Cat owners are paying closer attention to their pets’ wants and needs—and that’s being reflected in increasing sales of premium cat treats and a greater emphasis on high-quality ingredients.

Denise Strong, owner of Pawz on Main, a pet supply store in Cottonwood, Ariz., said that cat treat sales are up and cat owners are certainly willing to spend more money if it means the quality of the product is better. Freeze-dried and single-source proteins are the cat treat types that perform best at her store.

“The flavors that do well in order of popularity are chicken, minnows and shrimp,” she added. “Cat owners are more aware of what their pets are eating than ever before and definitely more willing to pay for high-quality treats.”

When it comes to cat treats, high-quality, U.S.-sourced protein is considered the gold standard, said Kate Benjamin, founder of Hauspanther and creator of the Hauspanther Collection by Primetime Petz, a Rockwall, Texas-based manufacturer.

The company recently launched a new line of freeze-dried raw cat treats, made in the USA with U.S.-sourced protein, that is part of the Hauspanther Collection. The single-ingredient treats are made from nutrient-rich organ meat.

Until recently, the “ultra-premium treat space” had been all about dogs, noted Aubre Tadmori, director of category and shopper insights at I and Love and You, a pet food and treat maker in Boulder, Colo. But the interest is definitely there for cats, Tadmori said. That’s why the company launched Meow & Zen Hearties cat treats in January.

“They are made with real meat, no artificial fillers, and botanicals like chamomile, passionflower and lavender, which help reduce anxiety and stress,” Tadmori said. “We also introduced Hair Meow’t Hearties cat treats made with real meat, prebiotics and probiotics.”

Addressing Feline Preferences

There’s no question that cats are naturally finicky, and what’s appealing can dramatically differ from pet to pet. That has led manufacturers to experiment with new textures and formats.

“Cats tend to be more selective in the textures of the food they enjoy,” said Adrian Pettyan, CEO and co-founder of Caru Pet Food Co., a pet food and treat manufacturer in Vero Beach, Fla. “Some like a crunchier kibble type of food, while others prefer a softer, creamy texture. This has transferred into the world of treats, and more manufacturers are trying new things, different from hard biscuits or baked treats.”

Caru was already offering Soft n’ Tasty Baked Bites but also recently introduced two products to appeal to other textures that cats enjoy.

“Our [Daily Dish] Smoothies treats are deliciously creamy blends featuring tasty flavors, like chicken and tuna, to cater to their carnivorous instincts,” Pettyan said.

Daily Dish Smoothies can be fed directly to cats, poured into the pet’s bowl or used as a topper to enhance the flavor of the food, he added.

“Additionally, we launched our Daily Dish Broths for cats and dogs,” Pettyan said. “Made with 100 percent human-grade and natural ingredients, our recipes are vet-formulated and made right here in the USA.”

Daily Dish Broths can be served frozen or heated slightly for a treat, used to moisten dehydrated of freeze-dried food, or poured over wet or dry food as a flavor and nutrient enhancer, Pettyan said.

Laura Brooks, vice president of marketing for Solid Gold Pet, a pet food, treat and supplement manufacturer in Chesterfield, Mo., also emphasized the need for variety. Solid Gold Pet has expanded upon its existing portfolio with the launch of SeaMeal Squeeze, which has a mousse texture and provides cats with extra digestive health. The new product, made specifically for cats, packs the benefits of seaweed into an easy-to-serve squeeze that can be used as a topper or a treat. It is available in tuna and chicken flavors.

“Knowing cats can be picky eaters; we wanted to find a way to add nutritious treats to their diets while making it something they would enjoy eating, too,” Brooks said. “Inspired by our popular SeaMeal supplement—which provides a great source of essential vitamins and minerals, amino acids, omega fatty acids and antioxidants, and supports your cat’s and dog’s skin and coat—we transformed SeaMeal into a tasty easy-to-serve squeeze just for cats.”

Sales & Merchandising

Giving Cat Treat Sales a Boost

Though cat treats appear to be faring well, industry insiders have some advice on how independent retailers can continue to fan the flames and inspire more sales.

