

Trustworthy partners 

Just as trust between suppliers and manufacturers is important, so is trust between retailers and manufacturers.

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"We spend a lot of time evaluating brands and ask 'the hard questions' because our customers expect us to know the product inside and out," Zeller said.

When deciding which products to carry, Zeller looks for quality ingredients, human-grade and humanely raised or wild-caught proteins, independent third-party testing results and nutritional profiles. For dry diets, she only considers products made in the U.S. or Canada. She also considers sales support, loyalty programs and store event support.

"[For example,] Petcurean's commitment to quality ingredients is impressive," Zeller said. "Our sales rep, Charles Eiler, is great about engaging with customers when he's visiting the store."

In addition to quality standards and testing, McKinney looks for brands that differentiate themselves in some way, such as incorporating something unique or offering solutions-focused diets.

One major way that Rawz differentiates itself from other pet food manufacturers is its commitment to philanthropy.

"We're a family-run business that has been in the pet food industry for 64 years," Scott said. "We started with Old Mother Hubbard, and then Wellness and have now created Rawz, so we certainly have a lot of experience when it comes to product development."

One hundred percent of the company's profits are donated to the Rawz Fund, which supports organizations that help those living with brain or spinal cord injuries get the services—and service dogs—they need.

The founders of the company and the fund, Janet and Jim Scott, found the inspiration for their cause close to home. Both of their sons suffered life-altering injuries from unexpected accidents. During their recoveries, the Scotts were inspired by the profound connection both sons developed with the family's yellow Lab.

"Our focus continues to revolve around the recovery and success of our children, as it would for any parent," the couple writes on Rawz's website. "We wanted to share this ability with all individuals and families who are affected by injury and/or disability."

Source: Pet Product News


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