as I am from the UK, I find this discussion a bit confusing, as we haven't got half as much choice in cat food as you do in the US. My cats don't like dry food much, and only eat it, when nothing else is there (I leave it out all the time, in case I get stuck at work or am late home). Dry food is quite cheap here, even premium (Science Diet, Hills, Eukanuba etc), but I like Iams Kitten for dry, and the cats seem to agree.
When it comes to wet food, I have noticed that price has no relation to how good food is, some just has fancy packaging and is therefore more expensive, but has identical ingredients to cheaper stuff.
Iams wet was really expensive compared to Whiskas (even though the ingredients on Whiskas actually look slightly better
), but instead of Iams getting cheaper, Whiskas has now got more expensive. I just went to the supermarket and stocked up on the old Whiskas pouches, as they are currently half the old price, which makes them cheaper than cans.
You say that expensive cat food is better,as you don't have to feed as much, but my cats don't understand that bit. They want food when they are hungry. They eat less of the canned stuff, but thats because they don't like it, not because it's better quality.
My best shot at the whole thing (being on a budget as well), is to feed them a variety of brands (whichever is on special deal at the moment), and hope that overall that way they get what they need. There is some natural stuff at the petshop which they like and I used to buy, but since I double checked the ingredients and found out that they use free range chicken from Indonesia and Thailand, I decided I will give it a miss. Don't need my cats dieing of bird flu...
Wet food wise, I have the choice of:
Supermarket own brand
Whiskas/GoCat (= Friskies)/Felix
this is in price order. Katkins is awful. It has no real meat in it, just "Fish Flavour" etc, Gourmet Gold has a picture of a Persian Cat on it, and cost a fortune, but looks no different from Sheba. Out of these, what would you chose ?