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Boost Store Sales with Natural Pet Treats


What counts most when choosing natural treats to display is identifying best-sellers and ensuring that the ingredients used are top-notch.
By Jodi Harris

Natural Pet Product MerchandiserIt’s no secret that pet treats that embrace natural or organic ingredients are becoming a lucrative category for retailers. The 2011-2012 APPA National Pet Owners Survey found that 23 percent of dog owners bought natural treats in 2010. Fourteen percent went shopping for gourmet treats, 8 percent for organic treats and 7 percent for vegetarian treats.

“More and more consumers are learning of the importance of offering their companion natural treats to go along with the natural diet,” said Kelly Raiser, co-owner of Max & Ruffy’s, an Arlington, Va.-based manufacturer of vegan and organic treats for dogs. “Treats compliment the companion’s diet, so if the client is giving a high-protein meat diet, then a nice compliment is a natural treat that is fruit- and veggie-based to create a wide variety of nutrient sources.”   

Maggie Johnson, co-owner of Minneapolis-based Sojos, another natural treat manufacturer, understands that people want to treat their pets without worrying about weight gain or tooth decay.

“People who consider their beloved pets to be true family members want to feel good knowing that they are eating right and may live a long, happy life,” Johnson said.

natural pet treats
Pet stores can help focus attention on natural treats with attractive and varied displays. Courtesy of Best Buddies Dog Boutique and Bakery
Fortunately, this presents a tremendous opportunity for pet stores and manufacturers to increase sales and drive customer loyalty.

The robust sales of natural pet treats also can be attributed to the visible results seen in pets that are eating better, pointed out Bette Schubert, co-founder of Bravo! Raw Diet in Vernon, Conn.

“They have whiter teeth, shinier coats, more energy, and allergy symptoms that seem to abate with better foods,” Schubert said. “In short, the benefits of healthy product formulations and sound nutritional value resonate with consumers.”

Tracking Treat Trends
The best place to start when stocking natural pet products is to look for products that are hot right now, industry participants reported.

Raiser found that natural treats that are oven baked, as well as those that contain beneficial ingredients such as superfruits, vegetables and high-valued oils sell particularly well. Also popular are freeze-dried raw treats, according to Eric Emmenegger, Instinct brand manager at Nature’s Variety in St. Louis.
 
“They’re a delicious and convenient way to provide raw treats on the go,” he said.

Some natural treats, however, have waned in popularity. For example, John Gigliotti, president of Whole Life Pet Products in Pittsfield, Mass., noticed that dehydrated chicken breast treats imported from China have begun to fall off.

Meat-based treats are performing better than biscuit-type baked treats at Pussy & Pooch, a boutique pet retailer with stores in Los Angeles and Long Beach, Calif.

“Baked treats that are sized appropriately for small dogs, or varieties that are enhanced with functional super ingredients, are the exception,” said store co-owner Janene Zakrajsek. “If a treat can double as a supplement or satisfy a niche, it can sell well.”

Another stocking consideration is catering to pets with pre-existing sensitivities to certain treat ingredients, a situation that Fabienne Lawrence, owner of Bam Bam & Friends Holistic Pet Center in Culver City, Calif., is accustomed to handling.

“When we have a client whose pet has allergies, we always suggest freeze-dried or other meat-only treats,” Lawrence said.

One major consideration for pet stores that sell pet treats is to keep up with fluctuations within the category. Zakrajsek relies on industry trade shows and trade publications to keep herself and her staff in the loop on the latest products and likely trends. But as far as inventory is concerned, Zakrajsek is conservative, stocking no more than eight units per flavor and a maximum of three or four types in a full line of treats.

“It is rare that we will take an entire line of treats, though if we do, we can clearly see what flavors emerge as customers’ favorites,” she said, adding that she has a process for determining whether a natural treat will sell well after a trial run.

“We do a lot of sampling in our stores, which allows us to get instant feedback on palatability,” Zakrajsek pointed out. “If a product samples well, generally it will sell well.”

Manufacturers can play an important role in guiding retailers on decisions that will optimize profit margins. Suppliers have a responsibility to help retailers understand the difference between products that are marketed as healthy and those that truly are, Gigliotti said.
 
“Treat your retailers like they are part of your sales staff and make sure they are armed with product knowledge and able to explain quickly how your product is different and superior to the economy equivalent to it,” he recommended.

Natural Treats on Display
Inventory management is only one part of the equation. How retailers display natural treats can have a major impact on how well they sell.

The best strategy is to display natural treats next to the food that will compliment it the most, Raiser contended.

“If a client offers a grain-free diet, then a retailer might find it beneficial to display a few boxes of grain-free treats right next to the food,” Raiser noted. “It may spark consumers to buy something they might have normally passed up.”  
   
Sojos’ Johnson prefers a different display method, noting that if retailers want to  recruit consumers who might not otherwise browse the natural category, they might gain more customers if all the treats are displayed together.
 
“For retailers, grouping all-natural products and treats is a great way to show the breadth of your selection,” Bravo’s Schubert agreed. “Grouping enhances the shopping experience, builds loyalty, encourages repeat store visits and ultimately maximizes register rings.”

For some pet stores, however, using both methods in a scattered approach throughout their stores may work equally as well.

“It’s a good idea to have an ample supply of natural treats stocked and laid out in multiple areas of the store,” Nature’s Variety’s Emmenegger said. “Putting treats next to the kibble and canned food or up by the register as reminders are good approaches that can encourage the extra purchase.” 

This article orginally appeared in Natural Pet Product Merchandiser's December 2011 issue.

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