When it comes to food, every recipe celebrity chef Bobby Flay creates he does from scratch. It’s a behavioral trait to which his Maine Coon sidekick, his beloved cat Nacho, can relate. So with Nacho as his inspiration, starting from scratch is exactly what the internationally famous culinarian did when he decided to enter the pet food space making what he’s labeled “chef-inspired, cat-crafted” cat food.
Further, Flay named Nacho the founder of the eponymous company Made by Nacho — and that’s no anthropomorphic title. Nacho is very involved in this venture; he spent two years taste-testing. Flay describes him as “an ambitious eater,” and no final recipes made it into the packaging that didn’t have his palate approval.
The chef recalls the “light-bulb moment” when he determined he and Nacho were going to be business partners.
“He’s such a special cat,” said Flay. “He and I are connected at the hip, so to speak. He rides on my shoulders every day for our special quality time together and loves hanging out in the kitchen watching me prepare food. So, about three years ago, I decided to give him his own Instagram account as he has that sassy Instagram attitude. His page really caught on (it’s just shy of 250 million followers). Very soon, I started getting offers for endorsements and licensing deals for him, especially food collaborations. Well, we weren’t doing that; it would be like me doing something with McDonald’s. But it did spark some thoughts.
“Whether it’s my TV shows, restaurants or cookbooks, I’ve been a part of people’s lives in terms of how they feed themselves and their families for a really long time,” he said. “And my cats, Nacho and Stella, are really important to me. I’ve had cats my whole life. I’ve often walked up and down pet food aisles wondering what’s best to feed them. Sometimes, even vets don’t want to give an opinion on the options available.
“And being a crazy cat dad, I talk to Nacho and his sibling Stella all the time,” said Flay. “One day, Nacho was sitting on the kitchen counter watching me prepare his food bowl and, with these thoughts mulling in my head, he seemed to look at me as if to say ‘Come on Dad! You do this for a living. Let’s do something about my food.’”
Flay says he started making phone calls, beginning with Nacho’s lifelong veterinarian Dr. Katja Lang for nutritional advice; Julie Nelson, former Petco executive, for insights into the pet food marketplace; and Elly Trusedell, former global director of local brands and product innovation for Whole Foods and previous CEO of the food production studio Canopy Foods, for her opinion. All three are now part of Team Nacho.
The recipes, which include kibble, pouches, individual cup options and a selection of single-ingredient freeze-dried treats, first came to market in April 2021. Naturally, they include Nacho’s favorite poultry options which, besides chicken, are duck, turkey and quail, along with a selection of sustainably sourced seafood options such as cod, wild-caught Alaskan salmon and tuna. A beef recipe completes the menu.
“Hydration is the number one thing in terms of cat health and longevity because their kidneys are a danger zone if they are to remain healthy,” said Flay. “So, we leaned into the human trend for bone broth and made it an integral ingredient in Nacho’s food line. In the bone broth, not only are cats getting protein and nutrition, but also great flavor as it’s very palatable and it immediately draws them to the food.”
Flay decided to produce a tasting menu — a selection of different pouches for cats to determine their own special favorites. He says that while none of the recipes were inspired by any of his own specific signature dishes, he did include ingredients that he uses all the time for good balanced nutrition.
“Take a typical family Thanksgiving meal,” he said. “You’re roasting a turkey, making a pumpkin soup, there’s cranberries on the table, you’re making some kind of oat pancakes the next day for brunch. I am using these ingredients all the time in my own cooking. And that’s basically what I’ve done with Nacho’s recipes as all these ingredients are ideal nutrition for cats, too.”
With rotational feeding becoming a more popular cat feeding trend and with an increase in combo meals of wet and dry food being served to felines, all the recipes for the pouches and cups have been paired to complement the kibble options. However, Flay says that when it comes to feeding Nacho and Stella, he likes to mix the proteins.
“I change it up every day,” he said. “For example, I may grab the chicken recipe for the dry food and then a salmon pouch for the wet food. That’s what people do in a restaurant when selecting an appetizer and an entrée. I’ve learned that cat parents are incredibly passionate about what they feed and for a long time, cats have been under-served. I feel like we are delivering.”
Nelson, who is the president of Made by Nacho, agrees that cats need some more love on the pet store shelves.
“Pet food manufacturers are overwhelmingly dedicating their R&D budgets and time to innovating in dog food,” she said. “Very few brands have been investing in new nutrition innovation for cats, and fewer still are focused 100% on cats. It’s high time that a brand gives cats a seat at the table. Made by Nacho is cat-first and cat-only. We understand exactly what cats need from their nutrition and what they crave in flavor and texture. All too often a cat parent feels they must sacrifice nutrition for flavor or flavor for nutrition. Nacho doesn’t compromise and his recipes focus just as much on the nutrients cats need as they do on unique ingredient pairings for incredible flavor.”
Typically, manufacturers of superpremium foods launch their brands on the food shelves of independent pet specialty stores first before going to big national chains, but Made by Nacho went in a different direction and launched in PetSmart, as well as selling directly to consumers via the brand’s own website.
“Launching first with PetSmart was one of the smartest business decisions I’ve ever made in my life, period,” said Flay. “They have been an amazing partner. We did this right off the bat because we knew we’d be able to sell a good amount of pet food with a good partnership. Also, we factored in that in the first six months there would be a lot to learn. With PetSmart, we only had one phone to call to make every day instead of many to independent stores, so it’s been easy to learn how things are going and what we need to do differently. I know we delivered on our promises. PetSmart put a lot of resources into the launch too and, frankly, it couldn’t have gone any better. They’ve been thrilled with the partnership too.”
According to Nelson, “The reception to the food has exceeded our expectations with retail sales in the first eight months. We’ve found that the cats are loving the food so much that our returning customer rate is much higher than we anticipated.”
And what are cats savoring the most?
“Our cuts in gravy wet food pouches were part of our original launch assortment and have been incredibly popular,” said Nelson. “And the Chicken, Duck & Quail Dry Food with Freeze-Dried Chicken Liver Inclusions has been the favorite of cats who prefer kibble. Also, we offer freeze-dried treats in some unique proteins that aren’t seen much in the market, and we had immediate success with that line. We launched an assortment of wet food in cups in the fall, and cats are responding very well to the Tuna & Cod flavor.”
Coming soon are Bone Broth Toppers, namely Cage-free Chicken, Cage-free Turkey, and Humanely Raised Beef.
“And stay tuned for more product launches this spring across wet food in new textures, flavors and packaging and dry food options,” said Nelson. “We’ll be offering up more grain-free options as well.”
Beyond that, Flay says the brand is looking at specific life-stage inclusions, such as specific nutrition for kittens and geriatric cats (those that are 11+).
“Our goal is to one day be the definitive cat brand,” he said. “And, just like my cooking career has taken a long time to grow, we know it’s going to take time to build trust so that people know when they acquire a cat of any age, Made by Nacho is going to have them covered.”
Officers: Nacho Flay, founder; Bobby Flay and Elly Truesdell, co-founders; Tessa Gould, CEO; Julie Nelson, president; Hallie Bonnar, head of marketing; Anna Seeley, senior manager of social & community
Brands: Made by Nacho
Website/Social Media: www.madebynacho.com; @MadebyNacho on Instagram and Facebook, @NachoFlay on Instagram
Notable: Made by Nacho was founded by Nacho Flay — Bobby Flay’s beloved cat!
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