The ongoing trend toward natural products is showing up in treats for small pets. Until recently, edible treats were not necessarily considered a nutritionally sound and healthy indulgence—these days, however, the very definition of “treat” is changing.
Companies are increasingly producing natural treats specifically designed to be healthier for pets. Although most small-animal treats have been processed in some way—such as by drying, cooking, or grinding and combining with other ingredients—they may be described as “natural” if they do not contain added color, artificial flavors or synthetic substances. Treats that meet this set of criteria are likely to gain popularity with the many pet owners who are now recognizing that a treat can be both nutritious and delicious.
Meanwhile, manufacturers are happy to oblige these discerning consumers by supplying the healthy, all-natural treats they are seeking.
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F.M. Brown’s Sons, Inc., recently unveiled a line of natural treats. Sue Brown, vice president of client services and marketing, says, “Our new Tropical Carnival Natural line of treats for small animals is the latest offering in our natural food and treat category for specialty pets. Our treats are naturally good for pets, are 100-percent edible and free of artificial colors, flavors and preservatives, and can be offered daily.”
Two of Brown’s more unique offerings are its Natural Oat Sprays and Natural Wheat Sprays. Millet sprays have been a staple product for birds for many years, and Drs. Foster & Smith has been selling sprays of sorghum (which my rats liked) for awhile, but this is the first time natural heads of oat and wheat have been marketed as treats for small mammals. Brown says these treats “are picked and packed straight from the fields.”
The company’s new Natural Mixed Herbs include colorful flowers and also appear to be dried straight from the field. The herbs are a combination of dried parsley, cilantro, rosemary, and dried savory and zinnia petals. Brown’s Mini Corn-on-the-Cob treats have the husks still on them, which pets can shred for nesting material.
While most of Brown’s new natural treats are suitable for rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, hamsters, gerbils, mice and rats, the manufacturer also offers Natural Chicken Strips Ferret Treats.
Another company offering treats for small animals is Vitakraft Sunseed. “We see consumer interest growing in natural treats, and think it’s a great way to provide pets with the types of foodstuffs they’d find living in a natural environment,” says Holly Hoffman, director of marketing at Vitakraft Sunseed.
Hoffman says the company’s product offerings in the U.S. are limited by regulations concerning the sale of livestock feed, preventing companies from registering and selling certain products. “There are some incredible natural foods in Europe, and some really fantastic Vitakraft products in Germany which we would love to sell here in the U.S., and which our customers would love to have on shelf,” she says.
Despite those obstacles, however, Vitakraft has plenty to offer small-pet owners in the U.S. “We have several new and exciting Sunseed brand natural products in development that we expect to bring to the market later this year,” she says. “These products will add variety, texture and enrichment to the diet of small pets to stimulate feeding interest and activity, important features in any treat when it comes to captive pets.”
With the increased popularity of natural treats, retailers should consider setting aside a section for these products. The treats stocked in this section should be free from artificial colors and flavors, hydrogenated fats, other synthetic additives, and perhaps even added sugar. A sign advertising this fact will help health-conscious customers feel more comfortable about their purchase and reduce the time they have to spend reading labels, which will help increase sales.
Paul Demas, project manager for Penn Plax, Inc., says stocking a broad treat selection can boost a store’s add-on sales and keep customers coming back in regularly. “Variety is the spice of life, and we offer treats in a wide selection of sizes and textures for many types of small animals, from mice to rabbits,” he says. “Treats taste great and help create a bond between pets and owners. Natural treats are growing in popularity, and we offer treats made of natural grains, seeds and coconut.”
It is also important, he says, for retailers to be as knowledgeable as possible about the products on the shelves. “Make sure employees are well educated on the importance of treats, so that they in turn educate the customers,” Demas says.
New small-pet owners, in particular, will benefit from the recommendation that they keep treats on hand for their new companions. “If you sell starter kits,” he adds, “make sure every kit comes complete with treats.”
Debbie Ducommun has a B.A. in animal behavior and has worked in the animal field since 1982. She is the author of the book Rats!, the booklet Rat Health Care and, her most recent book, The Complete Guide to Rat Training: Tricks and Games for Rat Fun and Fitness.