Treating Kitty Right
by Melissa Breau
January 1, 2013
Variety is the secret ingredient in creating a cat treat category that tastes of success.



While the available selection of cat treats has yet to catch up to dog treats, manufacturers seem to have recognized the category’s potential. “The cat treat market is an important one, with more than 38 million cat owning households in the U.S.,” says Jennifer Melton, co-founder of Cloud Star, makers of grain-free Buddy Biscuits for Cats, who also notes that approximately 70 percent of pet parents purchase treats for their cats.

As a result, a flood of new products have recently come to market, making the category much more diverse and complex than ever. This is both a pro and a con for independent retailers, who may find it difficult to keep up with all new product introductions, but also have much to gain if they properly manage the category within their stores.


A Mixed Selection
Having the right selection is important, so there are a number of factors retailers should consider when evaluating cat treats. First, different cats have different preferences when it comes to taste and texture, so including a variety is important.

“There is an excellent range of cat treats on the market today,” says Mark Teixeira, president of Bell Rock Growers. “We have textures ranging from semi-moist to crunchy to freeze-dried, a number of shapes and sizes, and many different protein sources offered as well.” For example, Bell Rock Growers offers cat treat flavors such as seafood salad and chicken pot pie.

Next, retailers should consider the various dietary needs of cats and stock treats that complement other nutritional products in the store. Independent retailers have used high-quality nutrition as a differentiator for many years, and experts say they are starting to do the same when it comes to treats. “Pet retailers are making choices in their cat treat assortment that better reflect their nutritional standards, and consumers are responding favorably,” says Melton.

For example, if a store offers raw food, treats like Raw Boost Mini Bites from Nature’s Variety offer cat owners the ability to offer consistent nutritional quality, even when treating their pets. “Treating should be fun, but it should be healthy and a complement to a pet’s diet,” explains Jill Gainer, director of communications and consumer insights at Nature’s Variety.

Retailers also need to consider the range of cat owners coming into the store and their needs—which means stocking products at a variety of price points. Presenting a price ladder with low-, medium- and high-end options not only gives customers more choices, it actually increases the chances that they’ll purchase a more expensive product. Shoppers perceive higher-end items as more valuable when there is also a lower-end item available.

Retailers should also take current trends into account. “The continuing shift to natural is a strong influence, as is providing transparency on where the products are manufactured and the source of ingredients,” says Teixeira. Natural and healthy are buzzwords when it comes to any nutritional product, and cat treats are no exception. Consumer awareness of where products are manufactured and where their ingredients’ are sourced is growing.

Although the treat category is commonly thought of as an impulse category, independent pet retailers can turn it into a destination category by stocking products that are on-trend and that are only available through pet specialty stores.

Retailers then need to continually review their selection, eliminating slow moving product and bringing in new items to remain on top of the latest trends. “Adding new items and looking for unique treats that can differentiate pet specialty retail from the competition is important,” says Teixeira. “Consumers feel secure when their favorite brands are always available, but they’ll also be looking for something new and different from time to time.”


Stirring Up Sales
If diversity is important when it comes to building a good selection of cat treats, it is essential when it comes to merchandising that selection. Luckily, treats are one of the most versatile product categories when it comes to merchandising. They can easily be cross-merchandised with a wide range of other products, and placing cat treats in multiple locations throughout the store and strategically placing them near complementary products can spur sales.

The toy section is one place where cat treats can easily be cross-merchandised. “They can be paired with certain treat dispensing toys, which make great gifts for pets,” Melton explains. “They can also be merchandised with similar food options. If a cat is on a grain-free diet, it is important to also select a grain-free treat.” This can be a great way to raise awareness that the store carries these specialty treats and reach customers who already understand the benefits a specific treat has to offer. Many treats even come in packaging specifically designed for merchandising on a clip strip or other small display.

Treats should be merchandised in non-cat areas of the store too. High-traffic areas, like near the register or other front-of-store display areas, are a great way to boost treat sales or introduce a new item. Retailers should also take advantage of sales tools that their manufacturer partners might offer. “We support our retailers with information and at-the-shelf materials to both educate their teams and customers on our products,” says Melton.

Finally, retailers may want to consider setting up a sampling program. While this is a common technique for dog treats, it’s slightly more complicated to do for cat treats since cats rarely come into the store with their owners. Some manufacturers have accounted for this and provide sample-sized packs so that retailers can allow cat owners to take products home for their felines to taste test.

However, Teixeira points out that although a sampling program is ideal, it’s not always practical. “We prefer to take the approach of providing a 100-percent satisfaction guarantee on all of our products, so the consumer can easily receive a refund should their cat not respond favorably to a particular treat,” he says.

A solid cat treat selection—one with crunchy, moist and semi-moist treats, made with a variety of protein sources, “good, better, best” pricing selections and that includes a regular infusion of new treats to keep things exciting—combined with a strong merchandising strategy will allow retailers to maximize sales in this growing category. The cat treat category may not have caught up to the dog treat section yet, but with the right mix of ingredients retailers can still taste success.