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Pet Owners Seek Cat Treats with Benefits

Posted: March 4, 2013, 6:45 p.m. EST

Cat owners are looking for functional treats to improve and prevent a range of feline health issues, from hairballs to lackluster skin and coats.
By Sandi Cain

The number of cat treats with health benefits found on store shelves has multiplied in recent years, driven in part by the continuing trend by pet owners to treat their pets like family members, industry participants reported. This can mean opportunity for independent retailers.
“With increasing health concerns and the desire to feed more nutritious foods, cat owners are starting to select options that provide functional health benefits in treats,” said Monica Barrett, corporate affairs manager for Franklin, Tenn.-based The Nutro Co., maker of Feline Greenies Dental Treats and new Feline Greenies SmartBites.

The new Greenies treats launched late last summer and come in color-coded packaging for hairball relief, digestive aids and healthy skin and coat formulas made from naturally derived ingredients, the company reported, adding that the hairball formula includes plant-based fibers that minimize hairball formation; the Digestive Care formula includes coconut meal; and fish oil and flaxseed are key components of the Healthy Skin & Fur treats.

Functional treats with standout packaging are most likely to draw attention.
Functional treats with standout packaging are most likely to draw attention. Sherri L. Collins/i-5 Publishing at Dogma in Irvine, Calif.
Forty percent of cat owners don’t know about these beneficial products, so there’s plenty of room for growth, noted Scott Garmon, president of Temecula, Calif.-based NaturVet, which also makes GreenTree and Pet Organics products and recently bought Overby Farm.

“Urinary issues are a big problem,” Garmon said. “That’s one of the first beneficial treats we made,” he said.

A urinary health treat is on the horizon for Emerald Pet Products, according to Michael Levy, president of Emerald Pet Products in Oakland, Calif. The company created Smart n’ Tasty Feline Dental Treats to address an area where the company saw the most need.

“Small stores that are surviving try to focus on specialty products,” said, “It’s hard to find good products in this category, so we developed one that didn’t contain byproducts.”

The proliferation of new products in the sector continues. Los Angeles-based Catswell recently added a salmon treat and tilapia treat to its VitaKitty line, as well as a salmon treat to its Happy Hips line. The new flavors provide additional benefits for cat health, said Brad Armistead, vice president of marketing and innovation.

Zuke’s of Durango, Colo., is set to launch G-Vees by year’s end, a grain-free treat with glucosamine and cranberry to promote joint health in an effort to increase the company’s focus on healthy dogs and cats, noted marketing director Nicole Glover.

In June, Mark & Chappell in Elgin, Ill., introduced indoor cat treats with cranberry formulated to promote urinary tract health. It’s distributed throughout Canada and Europe and in China, according to Jay Keys, vice president of sales, North America. In addition, the company is introducing new packaging on its best-selling hairball functional treat, Keys noted.

Distributors and retailers reported they are on board with beneficial treats. While functional cat treats are a small part of the overall business at Holistic Pet Source, a distributor in Nashville, Tenn., the company works with stores first to see if it wants to tackle that market segment, said Gaia Melkumova, vice president of operations.

Retailers reported varied success with different functional treats depending on their customers preferences. At Smitten Kitten in Des Moines, Iowa, Zuke’s Cat Hip Action, Greenies, and Pet Naturals of Vermont urinary tract treats are on the menu, said Betsey Qualley, owner.

“It’s a specialized shop so I talk to customers and find out their issues so I can point them to the right thing,” she said.

Greenies Dental Treats are sold at It’s Raining Cats and Dogs in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, as are the newer SmartBites, but owner Brenda Elliott has adopted a wait-and-see approach about their potential.

“There are so few treats cats like,” she said.

Greenies are the most popular functional cat treats at Affordable Pet Center in Northampton, Pa., but Zuke’s Cat Hip Action soft treats also sell well, said Mary Ellen Ford, owner.

Dogma Catmantoo in Ann Arbor, Mich., also carries Zuke’s, and manager Alison Dugan gave the product high marks for its enzymes, which are formulated to break down dental plaque.

Retailers carrying the treats find a variety of ways to promote and display the products in tandem with manufacturers’ efforts. For the Greenies dental line and SmartBites, The Nutro Co. provides a POP display that showcases functional benefits and a power wing display for larger retailers. For the holidays, a Seasons Greenies promotion is in the works, the company reported.

Other manufacturers rely on sales sheets and, increasingly, QR codes to provide information to both employees and consumers. Some, like NaturVet, offer email promotions, coupons and special pricing to promote products.

Employees can promote a new product by talking to customers, demonstrating it and sampling it so customers understand why it’s different and want to try it, Emerald’s Levy said. To read more about training employees to sell functional cat treats, click here.

Chuck & Don’s Pet Food Outlet in Denver has a “buy three, get the fourth free” promotion to encourage customers to try various treats, including calming treats, hip and joint, and hairball formulas, said Ray Bechtold, assistant manager.

“One of the best-selling is NaturVet’s hairball treats; another is cranberry relief for urinary tract issues,” he said.

For display, Smitten Kitten has functional treats placed with other supplements “to reinforce that they have functional benefits,” Qualley said.

Dugan at Dogma Catmantoo, however, keeps the treats separate from supplements and calls them “issue treats” to emphasize their purpose.

Employees are on hand to discuss the different benefits with customers at Tomlinson’s seven stores in the Austin, Texas, area, and each location has an entire cat treat section, according to the retailer. The stores carry Pet Naturals of Vermont’s hip and joint treats, Catswell’s Happy Hips, Greenies Dental, SmartBites for skin and fur health, and Get Naked furball, weight management, urinary and kitten treats, noted buyer Paula Moore. 

One thing retailers don’t want to do, NaturVet’s Garmon said, is mix functional products with regular treats because of the difference in price point.
When it comes to catching a customer’s eye, retailers reported they’d like to see is better packaging.

“If they’re not packaged well, it doesn’t sell,” said Elizabeth Sommer, owner of Chatham Beach Dog in Chatham, Mass. “The category could be developed further.” 


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