Tops in Treats

Barbara Denzer, vice president of marketing for Cardinal Pet Care, reveals how the company is tapping into the latest nutrition trends to offer retailers a winning lineup of treats.


Pet Business: How important is the treat category in pet stores? What role does this category play in driving the success of a pet store?

Barbara Denzer:
Treats are products pet lovers buy on an ongoing basis. They’re one of the most important categories for pet stores, as they serve two functions: They are a reasonably priced consumable that brings customers back for more; and they are also a specialty item that retailers can use to differentiate their market position and make their stores stand out from their competitors. 

There are more categories and different types of treats than ever before, so there’s no reason two pet stores in one geographical area need to carry the same thing. They can carry the same type of treats in different brands.

PB: What are the most important trends in the treat category? How can retailers leverage these trends to drive sales?

Let’s start by saying the “No” group—which originated as No Corn—has now grown to include almost everything on the ingredient deck. No corn, wheat, soy, grains, glutens, sugar, salt, BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin, artificial flavors, artificial colors, preservatives, etc., probably represents the biggest trend. (Salt, by the way, is required in a pet’s diet by AAFCO rules. And sugar and salt, in very small amounts, are part of a natural preservative system.) 

Second is following our human-food trends. For example, diabetic treats and weight-control treats are hot.

Following trends in the treat market is vital to manufacturers and retailers. Today, people want more options for their adored pets. Many people only want low-cal treats so they can treat often; others think a treat for a pet is like ice cream for kids. Still others want energy boosters for their active, athletic dogs. 

Most people want special treats when they are training a puppy or dog. Some want a healthy treat that fills a dietary need, almost like a vitamin pill. Some need to satisfy a medical condition like the diabetic dog, while others only give their pets dental treats. All of these treats would have different ingredients. 

Stores need to carry a special treat for every consumer’s needs. Knowing their customers and what type of treat they want, or what they intend to use a treat for, helps them create their treat section. It means their employees need to be well trained to question the consumers and deliver the treat that meets their needs.

Retailers have “the pick of the litter” when it comes to treats. When they decide what their marketing position is, it will be easy to find treats that meet their needs and the needs of their customers.

PB: With so many pet treat options on the market, what makes Cardinal’s products stand out from the pack?

Cardinal was an early pioneer in making treats that are not only healthy, but truly distinguish themselves in this respect. Our meaty training rewards are unparalleled in attracting and focusing the dog on the task at hand, as well as motivating the dog to perform and then rewarding her. They reduce the time of the learning curve, making training a success for both dogs and their parents. 

Our Healthy Omega treats are superior in delivering the antioxidants that visibly improve skin and coat for dogs. All our treats deliver the meaty taste dogs love. 

Cardinal is also addressing the trend toward more specialized treats with its recent launch of Walkies Fit Bites, the first dog treat designed to support walking and fitness. Marketed under our Crazy Dog brand, Walkies represents a whole new category of active-lifestyle dog treat. It’s targeted to the large market of dog owners (73 percent) who walk their dogs regularly and features a proprietary blend of ingredients to enhance physical activity, along with a walking and fitness-themed marketing campaign. 

PB: Aside from producing high-quality products, how does Cardinal support its retail partners?

We back all of our brands with aggressive promotions, advertising and PR initiatives, including print ads, social marketing, email blasts and newsletters aimed at the end-users of our products. 

We’ve done some very different video advertising. For instance, creating an all-rescue dog a cappella singing group and shooting a hilarious music video—titled “Grain-Freedom”—to promote our Pet Botanics food and treats. On the other hand, some of our videos deliver the message of why we have a better product.

We also publish a very unique, clickable, bi-monthly newsletter for retailers, called MarketView, to keep our retail partners up to date on business and marketing trends they can incorporate into their business. For instance, one issue explained all the details on how independent pet stores could sell gift cards during the holidays. We have phenomenal read rates on MarketView. We also have a newsletter specifically for dog trainers. 

Another very successful strategy of ours has been taking an active role in getting our brands into the hands of dog trainers and groomers, with the idea that these influencers will drive demand by recommending our products to pet parents in their communities.

PB: Cardinal has long been at the forefront of the sustainability movement. What does being earth-friendly mean to the company? What are some of the ways in which Cardinal is advancing in this area?

As a pioneer in the sustainability movement, Cardinal achieved energy independence six years ago, when we became the first business in our city, Azusa, Calif., to convert our manufacturing plant and distribution center into 100-percent solar-powered facilities. We’ve now self-produced more than 1,179,000 KWh of electricity. This prevents nearly 150 metric tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere annually. 

We’ve also implemented other eco-friendly measures, including replacing our skylights with prismatic units that diffuse natural sunlight, and adding sensors to turn lights on and off automatically when rooms are occupied or vacated. As a result of our electricity cost savings from being off the power grid, we were able to install air conditioning in our factory and distribution center—also powered by the sun. Needless to say, this added comfort was greatly appreciated by our team members and is one of the reasons why Cardinal was voted “Best Green Company to Work For” in the San Gabriel Valley for the past two years—something we’re very proud of. 

The fact that our products are earth-friendly also holds a strong appeal for consumers and is an added incentive to buy them. We are constantly striving to buy more locally, keep our products biodegradable, and recyclable, and use more sustainable packaging.
We’re proud to be one of the founding sponsors of the Pet Industry Sustainability Coalition (PISC), an outstanding addition to our industry, which held its semi-annual networking event in our booth at Global Pet Expo.

PB: What are some of the latest and greatest products from Cardinal? How do these products improve upon what has come before?

We introduced more than 40 new products at Global Pet Expo this year, mostly in dog treats, but also in dog grooming products. Some are new and unique, while others are line extensions. 

PB: What does the future hold for Cardinal Pet Care?

Innovation is the name of that game. It’s sure to be a challenge for us, as it is with every other company, but we thrive on studying trends, educating ourselves, using resources and being in the thick of making the best products we can for our beloved pets. Our company motto is “Devoted To Pets, People and the Planet.” Cardinal takes this commitment very seriously and we will continue to do so in the future. 


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