Supply chain issues and a record number of feline adoptions during the pandemic are driving a growing cat food shortage.
Reports have emerged in recent weeks from Illinois, North Carolina, Minnesota and Montana that pet stores are running out of cat food. Industry insiders blame global supply chain shortages of turkey, chicken and duck flavors and aluminum cans used in production.
“While cat owners may not be able to find flavors they’re used to buying, there’s no shortage in the quantity of wholesome, nutritious food,” said Louise Calderwood, director of regulatory affairs at the American Feed Industry Association in Arlington, Virginia.
“I know cats are fussy and can vocally disagree with changing flavors or brands, but there are certainly high-quality alternatives available across all price groups,” Ms. Calderwood told The Washington Times.
Industry insiders say the same problems that caused a shortage of canned dog food last year are now impacting cat food.
“For cat stuff, it’s the canned food that we’re having the most trouble with,” said Martasia Brown, merchandise manager at Unleashed pet store in Arlington.
Ms. Brown told The Times that restocking orders of Tiki Cat, Science Diet and Royal Canin canned cat food have gone unfilled in recent weeks.
Sam Kain, a finance professor at Walsh College in Michigan, noted that inflation in production costs has led some stores to discontinue cat food brands because they have become too expensive or rare to keep in stock.
Last month, the Trader Joe’s grocery chain discontinued four canned cat food and two canned dog food brands, citing “inconsistent availability and ongoing sourcing issues.”
“Shortages are always the result of market prices falling below the rate suppliers need to provide the goods at the most profitable quantity,” Mr. Kain said.
Analysts said a spike in adoptions of kittens and rescue cats during COVID-19 lockdowns put additional strain on the market. According to consumer research platform Attest, 19% of Americans adopted a pet during the pandemic.
“This is so clearly an example of the fallout from lockdown disruptions, an unexpected one to be sure,” said Jeffrey Tucker, president of the Brownstone Institute for Social and Economic Research.
“Economies are more fragile than people think. The policies of more than two years have proven to be disastrous for the daily life we once knew,” Mr. Tucker added in an email.
In a survey released Wednesday, Attest found that U.S. pet owners spend an average of $25 to $50 a month on their animals and prefer to shop inside a store rather than online.
Among 400 working-age pet owners surveyed, 75% reported owning a dog and 49% owned a cat. Of those, 51% bought premium pet food. Most owners buy pet food weekly or monthly, Attest reported.
Allison Albert Ward, founder and CEO of cat food maker VitaCat, said 42.7 million Americans own a cat, including a record 11.3 million who purchased or adopted a feline during the pandemic.
She said many of the new cat owners are relying on kibble, cat chews, home-cooked food and a combination of wet and dry food to cope with shortages and higher prices.
“With the national pet food shortage, cat owners are being forced to buy different flavors or brands that might not meet the dietary needs of their pet,” Ms. Ward said.
Economists say the price of aluminum has been the biggest factor in the shortage.
Peter C. Earle, a research fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research in Massachusetts, said the market price of aluminum has risen to $2,800 per metric ton from its pre-pandemic average of $1,500 to $2,000.
He attributes the spike to the increased demand for beer and canned food during COVID-19 lockdowns, as well as inflation and a fire at a key Chinese aluminum plant.
Magnesium, a key element in aluminum manufacturing, also is in short supply.
“The cat food shortages are just the latest in a long list of problems arising from pandemic policies,” Mr. Earle said.
Consumers began noticing the cat food shortage last year.
AARP reported in March 2021 that retired seniors were frustrated by national shortages of Fancy Feast, Friskies and 9 Lives cat foods.
That same month, the American Pet Products Association reported that the U.S. pet care industry passed $100 billion in sales for the first time in history. Continued growth is projected for 2022.
Walter Block, an economics professor at Loyola University New Orleans, called on the Biden administration to address the shortage so companies won’t have to raise prices further.
“Why do we have so many shortages? Baby formula and now cat food, of all things? That is a bit of a mystery,” Mr. Block said in an email.