Tapping Into the Treat Surge

Pet specialty retailers can leverage the fast-paced sales growth and innovation in the treat category with the right stocking and merchandising strategies.



Before natural, grain-free or human-grade, the food of choice for pet pampering was treats. Now that life itself is one big treat for the most indulged pets–the “trust fund babies” of today’s ultra-generous owners–how are treats finding their way in today’s marketplace?

The truth is that treat sales are surging. Accounting for nearly $1 billion in sales annually, they are the fastest-growing food type in pet specialty retail stores, according to GfK’s point-of-sale panel representing over 11,000 U.S. superstores and neighborhood shops. And about 40 percent of the new pet food items launched every year are treats, the strongest innovation rate of any food type.

The average pet specialty store now offers about 27 percent more treat SKUs than just a year ago. The typical store has 30 different treat brands and devotes about 23 percent (up from 15 percent in 2011) of its total shelf space to the category. However, the opportunity in treats has yet to be fully mined by retailers.

At a time when pet owners can set up automatic online purchases of their mainstay dog or cat food, treats remain a strong differentiator for shops of every type. There are so many treat brands, and such an abundance of new items entering the market all the time, that treats lend themselves to in-person shopping. When they have found a “main course” meal that their sometimes-fussy pets love, owners are likely to go on autopilot; but they still relish the fun of in-person pet shopping and discovering new, fun yummies for their companions.

They are called treats for a reason, right? And, in today’s world, they may be as much an indulgence for shop-loving owners as for pets.

Treat manufacturers are deeply clued in to the struggles of retailers with limited shelf space. To shoehorn their way into today’s SKU-heavy pet specialty shops, vendors are offering clip strips that hang down from shelves, merchandiser boxes that sit by the register and floor display offering grab-and-go opportunities–ingenuity is aplenty.

How can retailers make more out of the treat phenomenon? The holidays are a major opportunity. From Hanukkah to Halloween (sales of Halloween treats grew 144 percent YOY in September 2015 alone), from tailgating to Thanksgiving turkey, special-occasion treats bring out the creativity in manufacturers; and they provide another opportunity for owners to include their furry friends in significant moments in their lives. Think about integrating treats into your holiday store merchandising, and see if it pays off.

You can also feature treats as part of a pet training program held in your store, have treat sampling events for pooches and kitties, and encourage your customers to vote on a specially selected brand of the week.

The key is continuing to use data to inform your stocking choices. Keep a close watch on what is succeeding and what is not. Joining GfK’s pet specialty panel will give you access to tons of great data on treats and other food items, which will help you make smarter decisions.

Treat yourself to a special advantage in your shelf choices, and turn treat success into your success.

Maria Lange is Business Group Director (Pet Specialty) on GfK’s POS Tracking team. She can be reached at maria.lange@gfk.com.

Want to get savvier about data? Join GfK’s pet specialty POS panel – contact Dave Stevens at dave.stevens@gfk.com.


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