Cat food subscriptions fueled by convenience, pandemic

Direct-to-consumer pet food sales had already been gaining momentum prior to the COVID-19’s appearance, but dog food subscription services outnumbered those for cat food.

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Direct-to-consumer pet food sales had already been gaining momentum prior to COVID-19’s appearance. Like its enabling sibling, e-commerce, pet food subscription services expanded during the ongoing pandemic. As people hunkered down with pets their relationships grew, encouraging premiumization of pet foods and treats. Some of those dogs, cats and other pets were part of an unprecedented bump in pet ownership levels in the U.S., leading to increases in pet product sales’ volume and value. This demand spike, along with supply chain disruptions, left some pet food owners without their preferred brands at either online or brick-and-mortar retail locations, increasing demand for regularity and dependability. Even demographic groups that previously eschewed e-commerce, such as Baby Boomers, began making the move to online pet food shopping, making ease a priority for pet food online sales. Altogether, these conditions favored direct-to-consumer pet food subscriptions during the pandemic. Some established companies launched or acquired subscriptions services, such as Mars Petcare’s purchase of Nom Nom fresh, delivered pet food brand. At the same time, several new companies emerged to deliver dog and cat foods to customers’ homes on a regular basis.

“As you can imagine, the pandemic has spurred a shift in the way consumers are shopping and spending,” said Tessa Gould, CEO of one of those new brands, Made by Nacho. “Across virtually every industry, including the pet and food categories, people are seeking more convenient options, and shopping from the comfort of their homes is a huge part of that. We also know that people increasingly like to 'set it and forget it,’ which is why subscription services are continually rising in popularity.”

Subscription cat food and other trends

Dog food subscription services outnumbered those for cat food. Made by Nacho’s founders saw an opportunity there and started selling direct-to-consumer cat food through a subscription at the same time they launched in PetSmart retail outlets in April 2021.

“Subscriptions are rising in popularity across the board, and the pet food industry is no different,” Gould said. “This is a growing area and fertile terrain, especially in the cat space. In fact, there are really just a few of us at the moment who are offering subscription options for cats. At Made by Nacho, we think cat parents deserve all the innovation and excitement that’s in the dog space, and we’re happy to be able to offer them our subscription plan, which our customers always tell us they love.”

Gould forecast other trends for the rest of the year ahead.

“Subscription services aside, 2022 will be the year of variety,” she said. “Cats often get a bad reputation as being picky or finicky eaters, but what they really crave is diversity in their foods: new textures, new flavors, different and exciting proteins. We’re seeing the treats and toppers segment growth outpacing the main meal segment, in part because it allows pet parents to make mealtimes more exciting for the cats, while at the same time amping up their food with amazing nutrition, like with single protein freeze-dried treats, toppers with functional benefits for hairball control or immunity support, and more. Made by Nacho is constantly innovating, always developing new recipes to help combat this palate fatigue while at the same time doing all we can to help cats lead full, nourished lives.

“Hydration is also a huge focus area for cats, and we expect it to be a growing part of the conversation in 2022,” Gould said. “Cats lack a natural thirst drive to their desert cat ancestors. As our co-founder Chef Bobby Flay always says, you can have the healthiest cat out there and yet their vets will still say they need to hydrate more because, by nature, cats live constantly dehydrated. So, watch out for new products in the industry this year designed with hydration in mind.”

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