Cat Marketplace: On The Prowl
Cats want treats with tempting tastes and textures; owners seek products with natural, healthful ingredients.
By Stacy N. Hackett
Customers at Banana Patch Studio on Kauai can find all types of souvenirs to take back to the mainland—including cat treats for their pets back home. The store stocks several types of natural treats, including those from Barkaroo, as a complement to its line of handmade cat bowl pottery.
“We put bags of the treats inside the bowls as a display,” said Sheri Boulay, manager of the store in Hanapepe, Hawaii. “Customers like the treats because they are made with ingredients from the islands, such as macadamia nuts, and they are lightweight and easy to transport home for their pets.”
While the cute shapes of the treats entice customers, Barkaroo strives to ensure that the treats also tempt cats, said owner Jan Woo. It’s no surprise, then, that one of the Kapa’a, Hawaii-based company’s most popular cat treats is its Catnip Cookies.
“We were inspired by cat lovers and store owners to develop a recipe with catnip that wasn’t overwhelming,” Woo said. “Cats really enjoy this recipe, and it’s excellent for getting rid of fleas.”
Catnip and related treats remain strong sellers at The Pet Stop in Murrieta, Calif., said owner Shelly Dillingham. The store stocks dried Cosmic Catnip from OurPet’s, as well as the company’s growable cat grass mix of barley, oats and wheat.
Cherrybrook Premium Pet Supplies, which has locations in New Jersey, carries a range of cat treats to satisfy the preferences of all cats, stocking varieties such as freeze dried, jerky, grain free, limited ingredient, soft chews, hard treats and bonito flakes. Such a wide range also means that customers can find something for cats with certain dietary needs.
“Freeze-dried treats and limited-ingredient treats are great for cats with allergies and sensitive stomachs, because they are single protein and there are fewer proteins to be digested,” said Caitlin Sullivan, store manager. “Soft treats are great for finicky cats because of the savory smell, and also for senior cats with fewer teeth who have a hard time chewing. Bonito flakes can be used as a treat for finicky cats, too.”
Freeze-dried treats remain a top seller at Long Leash on Life in Albuquerque, N.M., as do functional treats formulated to address specific feline health issues, said Norm Shrout, co-owner.
“At some point in their life, many cats will experience some type of ailment that the functional treat may help address,” Shrout said.
Popular treats at Cherrybrook Premium Pet Supplies include Orijen’s freeze-dried treats, Hare of the Dog’s Cat Hare Rabbit Recipe treats and The Honest Kitchen’s Smittens, Sullivan said.
“We offer these treats because they mirror our philosophy: thoughtfully selected, all-natural and holistic pet food free of corn, wheat, soy, animal byproducts and artificial ingredients,” she said.
The Honest Kitchen in San Diego introduced Smittens to offer a single-ingredient treat with plenty of cat appeal.
“Cats are quite texture-sensitive, so it was important to create a treat that had the right consistency—not too hard and not too crumbly,” said Lucy Postins, company founder and CEO. “We also wanted to create something very pure, and just one ingredient (haddock) with nothing else added.”
Natural ingredients make up the formulas of Zuke’s cat treats, said Chris Meiering, director of marketing for the Durango, Colo., company.
“Our Natural Purrz are chock full of real meat, fish oil and cranberries,” he said. “The G-Zee’s are our natural treats with added glucosamine and cranberry for powerful joint support.
Spotlight on Treats
Meiering encourages store employees to educate customers about the health benefits of treats made with natural ingredients.
“We have an online training course where store associates can learn about our brand and products,” he said. “One of our main goals is to educate pet retailers and pet parents about our brand history, the benefits of products made with whole-food, natural ingredients, and that a healthy, active lifestyle is both good for their pets and themselves.”
Zuke’s also offers graphics and other printed materials to help highlight cat treat displays, as well as monthly promotions.
The Honest Kitchen provides product brochures and shelf signage, and encourages store owners to mention the company’s social media offerings, such as instructional videos on YouTube, Postins said.
To draw attention to cat treats, Cherrybrook Premium Pet Supplies displays different types of treats together, but places distinctive categories in separate spots throughout the store “to maximize sales and visibility,” Sullivan said. Special events also help encourage cat treat sales.
“We designate special days a few times each year to just cats called ‘Catstravaganza,’” Sullivan said.
The events feature samples of cat-specific products, raffles for cat-themed prizes and discounted prices, she said.
A successful promotion at Long Leash on Life features a “buy one, get one” offer.
“The customer purchases another cat product (usually related to the treat) and gets a small treat bag for free,” Shrout said. “We’ve gotten some new treats selling substantially faster based on this type of introduction.”
To further enhance treat sales, manufacturers recommended displaying treats near toys or other “fun” cat products.
“We offer samples along with our cat toys, making a very colorful and decorative display,” Barkaroo’s Woo said. “We suggest that all samples be taken home, where the cats feel more comfortable trying out new products and the owners can watch for reactions.”
Sampling programs can help customers decide between different types of treats. The Honest Kitchen, Zuke’s and Barkaroo all offer free bags of their treats for sampling purposes.
Being open to suggestions also helps to develop customer loyalty—and to sell more treats.
“Consumers often ask us to bring in treats that they have purchased elsewhere,” Sullivan said. “We always review product recommendations, and a lot of times we do decide to bring in their suggestions. This is always much appreciated by customers.”
Free Treats for All!
Manufacturers recommended giving the bags to customers who are interested in buying treats but are not sure what their cat prefers. The samples also can be given at the register as a customer checks out with another cat-related purchase.
“It offers an opportunity for conversation, promotion and increased future sales,” said Chris Meiering, director of marketing for Zuke’s in Durango, Colo. “Likewise, if the retailer has a section for cat adoption, the samples can be used as a gift for the new pet parent, increasing the chance of brand trial and loyalty, leading to future purchases.”
If sample bags are not available, stores can offer their own.
“Whenever possible, we offer a ‘sample’ size of cat treats, but due to cost, not very many manufacturers make that size,” said Norm Shrout, co-owner of Long Leash on Life in Albuquerque, N.M.
He noted that employees open bags of highly flavorful cat food that can be used as a treat.
“We also make our own samples and hand them out freely to cat parents,” he said.
Cherrybrook Premium Pet Supplies, which has stores in New Jersey, follows a similar practice.
“Cat treat samples are a little harder to come by,” said store manager Caitlin Sullivan. “But we do not hesitate to open a bag of cat treats and give small quantities away for customers to try.”—SNH