The Taste of Success
by Melissa Breau
January 31, 2012
Pet stores should take advantage of the growing variety of cat treats on the market to provide their cat-owning customers with a broad selection of options.



Experts agree that cat treat sales are up. However, retailers may not be leveraging the category for all it’s worth. Nature’s Variety recently did an informal survey on Facebook asking its customers about cat treats. “What was interesting is that many [cat owners] said that they didn’t feel that there was a large enough selection of cat treats,” says Jill Gainer, director of communications and consumer insights at Nature’s Variety, Inc.

This is certainly not due to a lack of treat products available from manufacturers. In recent years, there has been a dramatic increase in the variety of options from which retailers can choose. The continuing strength of the all-natural trend and the growing influence of the grain-free and limited-ingredients trends, in particular, have seeped into the cat treat category, creating a diverse influx of new products.

It’s more likely that retailers are simply unsure how to best sort through these items and decide on which to bring into their stores—and then, once they have, how best to merchandise and market these products.

This is unsurprising, since the cat treat category is unique in many respects. Unlike many other categories in a pet store, cat treats simultaneously spur regular repeat purchases and inspire impulse buys. In case that wasn’t enough to make this category worthy of careful consideration, cat treats can also be an excellent starting point for retailers looking to convert cat owners to better-quality diets. 

Because of their built-in “fun factor,” treats can be an excellent way for retailers to begin a deeper discussion about nutrition, says Chanda Leary-Coutu, senior manager of marketing communications at WellPet. “Pet parents may prefer starting their pets with treats and eventually commit to feeding a natural food as well,” she says.

Furthermore, feeding healthy treats is essential in combating the growing pet obesity problem. “Although a few pounds of weight may not seem like much for a human, it can be a drastic gain for a smaller animal such as a cat. It is important to pay close attention to what your cat consumes to ensure you are maintaining a healthy diet,” says Leary-Coutu. 

But felines are notorious for having finicky taste buds, and cat owners want to be able to find a treat that their pets will like and that meets their personal purchasing criteria—whether that means all-natural, grain-free, solution-oriented or within a particular price point. This means the cat treat category is also unique in another way—it is one of few categories where having a broad selection of items in a variety of locations within the store is essential for success.


Follow the Trends
When it comes to building an effective selection of cat treats, retailers can partially base their purchases on the cat diets they sell.

“When pet parents choose to feed a healthy, natural diet, they want to maintain that level of health with all of the foods their pet consumes,” says Leary-Coutu. “This includes the treats they give to their pet as a reward, snack or just because. With more pet parents electing to feed a natural diet, natural treats will likely rise in popularity as well.”

Retailers should also maintain a willingness to experiment.. Offering new and different products is essential for independent pet stores in order to maintain their role as experts on the leading edge of the industry—and sometimes the only way to find out if a product will do well within a store is to try it.

Popular trends currently affecting the category include a movement toward limited ingredients, natural and solution-oriented items. This last trend, in particular, is likely to greatly impact the category over the next year.

Functional treats are an easy sell; they make sense from a cat owner’s perspective because they allow cat owners to simultaneously show affection by giving their cat a treat and enhance their cats’ health. Manufacturers are considering the best ways to meet felines’ unique needs—namely, their finicky taste buds—by creating supplements and other health-focused products with treat-like qualities.

For example, Garmon Corp.’s unique line of two-in-one soft chew supplements provide the benefits of supplements—they address common issues such as hairballs, urinary tract health, joint health and skin and coat issues—and taste like a treat.

“We add catnip or ginger to increase the palatability of the supplement since we know cats can be finicky,” explains Scott Garmon, president of Garmon Corporation and its flagship label NaturVet. “For example, our Skin & Coat supplement also has catnip; our Calming Aid has Ginger.”


Making the Sale
Having a broad selection often means the store’s staff will need to play a more hands-on role in helping customers choose which products to take home. Kristie Hamilton, director of sales at Imperial Cat, recommends starting with basic questions, like, “Does your cat prefer moist or dry food? Chicken or tuna?”

“From there, the questions can become more specific—maybe the cat is overweight and needs a low-calorie treat or has problems with tartar buildup,” she says.  “Asking questions with genuine interest and concern will show the customer you understand their needs, which will build rapport and encourage repeat business.”

Hamilton says that sampling is key. “Because you typically won’t find cats shopping with their pet parent—and feline’s [have a] notorious reputation [for] having their own tastes—offering trial size packs or samples is imperative to new customer acquisition. Clip strips are an excellent way to merchandise these smaller packages because they easily hang near the full product display or fit at the register.”

Leary-Coutu also suggests retailers offer products at the register. “Although there may be a designated treat section for your store, displaying the treats in other places will help maximize their exposure to your customers,” she says.
Leary-Coutu says retailers may also want to include a few SKUs of treats in the cat toy section—especially if the store carries toys that can be filled with treats.

In general, as with other impulse purchase categories, treats should be located toward the front of the store so that customers walk through the section before reaching food and litter products. Even if the store only has a minimal cat section, it can utilize this tactic to increase cat treat sales—a single aisle for cat products could begin with toys and treats and transition to staple products and more expensive items.

Carrying a diverse variety of cat treats will allow retailers to offer cat owners the choice they crave, and a smart strategy for sell-through will allow independent pet stores to leverage the growth in the cat treat market to boost their bottom line. Together these tactics offer retailers a recipe for cat treat success.