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Business

Cat food in Japan goes luxury

Forget the price, owners are feeding felines sashimi-grade tuna

Cats are easily bored, so they now have a smorgasbord of luxury cat foods to keep them from complaining about a lack of variety.

TOKYO -- A number of "luxury" cat foods that use sashimi-grade tuna, sakura ebi -- a high quality shrimp from Japan -- and other well-chosen seafoods are hitting stores in the country, seeking out owners who want to pamper the dainty eaters.

Some of these products cost a few times more than standard cat fare. Although Japan's dog population eclipses that of cats, the country's dog food market is shrinking. Cat cuisine sales, though, have been heading in the opposite direction.

The size of the cat food market is now about 30% larger than that of the dog food market.

Tokyo-based Nisshin Petfood, part of the Nisshin Seifun Group, in September released four kinds of new products under the high-priced Kaiseki series. Bonito from Makurazaki, in Kagoshima Prefecture, sardines from the Goto Islands of Nagasaki Prefecture and other delicacies are used in the products.

The concept of the Kaiseki series is that "the blissful, delicious tastes that can satisfy gastronome cats," a company representative said.

The ingredients are carefully selected, the representative said. Fat, sodium and calories are kept low, while fiber is added.

The in-store price for 800-gram sizes of these hot-sellers is 810 yen ($7.23) before tax. This is "four to five times more expensive than our company's standard products," the representative said.

Despite the high price, sales are increasing at a 70% year-on-year rate.

Another luxury cat food series, Korekojitsu Premium, was launched in September by Hagoromo Foods. The series, which uses Japanese ingredients, offers two kinds of 40-gram products. They are priced at 230 yen, 80% higher than typical products.

The series is characterized by its emphasis on the ingredients' freshness.

Maguro-o no Mi, or Tuna Tail Meat, uses tail meat from sashimi-grade bigeye tuna that is rich in collagen. It is "popular among owners who want to keep their cat's coat smooth and shiny," a company representative said.

Suruga-wan no Megumi, or Bounty from Suruga Bay, uses seafood from Suruga Bay, off Shizuoka Prefecture, including whitebait and sakura ebi.

The company is targeting combined annual sales of 200,000 units.

Inaba Petfood's Ciao Churu puree cat treats are proving to be a hit among cat owners who enjoy closeness with their pets.

An owner squeezes the puree out of a tube and gets to watch her or his cat lick it up.

Four tubes costs around 200 yen.

Because cats "get bored quickly," the Ciao Churu range comes in more than 100 variations, a public relations representative of the Shizuoka-based company said.

According to Tokyo-based research firm Fuji Keizai, the domestic cat food market increased 4% in 2016 to 124.2 billion yen. "Luxury types that tout 'gourmet' and 'premium' are the growth drivers," Fuji Keizai's Koji Hashimoto said.

Hashimoto, who works in the researcher's Osaka Marketing Division, assumes that the market will grow at an annual rate of 3% through 2018 as the average unit price increases and other factors are felt.

By contrast, the size of last year's dog food market fell 2% to 92.7 billion yen.

Behind the expanding cat food market is the popularity of cats among women who live alone and among the elderly, who like that they do not have to take cats out for walks.

A Hagoromo Foods representative said that many owners want to enjoy a 'small luxury' by offering their cat, whom they regard as a member of the family, high-quality foods as rewards or on celebratory occasions.

Types of dog food vary according to the size of the dog. The fact that cats are almost identical in size is among the factors that allows cat food makers to differentiate their products by taste and ingredients.

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