A cat owner’s plea for tender mercies, not Tender Slices

I don’t eat cat food (well, there was that one time . . . ah, college) so I can’t say for sure how bad the damage will be. But I know this for certain: There’s going to be some trouble in my household.

And it’s going to be 9 Lives‘ fault.

I consider myself a loyal person, and this is especially true when it comes to my grocery habits. I’ve eaten the same cereal for the past nine years (Blueberry Morning).

For my teeth, it’s Crest or nothing.

And when it comes to my cat, Marita, the only wet food she’s had in her 13 years is 9 Lives. The cat I had before her ate 9 Lives, and the cat before him, too. Why? Because my first cat looked like Morris. (Sometimes marketing has nothing to do with packaging and everything to do with coincidence.)

9 Lives also has great variety. Their motto is, after all, “Real Taste. Real Excitement.” Now, I know this sounds stupid, but I think my cat enjoys the fact that I give her a different flavor of 9 Lives each day. She has her favorites (Ocean Whitefish, Prime Grill with Real Beef, and Chicken & Beef). She even has her favorite preparations; every time she eats the Tender Slices or Tender Nibbles varieties, for example, she throws up.

I also tried giving her Friskies once, and she looked at me as if I had peed in her bowl.

She then peed on the couch. Touche.

So my relationship with 9 Lives has been golden.

Until now.

The company has decided, for the most part, to stop selling individual cans of 9 Lives in favor of a four-pack of the same variety. They also plan to discontinue the Savory Shreds and some Ground Entree Dinners my cat loves so much and replace them with, you guessed it, Tender Slices and Tender Nibbles. That means Chicken & Beef, which was once a Ground Entree, will soon be a Tender Slice.

This is no good. Not for my cat. Not for my couch.

So I did the American thing: I decided to complain and try to get some answers. I called the comment line on the Prime Entree with Real Salmon can and was connected with Jeff Zbezinski, a customer service agent for Del Monte, which owns 9 Lives. I fared a bit better than the White House press corps in getting straight answers, but not too much:

ME: Why did 9 Lives decide to get rid of some varieties? I’ve been feeding my cats 9 Lives for 30 years, and now things I used to buy are gone? What’s going on?

JEFF: We found that our retailers and customers were not responding so much to some of the cuts, like the shredded, and were preferring the tender slices and niblets more. So the shredded chicken and salmon will become a different cut, like tender slices. The shredded chicken will become tender slices. (He said “tender slices” quite a bit).

ME: I know I sound crazy here, but my cat loves some of those flavors. She throws up those tender slices.

JEFF: Believe me, I wouldn’t poke fun of you at all. We like to hear feedback from our customers.

ME: What about the four-packs? I love those individual cans.

JEFF: We’re still selling individual cans in some stores, but we found that customers and retailers like the four-pack. We’re telling customers to tell retailers if they prefer to have individual cans sold, and if the retailers ask for it, we’ll send the individual cans to them.

ME: Look, I understand that I sound freaky about all this. But my cat is rather particular.

JEFF: If this was a freaky call, I would be ending it by now.

Then he did. But first he offered to send me some coupons, as well as a list of the change in slices and varieties, which was nice of him.

But this problem doesn’t end with 9 Lives. It involves Publix, too.

This entire issue came to my attention because, during my weekly grocery trip, I discovered that Publix, while not only carrying fewer varieties, is one of those retailers that likes to sell the four-packs. This happened a couple of years ago, too, and my reaction then was the same as it is now: Rip open the four-pack and take individual cans. This causes two problems:

• The stock clerks don’t like it because it clutters their shelves with ripped plastic and loose cans, making the cat food aisle look like the banana bin, which is usually littered with a bevy of single bananas, and;

• The checkout clerks can’t scan the individual cans because the coding is on the four-pack packaging, not the cans themselves.

What happens next is this: After trying to scan the individual can five or six times, the clerk looks at me, then asks another clerk why it won’t scan. The other clerk has no idea. The first clerk will then find another can that did scan (assuming there is one) and scan it twice. If not, then a manager must be called, and a series of secret codes entered into the register. Meanwhile, a line of angry customers is cursing me, Publix, 9Lives, Del Monte, Tender Slices, Tender Nibbles, etc. etc.

This is great fun for me. Not only do I disrupt the daily patterns of a grocery giant, I also leave evidence of my displeasure in the aisles and at the checkout. I have no doubt that I am hated for this, but civil disobedience has its price.

But here’s the thing: I know I’m not alone. I remember vividly during the last four-pack epoch, the frantic ripping and yanking motions of other disgruntled 9 Lives customers as we foraged for old favorites in the pet food aisle. I imagine this happened all over the country, forcing 9Lives to return to the way things were. It is my hope this happens again.

So if you share my pain, let the retailers know. Call 9 Lives and tell them (Jeff was a good guy to talk to). Talk to your grocery store manager. Big changes start with the little people.

Now you’ll have to excuse me. I have a cleanup on Aisle couch.