Investing in a quality selection of cat treats can generate more rings at the register.
A lot of cat owners can be reluctant to try new cat treats, as cats tend to be particular about what they eat. That’s why retailers looking to generate more add-on sales of these tidbits need to be proactive.
Today, many pet owners recognize that treats are really an extension of their cats’ daily diet.
“When it comes to treats for our feline friends, we’re going to continue seeing more products that are specifically formulated to meet their unique nutritional needs,” said Bette Schubert, co-founder and senior vice president of sales for Bravo Pet Foods in Manchester, Conn. “The industry as a whole is more tuned in to the fact that cats have very distinct nutritional needs.”
For example, they require double the amount of protein as dogs—and manufacturers are responding with more nutritional treats.
“This translates to more treats being formulated with higher protein levels, organs and amino acids, including the recommended levels of taurine and arginine, essential for feline nutrition,” Schubert said. “The result will be more treats being made with added organs and less with added vegetables, as cats really have no dietary requirement for carbs.”
It’s not surprising that protein-rich freeze-dried treats are coming to the forefront, said Ward Johnson, co-founder of Sojos in Minneapolis.
“They combine the awesome pet-pleasing flavors of real, raw meat with an array of healthful assurances like grain-free, non-GMO and human-grade ingredients,” he said. “Clearly, there’s growing awareness of the difference that raw main meals can make.”
Spyq Sklar, co-owner of San Francisco Pet Foods and the retail store Wolf & Lion Pet Supplies, both in San Francisco, noted that, as with other pet products, customers are looking for more healthful options for their cats as well as treats that are multifunctional.
“Treats that can be used as a food appetizer are becoming especially popular and can be really helpful when dealing with a finicky cat,” Sklar said. “You see a lot of stores doing virtually no business besides a few staple cat treats because they simply don’t put in the effort. To that end, it’s our job as an independent retail-exclusive manufacturer to not only create a great product, but to also give our stores the tools and encouragement they need to be successful.”
Talking About Cat Treats
Many people have unhealthful habits when it comes to treating their cats, and they haven’t been reading ingredient labels, said Janene Zakrajsek, co-owner of Pussy & Pooch Pethouse and Pawbar, with stores in Southern California.
“So what treats they ‘think’ they are looking for that their cat ‘likes,’ we don’t offer,” she said. “This turns into a conversation about types of healthful cat treats that are freeze-dried or dehydrated meat treats and about how cats are obligate carnivores.”
The stores hold monthly nutrition workshops, which offer a basic understanding of pet food and treats and include a shortcut guide to shopping and creating a meal plan.
Spyq Sklar, co-owner of San Francisco Pet Foods in San Francisco, relies on retailers to help educate customers about the products the company sells, and this is one of the reasons it is so committed to the independent specialty channel, he said.
“It’s not a coincidence our best stores are also the ones who spend the most time educating their employees, and we make sure to always provide them with detailed information on our products and also consider ourselves an expert resource for them on the cat treat landscape,” Sklar said.
The key to education is talking to customers, said Michael Levy, founder and president of Pet Food Express, which has stores throughout California
“We have well-trained sales associates who can answer any question,” he said. “Customers are looking for healthful and, ideally, human-grade ingredients, limited [ingredients] panels and, of course, high palatability.”
A Treat to Behold
It’s time for retailers to present quality cat treats as much more than just an impulse purchase, said Ward Johnson, co-founder of Sojos in Minneapolis.
“Instead, position them as an essential and fun part of a healthful daily routine,” he said. “Either as a sure-to-please snack or a protein-enhancing meal topper, nutritious raw treats are not only good for the cat—they’re great for adding incremental sales to every purchase.”
Bette Schubert, co-founder and senior vice president of sales for Bravo Pet Foods in Manchester, Conn., suggests merchandising all-natural or species-specific treats together.
“Doing so invites customer questions, allows customers to compare across several brands and really allows them to pinpoint what they’re looking for in terms of ingredients,” she said. “Retailers can also be very responsive in terms of merchandising treats. If there is a certain protein or brand that is trending, those items can easily be displayed prominently on an endcap or with a floor display to drive sales.”
Enterprising retailers should consider dedicating an endcap or area in the front window to a cat treat of the month or placing a few best-selling treats close to the checkout, said Adrian Pettyan, CEO and co-founder of Caru Pet Food in Vero Beach, Fla.
“Treats are, by nature, a high-impulse item, so it makes sense to position them in high-traffic areas,” Pettyan said.
Pet Food Express, which has multiple stores in California, displays its cat treats in a designated section, but also puts popular items at the counters to get maximum velocity in sales, said Michael Levy, founder and president.
Pussy & Pooch Pethouse and Pawbar, which has stores in Southern California, just debuted signature freshly made cat cakes in its bakery.
“This is a novel idea since most bakeries only cater to canines,” said co-owner Janene Zakrajsek. “We are very excited about extending our baked cat treat line; therefore, a chic feline bakery display will be very important to sales and promotion.”
Cat treats are much more difficult to market than dog treats for a variety of reasons, chief among them the fact that you can’t demo treats live in stores as with dogs, said Spyq Sklar, co-owner of San Francisco Pet Foods and the retail store Wolf & Lion Pet Supplies, both in San Francisco.
“Smart retailers know that, in order to have a well-rounded cat business, they have to be active about highlighting new products,” Sklar said. “One of our most successful promotions has been simply putting dump bins in the front of stores with heavily discounted product. It’s a great way to give shoppers an excuse to try something new, and it’s so easy to do you can run this kind of promotion regularly and in any format store.”
Debuting Nutritious Alternatives
At SuperZoo in Las Vegas last year, Vero Beach, Fla.-based Caru Pet Food launched its Salmon Recipe and Chicken Recipe Soft ‘n Tasty Baked Bites for cats, treats prepared in small batches without artificial colors, flavors or preservatives that don’t contain grains or GMO of any kind, according to the company.
San Francisco Pet Foods developed Cat Sushi especially for health-focused shoppers and finicky cats that sometimes need encouragement to eat their meals, said Spyq Sklar, co-owner of San Francisco Pet Foods in San Francisco.
“As a single-ingredient, super-palatable treat, we think it is one of the best options available for discerning customers and choosy cats,” Sklar said. “Down the line, we intend to release a version of our product specifically designed as an appetizer.”
Sojos’ new NaturalCat treat line is a direct reflection of the shift to more healthful alternatives, said Ward Johnson, co-founder of the Minneapolis-based company. It’s made with a choice of human-grade venison liver, wild-caught salmon or turkey liver.
“Every morsel is freeze-dried under our own roof—and, of course, there are no artificial preservatives, flavors or coloring—nothing but the goodness of 100 percent raw, freeze-dried meat and fish,” Johnson said.