⚠ Important recall information appears below.
Smalls features “healthy, real food recipes carefully formulated for your cat.” Since its release a few years ago, Smalls cat food reviews have been overwhelmingly positive.
Close friends since childhood, Matt Michaelson and Calvin Bohn started Smalls in Michaelson’s own kitchen in NYC’s East Village in 2017, when they were both in their early 20s.
Smalls cat food is now produced in a human-grade commercial facility, using recipes perfected over time with the guidance of a veterinary nutritionist.
The co-founders say no corners have been cut with Smalls cat food: no fillers or grains, no preservatives or artificial flavors, and only the highest-quality, responsibly sourced meats are used. There is never, ever any sort of “mystery meat derived from a process a human would never feel comfortable with,” they say.
Below, we share much more about the history of Smalls cat food — plus up-to-date recall information.
Smalls Quick Facts
Brand line includes: Smalls Fresh Kills (wet food): Fresh Chicken Minced, Fresh Chicken Pate, Fresh Turkey Minced, Fresh Turkey Pate, Fresh Beef Minced, Fresh Beef Pate; Smalls Dry Kills (dry kibble): Simply Cooked Chicken, Freeze-Dried Raw Chicken, Simply Cooked Turkey, Freeze-Dried Raw Turkey, Simply Cooked Fish, Freeze-Dried Raw Duck
Where to buy: Get $10 off your first order of Smalls cat food
Company: True Pet Food Project, Inc.
Headquarters: 49 Elizabeth Street 4th Floor New York, NY 10013
Contact info: 503-487-4303, email, website
“The first batch we cooked, we cooked in my kitchen at home,” Matt Michaelson, CEO of Smalls, told Petful in a fall 2017 interview. “We thought it would be like a small thing.”
Small thing it wasn’t. “We spent like 14 hours cooking that first batch,” he said.
“It was 3 a.m. by the time we were done!” added Calvin Bohn, Smalls co-founder and chief operating officer.
At first, the pair would rent a Zipcar and drive to various friends’ apartments all over New York City to hand-deliver their freshly made cat food.
The operation quickly outgrew their small kitchen, so they moved on to a commercial kitchen — and hired cooks.
Carefully Crafted Recipes
The recipes are formulated with the guidance of feline nutrition experts, who “can make sure we’re on the right track,” said Michaelson.
The co-founders say it took them about 6 months to get the vitamin mix right and ensure they had the right nutritional profile. The recipes include a small amount of vegetables to naturally incorporate important vitamins and minerals.
“If you’re going to feed your cat the same thing every day, and have a complete and balanced diet, it’s very tricky,” said Michaelson. “You have to be careful about it.”
And now? “We feel pretty good about our recipes,” he said. “They’re very meat-based, which really is what cats need. I think it’s the most expensive ingredient, so in a world where you can mislead people and you can hide your ingredient sourcing and what the ingredients actually are, you avoid the most expensive ingredient, and we’re not doing that — unfortunately for us, but fortunately for cats.”
Bohn told Petful in 2017 that he himself used to constantly sample the product. “I take a spoonful out of every batch,” he said. “It’s a little livery for my taste — cats like that livery taste more than I do — but it’s more than edible and totally good.”
These days, Smalls is produced with a co-manufacturer near Chicago, in a human-grade, USDA-certified facility.
“Cats Are Tricky”
On a crisp fall day in October 2017, the co-founders were in the midst of tweaking one of the recipes to give it more of a “gooey” gravy consistency.
“We’re going to puree our organ meat today,” Bohn explained. “Previously we’d just been grinding it whole, and now we’re going to make it into a little bit more of a slurry. It’s tricky because to a human it looks and smells grosser, but to a cat it’s infinitely more desirable.”
Michaelson added: “We’re still trying to get it just right. We might increase the amount of the organ meat. That’s a little bit more flavorful and more pungent, which cats like.”
“For the most part, it goes over quite well. But cats are tricky,” he said. “They don’t give the most detailed feedback.”
According to an interview by Pet Food Processing, the top-selling Smalls cat food recipe is Fresh Chicken Minced, one of the company’s original formulas.
