|Pets eating better than we do|
As thousands of Americans [and South Africans] sit down to a dinner of warmed-up leftovers or delivery pizza, their dogs and cats, meanwhile, will feast like epicureans, beneficiaries of a foodie revolution that has transformed many kitchens into four-star restaurants for pets.
Cats who used to put up with plain tuna or mackerel can now savour white-tablecloth dishes like wild salmon and whipped egg souffle with garden greens, part of Fancy Feast’s Elegant Medleys line, or Outback Grill, an Australian-themed entree from Weruva, with native fish like barramundi and trevally.
Their canine cousins might be sniffing lustily as the pop-top opens on French Country Cafe, a beguiling mixture of duck, brown rice, carrots, Golden Delicious apples and peas offered by Merrick, a small family-owned company in Amarillo, Texas, or sending their taste buds to Hawaii with Kauai Luau, chicken with brown rice, sweet potato, prawns, egg, garlic and kale in a lobster consomme. The beach feast is one of the Tiki Dog flavors from Petropics, another small company.
In most US homes, menus reflect belt-tightening. Mealtimes have lost some of their luster at the high table. Down on the kitchen floor, however, the picture is rosy.
“It is now considered socially acceptable to treat pets as members of the family and to express that by spending lavishly on them, especially when it comes to food,” said David Lummis, the senior pet-industry analyst for Packaged Facts, a market research company.
Joe Davison, a financial adviser in San Francisco who shops at Catnip + Bones, gave his two black Labradors a culinary upgrade about four years ago. They now dine on Cowboy Cookout and Grammy’s Pot Pie, two of the retro American flavors sold by Merrick.
“The dogs love it, and I believe it helps with their health and coat, but I admit that it’s partly based on what looks good to me, Davison said. “You can see green peas and pieces of potato along with the chunks of meat. It’s amazingly like real people food.”
The new generation of chef-inspired pet foods accounts for no more than 5 percent of the pet-food market, but the market is big.
Retail sales of dog and cat food exceeded $19 billion in 2011, according to the market research company Euromonitor International. Also, profit margins in what is sometimes called the super-premium category, a fuzzily defined niche that embraces natural, organic and gourmet pet foods, can reach 40 percent, compared with 30 percent for premium brands and 20 percent for standard brands.
Pet owners, invariably called “pet parents” by the makers of super-premium pet foods, do not mind reaching in their wallets and paying extra, even in recessionary times.
Some of the biggest winners in the super-premium race have been the mom-and-pop pet-food companies, both the established names like Fromm, Evanger and Merrick, as well as newcomers like Petropics, Blue Buffalo, Weruva and Petite Cuisine. Although no match for the likes of Purina, which controls about a third of the pet-food market, the boutique companies have registered strong growth, often in the double digits, over the past several years.
All have benefited mightily from the great pet-food recall of 2007, when contaminated gluten and rice protein from China caused fatal kidney failure in thousands of cats and dogs around the world. The contaminated protein was found in pet food manufactured by Menu Foods, a Canadian company that supplied nearly 100 pet-food brands in the United States.
Overnight, thousands of concerned pet owners shifted their allegiance to small companies with a brand identity built on using pure ingredients, often marketed as “human grade” and manufactured in plants that also produce canned food for humans. In some cases ingredients are packed by hand, with chunks and shreds layered for maximum eye appeal.
Two underlying forces have intensified the urge to spend: aging pets and a growing population of affluent pet owners spending money on them.
The American Pet Products Association, an industry group, found in its most recent pet-owner study that about 4 in 10 American households own a cat and almost half own a dog.
New York Times: Read the full article