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More Than a Treat

Pet owners are on the hunt for nutritious, entertaining and innovative treats, chews and toys for their small animals.


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The small animal segment is growing, and with it, so are sales of treats, chews and toys, according to pet specialty retailers. These products help bring customers back in-store for repeat purchases and offer retailers a way to help pet owners connect with their small pets. 

Increasingly, customers are seeking products that both encourage interaction with their small animal companions and keep pets occupied when alone.

“The treats and toys [customers] can give pets for training or interaction are doing well,” said Nate Infurna, manager of Pratt’s Pets in Glendale, Ariz. “Foraging treats and chews also seem to have taken off. It gives the animals something to do when the owner is not home.”

Treats and chews that are both healthful and stimulating are particularly in demand.

“It isn’t just a consideration from the health standpoint anymore,” said Kathy Sunvison, manager at Gallery of Pets in Austin, Texas. “We try to get [customers] to offer treats and chews that will help keep them stimulated.”

Interactive products that serve multiple functions are increasingly popular, too.

“[Customers] like knowing that they are giving their animal something healthy,” said Katie Freres, small animal senior associate brand manager for Kaytee, a brand of Walnut Creek, Calif.-based Central Garden & Pet, adding that retailers and customers are looking for “two-in-one” products. 

“Treats that can also be used as a toy or hideout as well as food are in demand right now,” Freres said.

Lucas Stock, communications manager for Oxbow Animal Health in Omaha, Neb., also noted the growing consumer interest in treats, chews and toys that accommodate small animals’ need for stimulation.

“Toys that challenge and engage pets by triggering their natural instincts are very popular with retailers and pet parents who understand the value of providing enrichment in a pet’s daily life,” he said. 

Another growing trend in the treats and chews category is the demand for items made from natural ingredients, said industry participants. 

“Wholesome chew treats are very popular—[treats] made from natural, nutritious ingredients like alfalfa hay, compressed to promote clean, healthy teeth,” said John Gerstenberger, vice president of product development and sourcing for Ware Pet Products in Phoenix, adding that customers are looking for treats and chews that humanize them, such as those that mimic the appearance of human treats. 

Stock added: “Treats made with natural, wholesome ingredients such as hay, herbs, freeze-dried fruits and veggies are being requested and purchased at a strong rate.”

Consumer Education

Awareness Is Key

Pet specialty retailers have reported success with emphasizing education to help boost sales of treats, toys and chews for small mammals.

“Education helps us drive sales,” said Kathy Sunvison, manager at Gallery of Pets in Austin, Texas. “Most of my staff are trained to take people to [our treats, toys and chews] section, especially when they first purchase their animal.” 

Informational product packaging is among the chief tools used by retailers to help keep their shoppers in-the-know. 

“We explain what these products are a little bit more in depth,” said Nate Infurna, manager of Pratt’s Pets in Glendale, Ariz. “It helps if we have information to give them, such as in a trifold that includes care information. We find a product that we want to recommend—whether it’s a foraging treat, yogurt rounds or if it’s a healthy topping product—and then we show customers the packaging, which usually has a little window to show off the chew or treat.” 

Having well-informed staff members who can effectively educate customers about the benefits of offering treats, toys and chews to their small animals is also key to promoting sales and repeat business.

“Educating your employees is so important,” said Katie Freres, small animal senior associate brand manager for Kaytee, a brand of Walnut Creek, Calif.-based Central Garden & Pet. “When they can talk about the importance of treats, toys and chews, especially to new animal owners, you will see them coming back into your store for more.”

New Products

Novel Flavors, Materials

Several new products have appeared on the market for small animals, and manufacturers continue to focus on treats, chews and toys with new flavors, ingredients and materials.

Vitakraft is launching a few new treats for small pets this year. 

“Adding on to our Drops line, we’ve created new watermelon-flavored Drops and our first Mini Drops that are a fruity mix of banana and cherry flavors,” said Tim Norsen, national sales manager for Vitakraft Sun Seed in Bowling Green, Ohio. 

The company has also updated its line of Crunch Sticks with redesigned packaging and additional flavors. In addition, the company recently introduced Vitakraft Bursts, which are formulated to offer crunchy, pillow-shaped pieces filled with a soft fruity center. 

Hay products continue to be popular, and to that end, manufacturers are adding products that expand on already high-demand offerings.

“Kaytee has recently released Premium Timothy Hay Treats,” said Katie Freres, small animal senior associate brand manager for Kaytee, a brand of Walnut Creek, Calif.-based Central Garden & Pet. “These treats are both a chew and treat combination that support dental health by promoting natural chewing activity. They come in six varieties: Hideout, Chew-a-bowl, Roll ‘n’ Toss, Peanut, Shapes and Chips.”

Product packaging and branding in the category are also receiving updates.

“Our Simple Rewards packaging recently received a facelift that highlights the wholesome, premium ingredients and really helps the treats stand out on the shelves,” said Lucas Stock, communications manager for Oxbow Animal Health in Omaha, Neb. “We’re excited to continue to find ways to help tell our premium brand story on the shelf, and the new packaging is a great step in that direction.” 

There are new takes on old favorites in the segment, as well.

“Modifying traditional materials is more popular,” said John Gerstenberger, vice president of product development and sourcing for Ware Pet Products in Phoenix. “For example, taking timothy hay, grinding it into a slurry and shaping it into a different shape is a growing trend.”

Ware recently introduced the Kapok Build-A-Bed, Build-A-Nest and Build-A-Hut, all marketed as safe to chew. Other launches from the company include Pet Loofah Salad; Donut Delight Healthy Chews; a line of Health-E products, including Bouquet, Cone with Timothy Hay and Shroom chews; and a line of chews named Krunchy, including a Banana Healthy Chew, Bouquet, Bread Man, Carrot, Cook and Sunflower selections.

“Small animal pets are not just for kids anymore,” Gerstenberger said. “This is an emerging pet category, and it deserves products that are species-specific and designed based around their unique nutritional and play needs.  

“Our goal is to keep the product design and the packaging clean and easy to merchandise and display for our retail partners and easy to understand for the pet-parent customers,” he added.

Merchandising

Line of Sight 

The purchase of small animal treats, chews and toys is often done on impulse, so making sure that these products are clearly visible to all shoppers is key to maximizing their sales potential in retail, according to industry participants.

“Treats and toys will rarely be the main driver of a customer’s visit to your store,” said Lucas Stock, communications manager for Oxbow Animal Health in Omaha, Neb. “Knowing this, make sure that these items are placed prominently, in proximity to essentials such as foods and hay. Keep treats at eye level for maximum visibility.”

Eye-catching displays can also help give life to slow treat and toy sales.

“It’s important to offer fun and eye-catching designs of products on the retail shelf,” said John Gerstenberger, vice president of product development and sourcing for Ware Pet Products in Phoenix. “Make it easy for pet parents to shop and understand what the product is and how it’s going to be a great fit behaviorally and nutritionally for the pet.” 

It might be particularly important for full-line stores or stores that offer products for multiple types of pets to call attention to treats, toys and chews for small animals.

“Our small animal section is at the front of our store, so it makes it easier for customers to come right in and pick repeat sales items easily,” said Nate Infurna, manager of Pratt’s Pets in Glendale, Ariz.

Using endcaps effectively can help promote sales of products in the category as well.

“I have some treats and toys on an endcap leading into where all my food and stuff is,” said Kathy Sunvison, manager at Gallery of Pets in Austin, Texas. “Customers will usually get some kind of treat for their pet to get started with. Then they’ll come back for those, and often they’ll try other things as well.”

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