In addition to the original minced wet food, the company’s product lineup has expanded to include dry kibble and freeze-dried raw recipes — plus treats, sustainable cat litter and even hand-crocheted toys.
Smalls Success Story
In direct contrast to competitors that start first with dog food — like The Farmer’s Dog, for example — and then later expand to cats, Smalls takes a cat-first approach to everything it does.
“We pride ourselves on being a company of cat people who are very serious about putting cats’ needs first,” Michaelson explained to Business Insider.
Their business formula has been paying off. In the short time from its launch in October 2017 through the end of 2019, Smalls experienced 5 times year-over-year growth in revenue.
In 2019, Smalls was one of a handful of companies chosen for the Leap Venture Studio, a 12-week startup accelerator program sponsored in part by Mars Petcare, the pet food behemoth behind big brands like Pedigree, Eukanuba, Nutro, Whiskas and Sheba.
As of early 2020, Smalls had raised about $5 million in funding from investors.
What’s in a Name
Originally, Smalls was going to be named “Cedric,” with the branding centered around a fussy and rotund cat named Cedric.
However, that name was quickly scratched upon realization that a chubby kitty wouldn’t be the best marketing direction for a healthy cat food.
And the name “Smalls”? Well, it has something to do with both rapper Biggie Smalls, who grew up near where this pet food was first produced, and the fact that cats are small animals.
Has Smalls Cat Food Ever Been Recalled?
Yes, there have been 2 recalls by Smalls, according to research by Petful.
Most recently, in June 2021, the company issued a limited recall involving certain packages of its Human-Grade Fresh cat food, Chicken and Turkey recipes. Smalls says the problem was refrigeration issues compounded by the fact that there are no preservatives in the food.
“The product spoiled after passing the testing [performed routinely by the company], and before being distributed,” Smalls co-founder Matt Michaelson said.
Also, in March 2019, Smalls recalled certain packages of “Diamond Dust” chicken liver powder after testing revealed possible adulteration (there were “inconsistencies in protein content across the samples,” according to the company). Smalls said the problem was supplier-related. That recall was limited to Diamond Dust shipped to customers between Oct. 9, 2018, and March 25, 2019.
The full list of Smalls recalls appears below.
List of Smalls Cat Food Recalls
Cause: Off odor and color. Announcement: Company website announcement dated June 2021 (archived here); FDA Enforcement Report dated June 24, 2021 (archived here); company letter to customers, undated (archived here). What was recalled: The following recipes and lot numbers of Smalls cat food:
- Smalls Human-Grade Fresh Ground Bird Chicken Recipe, 11.5 oz., lot numbers 21109 through 21136
- Smalls Human-Grade Fresh Smooth Bird Chicken Recipe, 11.5 oz., lot numbers 21109 through 21136
- Smalls Human-Grade Fresh Ground Other Bird Turkey Recipe, 11.5 oz., lot numbers 21109 through 21136
- Smalls Human-Grade Fresh Smooth Other Bird Turkey Recipe, 11.5 oz., lot numbers 21109 through 21136
In a letter to customers, Michaelson wrote, “The recall was something we chose to do for the safety of all Smalls cats, as doing what’s best for their health is literally the whole reason we do this.”
For full details of this recall, see our original post.
Cause: Possible adulteration/inconsistencies. Announcement: Company website announcement dated March 30, 2019 (archived here); company emails to customers (archived here and here). What was recalled: Small shaker containers with a yellow label marked “Diamond Dust” sent to customers inside welcome kits or sold separately, shipped between Oct. 9, 2018, and March 25, 2019.
The company stressed that the powder was made at an entirely different site from the kitchen where the cat food is produced, so no other products were affected.
Explaining how it would seek to prevent future such incidents, Smalls said, “Going forward, we’ll require that our supplier upgrade safety measures for the manufacturing of all our enticements. We are exploring additional safety measures such as personally monitoring the making of new batches of our enticements, adding a hermetic seal to our shaker bottles following the filling of our enticements, and additional testing beyond our standard bacterial tests.”
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