DISCLAIMER: I am not connected with any pet food industry companies, receive no compensation for writing about a given food, and will not ever exclusively promote any particular brand as the One True Nutritional Answer for All Cats. In my household I purposely try and rotate brands and flavors and I have no "brand loyalty" other than in the practical sense of continuing to buy what my cats eat, enjoy, and do well on. Hence all opinions and impressions stated herein should be considered the observations of one individual, not the party line of either a company or a group with the aim of discrediting a company.
I've offered the resident felines many, many different brands and flavors of food (wet and dry) and the younger cats have mostly been happy with whatever they've got in front of them. Coraline is somewhat pickier than her brothers and has stronger preferences (i.e., she is a fish fiend!) but she's not nearly as finicky as Nikki.
That said, I am pleased to have finally found a dry food that everyone likes and that doesn't trigger any of Brodie's food intolerances (he reacts to corn the way a human with severe lactose intolerance reacts to milk -- gas, bloating, and a nasty case of the runs). Oddly enough it's a "weight management" formula (specifically, EVO Weight Management), but you can feed it either in a weight loss amount or in a weight maintenance amount because it's very nutrient-dense.
The younger cats all liked the "regular" EVO (both the chicken and fish flavors) just fine, but Nikki wouldn't touch it for some reason. She did, however, like the Innova Cat & Kitten Formula, so for a while I tried feeding that to everyone -- until it became evident Brodie couldn't tolerate it. Innova doesn't contain corn but it does contain barley, and I am beginning to suspect Brodie is one of those cats that has worse-than-average problems with grains, period. Anyway, to make a long story short, on a whim I picked up a bag of Evo Weight Management one day a few weeks ago and it ended up being a huge hit with everyone -- including Nikki! So I am definitely planning on sticking with it as their "primary" dry food (while continuing to mix in other grain-free varieties -- right now they're trying Blue Buffalo Wilderness Salmon).
And then there is the matter of wet food. Everyone here gets about 3 oz. of wet food daily, divided into two portions. I figure that way they can get some of the benefits of the generally higher protein content of wet food in addition to increased hydration. The younger cats have usually been willing to at least try any wet food I give them (especially the boys...Cora sometimes waits to see if her brothers will eat something before trying it herself!) but again, Nikki...not so much.
This has caused me some amount of angst because she has outright rejected EVERY "high quality" wet food I've offered her. Wellness, Evo canned, Tiki Cat, Natural Balance, Felidae...essentially Nikki's reaction to these sorts of foods is either to sniff them and literally gag, or run away from them making grumbly "harumphing" noises.
She liked a particular supermarket brand for a while (Paws Premium, purchased at Lucky's grocery) but then both she and Shadow suffered a full day of vigorous vomiting after eating what I suspect was part of a "bad batch", so I don't feed that brand anymore at all.*
What Nikki does like, however, is Fancy Feast, otherwise known as Kitty Crack. I couldn't believe her reaction to it the first time I offered it to her. She inhaled it, then proceeded to lick the plate absolutely clean! Needless to say, I was ever so slightly shocked. So since then I've been getting her the "Classic" (pate') varieties of that, as despite not being anywhere near "human grade", it's at least a way to get some extra protein and water into her diet. Her favorites so far have been the Savory Salmon Feast and the Ocean Whitefish & Tuna Feast.
Seeing as she's going to be nine this year I know I have to start watching out for (and taking measures to prevent) issues like diabetes, kidney problems, and the like, and everything I've read recently suggests wet food is a step in the right direction as far as that sort of thing goes.
And aside from the issues of dubious manufacturing quality/evasiveness on Purina's part about the source of their ingredients (these are major, non-trivial issues, just not the main subject of this post), some varieties of Fancy Feast are actually pretty darn good for cats from a nutritional standpoint. Some varieties are awful -- basically bits of textured wheat gluten in "gravy" made from who-knows-what, and I've noticed that the "fancier" and "cuter" the graphics on the cans are, the worse the ingredients tend to be. E.g., the "Elegant Medleys" line would be right out in my household, seeing as everything in it contains corn starch.
So, somewhat contrary to what the marketing might suggest, the FF types best for cats are the most unassuming-looking ones, in particular the "Classic pate" varieties. These tend to be pretty much all animal parts and water, with some vitamin supplements added in (always necessary when serving cooked meat to cats).
Yes, some of the animal parts are described in slightly worrisome terms like "meat" and "meat by-products" (no indication of what KIND of meat -- pork? beef? hamster? wildebeest? emu? soylent green?) but seeing as cats in the wild aren't THAT picky about their protein sources, I figure they might be better off with a few mysterious byproducts here and there than with some kind of "oatmeal, blueberry, sweet potato, thyme, and acai berry" concoction as one might find in a Premium Natural brand ("Premium natural" brands can be awesome, or they can be...not so much better for cats than supermarket stuff as designed to appeal to Hippie Human Sensibilities. References to "healthy complex carbohydrates for energy" are a warning sign in this regard, as cats have practically no need for carbs, period).
What I would consider an "ideal" cat food (aside from the obvious primary criterion of "something the cat likes, eats, and doesn't get sick from") would be very basic, consisting of mainly muscle meat from poultry and/or rabbit mixed with an appropriate amount of organ meats, with any necessary supplements (such as calcium) added in appropriate amounts. Some foods do approximate or even exactly match this but they tend to be pricey and definitely inaccessible to a lot of people as they are only available at specialty pet food stores, or (in the case of raw feeding) logistically difficult to prepare on a regular basis. Short version: if at any point you're stuck with "grocery store" cat food, Fancy Feast Classic varieties are definitely not the worst you could do, nutrition-wise.
BUT: all that said, lately I've been wondering if Purina did something to change the Fancy Feast formula. I'm not the only one wondering this. Because for the past week, ever since I got the most recent package of the stuff (a 24-pack of the Classic Seafood varieties), Nikki has been...less than enthused. I know sometimes picky cats like her sometimes just get tired of their former "favorites" (makes sense...I was a picky kid growing up and I remember occasionally getting worn out on any one of my "staples") so I suppose that could be all that's going on, but the fact that other people have been reporting similar reactions from their cats makes me suspicious.
Moreover, the younger cats seem to be eating their FF (or FF-mixed-with-other-stuff blends) with considerably less gusto than before. I am not so concerned about this in their case seeing as they all actually eat plenty of other brands, but I will certainly be plenty annoyed on Nikki's behalf if Purina DID change the formula/flavoring in one of the only wet foods that doesn't disgust her.
And I will also be beyond irritated on behalf of the many cats struggling with health problems like diabetes and chronic renal failure, who have up until now done very well on the all-meat varieties of FF. It is not absolutely clear that a significant change has occurred, but still, I think pet food manufacturers need to be VERY cognizant of just how sensitive cats' sense of taste is. A change that seems "insignificant" to a human might make the difference between a given cat loving a food and deciding it's fit for litter-box burial.
So, as I continue to await further news of what the F is going on with the Fancy Feast Formula, I will certainly continue to experiment with other food brands and flavors. I got a somewhat promising result with the Whole Foods 360 store brand of cat food (ocean fish and tuna flavor) -- Nikki has eaten nearly two cans of this with reasonable enthusiasm, so I may get some more of that to make sure it wasn't just a fluke!
* Yes, I did contact the manufacturer of this supermarket brand, describe the symptoms, and give them the batch number, etc. I was told several weeks later via a letter they had "tested the batch and found no evidence the food was responsible for [my] pets' illness". But who knows what exactly they tested FOR. In any case, I figured that it made the most sense to just not feed that brand anymore, so I don't. One midnight trip to the emergency vet was enough!