Gourmet pet food on the up in lockdown

If there’s one good thing about this pandemic, it’s that most of us are getting to spend more time with our homes, families and pets. 

Dogs everywhere are probably very happy about this. My cat isn’t. 

Albie still hasn’t adapted to me being around all the time. He’s on edge, lashing out if he gets picked up too much, and always on the look out for a new hiding spot where I can’t take pictures of him napping.

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He’s a seasoned lockdown veteran. He’s a house cat, so it’s kind of his thing. I’ve been getting tips from him about how to get through it best. Sticking to a routine, like having breakfast, lunch and dinner at the same time each day helps. So does moving around to different rooms, following the sun. Or taking baths in the middle of the day. 

All this extra time with Albie has got me thinking about what he eats. 

I’ve always treated Albie to more natural, gourmet cat foods — because I feel bad he’s not out there catching birds and mice. But recently, I’ve been experimenting with some brands I wouldn’t usually buy, because they’re not stocked in the supermarket or the pet shop. 

This has only happened since the start of lockdown, and is probably to do with a shift in my own buying habits. Because I’m ordering more things online, unlisted gourmet cat food brands are getting more exposure. 

And me-wow! What I’ve discovered is incredible. 

There’s heaps of gourmet pet food products out there. Organic! Grain-free! Dehydrated! 65%, 70%, 80%, 92% meat! Albie’s never had it so good.

Lily’s is a household name

As far as I’m aware Lily’s is the only one of these brands that has made the transition to the supermarkets. If you walk down a Tescos or a Waitrose you’re essentially going to see the same cat food brands you’ve seen for years — and one gourmet brand that’s a household name: Lily’s. Why is that? 

Part of this I’m sure, has a lot to do with being one of the first. But you can’t deny that Lily’s has done well to differentiate itself from other pet foods. They’ve changed the way products look on the shelf and they’ve expanded the pet owner lexicon.

Nowadays we’re talking about botanicals, percentages of meat and whether it’s grain-free or not. And as far as flavour goes, some of the descriptions sound so delicious, I sometimes feel tempted to have a taste myself. 

Lily’s have got a nice head start, but there are plenty of new gourmet brands emerging all the time. All trying to be more organic, more fresh, more meaty than the last one. But perhaps they just need to be more… convenient.

I’m most interested in Katkin, one that Albie is yet to try. It’s a brand that cooks tailored food for your cat, then delivers it. They’re only small right now, but I can see huge potential in it. Their entire business revolves around DTC. I don’t think it would work stocking products in shops, because the idea is that food is made fresh. 

Are we a whisker away from a direct to consumer revolution? 

People have been trying out brands like Hello Fresh, Gusto and Farm Drop for their human food. Isn’t the next step getting pet food delivered this way too? It seems inevitable that pet brands will put more focus on DTC in the coming times. Something which I’m sure will worry pet shops, and mainstream brands alike. 

DTC is a way of keeping costs down, and keeping more of the profits they make. This is even more a big deal now, moving into a pandemic altered world, where consumers are shopping online more than ever — thoughts echoed by M&S chief Steve Rowe, who said “shopping habits have been changed forever.”

A side note on mainstream brands. 

What do these new rising gourmet brands mean for the mainstream brands like Purina and Whiskers? Will they be forced to change their recipes to more premium models, like what’s happening in the beer industry? Or update their packaging to feel more modern and exciting? 

I don’t think so. There’ll always be a space for the affordable favourites. And right now, gourmet brands are fighting with each other for attention, not necessarily to convert people to more premium pet/cat foods. That in itself is an entirely different challenge, which may happen, but only once a challenger brand has cemented itself as the gourmet brand of choice.  

But whatever you do, don’t ignore the power of a good brand

Just because the food is organic and tasty and comes straight to my door every fortnight, doesn’t mean I’m going to be won over. 

Other brands Albie has licked the bowl clean with include, Applaws, Canagan, Catz, Thrive, Ziwi, Scrumbles and Blink. Some of these stand out with food that really is impressive, and some of them already offer a reasonable DTC service. But none so far have slapped me across the face and said “pay attention to us we’re a damn good cat brand!”

I think the most important thing for these challenger brands to remember is that although it’s essential to have a great tasting product, we eat with our eyes first. Albie may not care what his food brand looks and sounds like, and how it acts in the wider world, but I do. I’m eager to fall in love with a pet food brand the way I’ve fallen in love with Bulb and Monzo. Two great brands that are shaking up their categories.

Lockdown and this new world we’re going to be living in afterwards have seemingly accelerated trends in the pet food market, especially towards DTC, bringing about a better opportunity than ever for great brands to break through. 

Pets everywhere will likely be very happy about that.

Alex Hamilton, copywriter, Isobel

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