“Treats are often an impulse buy for shoppers,” said Laura Brooks, vice president of marketing for Solid Gold Pet, a pet food, treat and supplement manufacturer in Chesterfield, Mo. “The low price point makes it a low-risk addition to their basket. Displays and bundling offers across multiple areas of the store can help drive purchases. Because of the low price point, treats are also great for promotions to drive trials. For example, free treats with the purchase of a bag of dry kibble not only creates surprise and delight for the shopper and pet, but also gets the treats into more homes.”

Kim McCohan, chief happiness officer for Bend Pet Express, which has stores in Bend, Ore., said that free treat giveaways have worked well for the stores, as cat owners don’t want to spend too much money trying new products their picky cats might not like.

“The mousse stick-style treats are so cheap that giving one away to each cat purchase has resulted in an uptick in those type of treats,” she said. “If we open a bag of treats and give some away with each purchase, it’s more difficult for the customer to return and ask to get that treat. We often switch treat companies, and trying to match up a triangle brown nugget to the appropriate bag/treat can be a nightmare. If we do treats where we divvy up an opened bag, we will use treats [where it is] super obvious, visually, what they are.”

Displaying cat treats in a meaningful way can also help boost sales.

Claudia Loomis, executive vice president of Cherrybrook Premium Pet Supplies, which has stores in New Jersey, said that Cherrybrook keeps a separate cat section in the stores and that this works well for cat owners.

“In this area, we have a cat treat slat wall, and the treats hang on hooks,” she added. “We display them by brand as most of our customers like to pick and choose between brands, as their cats are finicky. Functional treats like dental treats and treats with lysine for eye care, as well as treats with cranberry for urinary health, are displayed with cat supplements.”

Aubre Tadmori, director of category and shopper insights at I and Love and You, a pet food and treat maker in Boulder, Colo., added that retailers should consider more displays that encourage cross-shopping of food types.

“By highlighting brands that offer a full portfolio solution, they will convert more shoppers as more and more shoppers realize that high-quality offerings are now being sold in more retail locations than in the past,” she said.

Treats can work well in a range of displays—either standalone or coupled with other products.

“One of the great things about treats is their compact size, which makes them versatile for a variety of displays,” Brooks said. “Packages can be placed on a clip strip and placed around the store to increase impulse buying and bundling. For example, while a shopper is in a fun and indulgent mindset buying toys, treats could be a perfect add-on. Or while purchasing their routine kibble, placement of treats in the food aisle can increase the basket size.”

Brooks added that treats also perform well at the register for a last-minute grab and don’t take up too much space on the counter in a shelf-ready display.

Trade Talk

Ann Hudson, vice president of marketing for Whitebridge Pet Brands in St. Louis

How can retailers get shoppers excited about cat treats, and how is your Tiki Cat brand bringing innovation to this category?

Cats love treats just as much as dogs, and owners want to indulge them with tasty but healthy options. For retailers, cat treats are one of the fastest-growing and highest-margin categories, a true hidden gem of pet specialty. Cat owners love to “shop” the aisle just like they do wet food, looking for new and unique flavors and formats, spending more than $3 million every year. The broader selection the better, but cat owners—and cats—are known to be picky, so small packages or even single-serve options can generate a lot of interest.

Tiki Cat has 13 different cat treats, including six flavors of Stix: Duck, Chicken, Salmon, Tuna, Shrimp and Scallops. Stix treats are a nine-calorie, single-serve, soft mousse in a stick that’s fun to eat and fun to treat. They come in pouches of six and 12 or a new variety pack, all of which can be pegged in the treat aisle or placed next to food in a special retail-ready box. Tiki Cat Stix are not distributed in grocery or mass retailers.

Tiki Cat Soft & Chewy [treats] with Tantalizing Tuna and Craveable Chicken are launching in October. Tuna or Chicken are the first ingredient, and they don’t crumble or feel greasy to the touch. Treats should never be more than 5 percent of a cat’s diet, so at three calories each, they are the perfect, healthy, meaty choice.