What’s wrong with cat food – and why we had to change it.
Brett O'Farrell, KatKin Co-Founder
In February 2019, we knew cat food had to change.
After becoming more aware of my own nutrition, I was more curious about what and how I was feeding Molly, our cat. Cat food is a surprisingly interesting topic. There were five things I discovered that really affected me, as a cat parent, and drove me to start KatKin with Nikki, my sister and co-founder who is also a cat parent, to Kiki and Columbus.
1. Almost all cat food brands neglect cats’ nutritional needs as obligate carnivores.
This was the most concerning thing I discovered. Cats have very specific nutritional needs as obligate carnivores, which means they are metabolically designed to eat a near 100% meat-based diet.
Almost all brands we looked at neglected to provide cats with substantial meat, including the premium brands we were feeding our own cats. Why would they do this? It’s cheaper for them to fill their cat food with non-meat ingredients.
For example, the premium cat food brand I was feeding Molly would have 45-65% meat depending on the recipe, whereas at KatKin, we use 95% fresh, real meat in all our recipes.
2. Cats are facing a global health epidemic.
Approximately 50% of cats in the UK are overweight or obese. In the US it’s closer to 60%. Like humans, this leads to many other health complications. I saw two drivers to the epidemic: firstly, remember Super Size Me, the film where a guy ate McD’s for a month. Well, he developed problems. Now imagine doing this for years. Secondly, if you overeat, whether it’s McD’s or not, you’re going to have problems.
Typically, cat food feeding guidelines are unclear and I always found it difficult to know exactly how many trays of wet food I should be feeding Molly, for her own nutritional and energy needs. I took this on as a huge personal responsibility - as I realised Molly was fully dependent on me making the right decisions for her.
Therefore, at KatKin, you can tell us about your cat and we will personalise their food for them by perfectly portioning their meals into daily-serve pouches. This still gives you the convenience we’ve all become accustomed to, but now also takes excellent care of cats’ long-term health and happiness.
3. Many cat food brands are not transparent when it comes to labelling.
There are many traditional, long-standing household cat food brands that use very low meat content and get away with promoting their recipes with meat-based names. Did you know, as an example, that cat food needs as little as 4% “Chicken” for it to be called a Chicken Recipe?
I also found myself questioning what “Chicken” actually stands for, when it’s followed by “animal derivatives”. I can’t remember when last I ordered the “Animal derivatives & Walnut Salad” at Cote Brasserie. Also, is adding “Broth” just a clever way to add water to weight at the point of sale?
Unfortunately, I didn’t find many premium brands taking a higher road. There seems to be a “if you can’t beat ‘em, join them” mentality to labelling within the pet food market.
We’ll save a deeper dive on ingredients for another time, but in the meantime, I can tell you that no cat needs “gelling agents”, “palatability enhancers”, “emulsifiers”, “various sugars”, or “colourants” added to their, um, “food”.
KatKin joins a new class of emerging brands that are fully transparent with their customers. We use only human-grade ingredients in all our recipes, and take a simple, straight-forward approach to labelling to transparently share ingredients with our cat parents. Why wouldn’t you, right?
4. Cat food or fresh food.
It seemed odd, on reflection, that we feed ourselves from the frozen pea aisle but pick up cat food in the households goods cleaning aisle.
This hit home when we randomly came across Little Spoon, a company in New York that’s revolutionising baby food. Baby food shouldn’t be older than your baby, right? Babies have had it bad, but our cats, furbabies, have it worse. Their food is shelved even further from the frozen peas, and many cat food brands are using dry meat meals rather than fresh ingredients, in dry kibble because of the necessary manufacturing extrusion process and in both dry and wet food to increase their profit margins.
We noticed that new, modern and innovative fresh pet food entrants in the US like NomNomNow were trailblazing the way for fresh food for pets. In the UK, there’s options like Butternut Box and Different Dog, but only for dogs. KatKin, is the first “local” option for cats for fresh, gently-cooked cat food.
Given how much we love Molly, Kiki and Columbus, as family, and knowing other cat parents as well, we realised the need to create a modern alternative for cats, to feed them as we feed ourselves.
We also realised that if we were going to do well by cats, we’d have to commit to being a cat-first, cat only brand and culture - which we solidified by naming ourselves KatKin.
5. Pull back the layers and there’s very few options, really.
Walking into Tescos, Sainsbury or Waitrose, we found shelves stacked full of different cat food brands - and yes, next to the bleach. Choice after choice after choice. It’s 2019 – and we couldn’t understand why there wasn’t a modern alternative, that’s fresh and meets cats’ unique needs.
Well, that was until we spent days in the British Library turning pages and crunching numbers in leading industry research reports and discovered choice is an illusion. Despite the plethora of cat food brands, most of these are owned by only two companies and together they have approximately 65% of the UK cat food market by value. Given their dominance and very little competition, there’s little need or desire for them to innovate. Instead, year-on-year, we get updates to marketing callouts and if there are improvements, these are incremental at best.
We knew cat food had to change, and we knew we had to change it.
With no time to waste for Molly, Kiki and Columbus, we threw ourselves at two things immediately.
We started searching for a vet nutritionist that could help us reinvent cat food, to feed cats fresh, human-grade food that is specifically formulated for cats as obligate carnivores and to do so in a way that prevents overfeeding. At the same time we were looking for a private label pet food manufacturer who could help us make it.
We - UK cats and hopefully soon European cats everywhere - won big on the first! In March 2019, we started working with Dr Justin Shmalberg, a world-leading veterinary nutrition expert, who is today KatKin’s Chief Veterinary Officer.
On the second, to create the food we wanted, we realised we’d have to make it ourselves!