Retailers hoping to grow their cat treat sales must look into the unique needs and preferences of their cat-owning customers and account for the often finicky natures of cats.
Just like with their canine counterparts, the telltale crinkling of a particular bag or rattling of a familiar container can bring any feline within earshot running for a tasty treat. And as with most consumable categories, natural, nutritious products that are free of artificial ingredients are increasingly becoming an absolute must for many pet owners. However, for retailers, it’s important to remember that cats—and their owners—require some special considerations when selecting and stocking treats.
Nick Massey, CEO of Green Coast Pet based in Pasadena, Calif., points out that cats are sometimes an afterthought for when it comes to treats.
“Typically, cats get left out and play second fiddle to dogs,” says Massey. “We wanted to make sure that we offered the same great chew to cats that we did for dogs very early on in the growth of our company.”
Retailers should make sure to give cats equal attention, and work with manufacturers who consider cats’ special dietary requirements and discerning palates. While they may not consume the same volume of treats as dogs, felines can drive customer loyalty to a particular brand, flavor or type of treat, encouraging consistent, repeat sales.
“Different cats have vastly different preferences when it comes to flavors and forms, which means it’s important to stock a variety of treats to appeal to all taste buds,” says Chanda Leary-Coutu, director of consumer experience at WellPet based in Tewksbury, Mass. “Because of this, cat parents are also more likely to be repeat purchasers—when they find a treat their cat likes, they tend to stick with it more rigidly than dog parents.”
Leary-Coutu also points out that rising rates of pet obesity—an issue for both cats and dogs—has more pet parents keeping a closer eye on treat calorie levels.
“Cat parents want to be able to treat without the guilt and because of that, cat treat trends are actually mirroring what we see in the dog treat category,” she says. “Grain-free, low-calorie snacks with high-quality ingredients are helping cat owners share more special snack time moments that they can feel good about.”
However, while healthy treats that don’t add excess calories to the pet’s diet are gaining in popularity for both cats and dogs, retailers should keep in mind that cats and dogs have different lifestyles. This makes paying attention to ingredient lists and nutrition information especially important for building a healthy treat selection for cats.
“Generally speaking, cats lead calmer lives than their dog counterparts,” says Rashell Cooper, director of marketing for Dayton, Ohio-based Redbarn Pet Products. “While we may be jealous of their napping abilities, it does mean they need to watch their caloric intake more closely, especially indoor cats. Natural, low-calorie treats, for example, can help cat owners reward their cat without worrying about weight management.”
But low in calories doesn’t mean lacking in flavor, or absent other nutritional benefits. Pet owners are looking for a treat that is holistically healthy, much like they’re increasingly doing for themselves.
“At Loving Pets, we know that pet parents of all ages are increasingly focused on what goes into their pet’s diet, of which treats and chews are included, as they care as much about knowing the ingredients and benefits as what is going into their own foods for themselves,” says Eric Abbey, president and founder of Cranbury, N.J.-based Loving Pets. “Pet parents are becoming savvier when it comes to reading labels, and are looking for healthful, nutritious food and treats for their furry friend—making decisions they can’t make for themselves.”
There are numerous treat options on the market that provide a tasty, species-appropriate snack. In particular, manufacturers note that single-ingredient and meat-based treats are increasingly popular.
“As obligate carnivores, cats thrive on a diet that is high in meat, so opting for treats that are high in meat protein is a great place to start,” says Jorge Jeub, social media and marketing specialist for Grandma Lucy’s, based in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. “Biologically, cats need high protein and lower fat; therefore, single-ingredient meat treats are great to have in-store.”
Jeub notes that single-ingredient treats are attractive to consumers because they can easily tell that it has no additives or by-products. But this isn’t limited to the meat-only varieties.
“This year, there has also been more CBD and hemp treats for cats, which have grown increasingly popular due to their calming or nutritional qualities,” he says.
Massey also notes the rapid growth of the hemp category, but cautions that while innovations in a category can spike sales, it’s not without its complications for retailers. He says that he has heard from retailers that they are inundated with samples of new hemp and CBD products, leaving them with the challenge of weeding out the high-quality ones. One retailer has started devising her own standards for selecting only the best.
“When a category is hot, a lot of new people try to jump in,” Massey says. “She is going to just start making requirements that they must have distribution and also must not have come from the human side of the hemp business and jumped to pet. She wants partners that are dedicated to helping pets, and I think that’s a great place to start in looking at options.”
While there are numerous options for retailers to pick from when building or adding to their cat treat selection, Cooper concisely sums up what they should focus on, no matter the type of treat.
“An ideal cat treat is three equal parts: flavor, functionality, and healthy,” says Cooper.
Cat treats also offer some unique opportunities and present different challenges when it comes to merchandising and promotional strategies. Cats’ notoriously finicky tastes may mean that just offering a wide selection isn’t enough to find success. As Leary-Coutu points out, that approach may overwhelm customers who are either looking for something specific or aren’t sure what kind of treat will be a hit with their feline.
“There can be hesitation around the thought of treating for some cat parents,” says Leary-Coutu. “Many pet parents find the search for the right wet or dry food daunting enough that they’re reluctant to even begin looking for a treat recipe that will satisfy their cat. Retailers can help make the journey easier by offering trial opportunities in store.”
Finding something their pet loves through a few free samples can be a strong incentive for a pet owner to come back into the store to buy a full-size package. And once retailers have helped customers find the right treat for their pet, they need to make sure to keep the product in highly visible locations in-store to make sure it doesn’t slip customers’ minds. Some cat owners may not consider treats a necessity or think to buy them frequently, so Abbey suggests merchandising them where they will be an obvious addition to a customer’s cart.
“We recommend placing cat treats front and center as well as increasing incremental sales by placing treats at the cash registers, on endcap displays or near behavioral training/solution products,” Abbey says. “Handing out free sample packs is a great and effective marketing idea for cat owners to try new things that they may not know to seek out.”
Jeub notes that unlike dog treats, cat treats tend to be light and packaged in smaller containers than dog treats, making them ideal for merchandising in smaller retail spaces.
“Clip strips, end caps or grouping them into categories is a great way to merchandise cat treats,” he says.
Cat treats present a perfect opportunity for cross-merchandising as well. Jeub points out that toys can be stuffed with treats, or treats can be hidden on top of cat trees to encourage play. Retailers should point out that pairing new treats with a familiar toy, or vice vera, can have the added bonus for pet owners of getting suspicious felines to try something new.
“Overall, putting an emphasis on highlighting that cats are predatory in nature and that consumers can have some fun with the treats they give their pets is a great selling point that has worked with our retail partners,” Jeub says. PB