Treats for a New Generation of Cat Owners

Cat ownership is booming amongst Millennials—and they are taking the cat treat category in a healthier direction.


After a long day, we all love a little indulgence, whether it’s dessert, reality TV or a glass of red wine. So, why shouldn’t our feline friends get a little treat now and then too? And with cat ownership on the rise–42.9 million U.S. households now own cats according to the American Pet Products Association—more pet parents than ever are looking for ways to treat their felines, which is great news for retailers.

This increase in cat owners has also been accompanied by a significant change in the cat owner demographics. Recent research shows that more Millennials are looking to adopt or buy cats, possibly because cats’ lifestyles make them better suited for apartment and urban living.

“This shift in the cat parent profile changes how cat food is bought,” says Chanda Leary-Coutu, senior marketing communications manager for WellPet, a natural pet food company based in Tewksbury, Mass. “Research has also shown Millennial pet parents have a keen interest in natural foods, which presents an opportunity for us to innovate in the category and experiment with treat flavors, forms and textures that cats will undoubtedly enjoy.”

While treats are still an indulgence, modern pet parents, especially Millennials, are looking for products that they can feel good about giving their cats. “We are seeing pet parents increasingly focus on what goes into their pet’s food and treats, as much as they are aware of what is going into their own foods,” adds Leary-Coutu. “Pet parents are becoming savvier when it comes to reading labels, and are looking for healthful, nutritious food and treats for their furry friend.”

Wellness, a WellPet brand, recently introduced a new line of cat treats to address this desire for healthier cat snacks. Wellness Kitties treats are only two calories each and come in three feline-approved flavors: duck and cranberries, turkey and cranberries, and whitefish and cranberries. Made with no meat by-products, grains or artificial preservatives, these crunchy munchies are a great solution for health-conscious pet parents.

The brand also introduced Wellness TruFood Complements earlier this year, an extension of its Wellness TruFood line. These tasty toppers can be used to top off a meal, mixed in with dry food or as a snack for a complete and balanced diet. Each of the four yummy varieties is made with five ingredients or less and contains no fillers or grains.

Raw cat treats are also growing in popularity amongst pet parents concerned about nutrition because they contain real, all-natural meat and minimal ingredients.

“Freeze-dried treats are at the forefront of emerging health trends, which also includes grain-free treats, non-GMO treats and human-grade ingredient treats,” says Ward Johnson, co-founder of Sojos, another WellPet brand. “Put simply, pet parents are looking for the healthiest possible options for their feline friends.”

Sojos’ new NaturalCat treat line includes three flavors—salmon, turkey liver and venison liver—of 100-percent USDA-certified raw meat, gently freeze-dried to lock in natural enzymes, vitamins and minerals. Plus, the wild meat taste is sure to satisfy kitty’s inner cougar.

“Real meat treats are the must-have in the cat treat category,” agrees Chris Bessent, CEO of Hartland, Wis.-based Herbsmith, Inc. “Herbsmith produces fabulous real meat, freeze-dried, kitty treats under the brand Sassy Cat. The treats are small, irregular shapes, which seem to be enjoyable for kitties to eat.”

Sassy Cat Treats are made with no grain, filler or artificial preservatives, which means no guilt for pet parents who want to treat their kitties. The freeze-dried tidbits come in a wide variety of flavors, including duck with orange, spinach, with apple and spinach and wild caught whitefish. They are sourced and made in the U.S.

With more emphasis on real meat treats, grain-free snacks have also rapidly increased in popularity among pet parents, especially those concerned about pet allergies. Plano, Texas-based NPIC, a maker of innovative pet treats, offers a line of grain-free cats treats called Get Naked. Not only do the treats taste good, they make kitty feel good too with health benefits like furball relief and weight management.

Another new healthy snacking trend are functional treats that act as dietary supplements. “In addition to traditional treats, stores should consider adding supplements in the form of chews to their set,” says Derek Archambault, director of marketing at Pet Naturals of Vermont, a manufacturer of animal health products. “If a pet is going to get a tasty treat, it may as well be a multivitamin or a probiotic that can support their health.”

Pet Naturals of Vemont’s cat supplement chews are formulated to target many major cat health concerns including hip and joint, urinary tract, hairball management and stress.

It’s important, however, for retailers to clearly delineate the differences between supplements and other treats for consumers, according to Archambault. “Having a selection of both treats and supplements and being clear about what is a treat meant for pure enjoyment and what is a supplement meant for supporting health is vital,” he says. “Supplements can still look, feel and taste like a treat to the cat, which makes giving it to them easier, but they serve two different roles.”

With so many new options available in the cat treat category, industry experts emphasize the importance of education on the part of retailers. “Our retail partners play an essential role in educating pet parents on pet food and treats, from ingredients and sourcing to health benefits,” says Leary-Coutu. “Pet parents have more choice than ever when it comes to selecting their pet’s food and treats, and retail associates are who they’ll turn to in-aisle to ask the tough questions.”

Associates should be prepared to answer questions like: Can you give your cat too many treats? What are the benefits of grain-free treats? What are raw treats? Are there treats that are also healthy for my cat? A well-informed staff is a staff that can be a friend at the elbow of the consumer, offering helpful advice and guidance in the face of too many choices.

The Importance of Merchandising
Retailers should also think strategically about placement and marketing to make the most of the cat treats category. Bessent recommends placing cat treats front and center “so that pet parents think of their kitties when they come to purchase dog treats.” While cat treats are certainly at home in the treat or food aisle, retailer should also consider trying to increase incremental sales by placing treats by cash registers, in endcap displays or near other behavioral training products.

Free samples are another effective marketing idea, especially since cats are known for being picky eaters. “Once cat parents see how much kitties love freeze-dried meat treats, they will be coming back for more,” adds Bessent. “But you have to help them try them first because of the acceptance issue with the fussy cats of the world, which is a majority of the cat population.”

Kathleen Kintz, digital marketing specialist with NPIC, takes the sampling idea a step further, suggesting retailers offer cat training sessions to increase consumption of treats. It’s a win-win for pet parents—they get to try out new treats without committing to a whole pack and can teach kitty a few new tricks, too.


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