Cat treats are a growing segment in the pet consumables marketplace. In addition to providing health benefits, treats afford cat owners a great opportunity to show their pets some well-deserved love.
Although cats have a reputation for being picky, the fact that treats are not a big investment means even owners of finicky felines are usually willing to try something new, said Ann Hudson, vice president of marketing for Whitebridge Pet Brands in St. Louis.
"A happy cat is a happy owner, and a palatable treat fulfills the desire of the owner to make her cat happy," she said.
Toni Shelaske, owner of Healthy Pet Products, which has two stores in the Pittsburgh area, reported that cat treat sales are slightly up, as there are more treats to choose from, particularly in the natural category, which is what many consumers are seeking.
Larissa Hunter, sales associate at Pets Naturally in Traverse City, Mich., agreed.
"We’ve seen an increase of questions regarding cat treats over the past year as compared to when the best-seller was [whichever product] had the best price point," she said.
Hunter said that a growing number of pet owners perceive their cats as having allergies. As a result, they are seeking limited-ingredient, single-protein diets, and that extends to their choice in treats.
Regardless, Hunter said, sales in cat treats have stayed the same.
Like Shelaske, though, others reported that cat treat sales have climbed, and for a variety of reasons.
"Cat treat sales are picking up due to many companies realizing that cat owners really want to go the extra mile to make their cat feel loved but don’t want to sacrifice quality," said Starla Carter, store manager of Denny’s Pet World in Kirkland, Wash.
Sandra Dahlquist-Stake, owner and vice president of Cat-Man-Doo in Redmond, Wash., agreed that cat treat sales are increasing, and attributed this growth in part to the rise in pet ownership overall, particularly among retiring baby boomers.
But Ron Franklin, director of international sales and e-commerce with Green Bay, Wis.-based Vital Essentials, linked the steady increase in sales to younger consumers.
"Gen Y and gen X cat owners have a higher level of treat purchases compared to older generations, which has driven much of the increase in sales activity in recent years," he said.
Also contributing to the increased demand, Franklin said, is the integration of pets as family members, which correlates with consumers’ desire to feed their pets more natural and healthful foods.
Cat Treat Launches
This past October, St. Louis-based Whitebridge Pet Brands debuted two cat treats: Tiki Cat Dash and Tiki Cat Stix. Tiki Cat Dash is 100 percent bonito tuna or mackerel that is fresh-caught, flaked by hand and naturally smoked for a boost of flavor. Pet owners can sprinkle it on top of wet or dry food as a special treat for finicky cats. Tiki Cat Stix is a creamy-textured mousse available in chicken or tuna. The treats come in single-serve, easy-open pouches. Owners can let cats lick these protein-rich, pureed treats straight from the tube or pour them on top of dry food for a boost of flavor and moisture.
Also in October, San Diego-based The Honest Kitchen launched a line of instant dehydrated bone broths, suitable for cats and inspired by Ayurvedic health principles. These include Chicken and Cardamom Spice, made with chicken, sweet potato, cardamom and cinnamon, as well as Turkey and Ginger Spice, containing only turkey, lentils, kale and ginger.
In early 2018, cat owners can look forward to two new treats from Redmond, Wash.-based Cat-Man-Doo: a freeze-dried sirloin and a freeze-dried sirloin with cheese.
Because of her success with Fruitables treats for dogs, Toni Shelaske, owner of Healthy Pet Products, which has two stores in the Pittsburgh area, has started stocking Fruitables Wildly Natural cat treats.
Inaba cat treats are new on the shelves at Denny’s Pet World in Kirkland, Wash., due to their unique flavors and texture, said store manager Starla Carter.
New Formats Rule
From freeze-dried options to purees, cat treats are now available in a variety of forms.
Freeze-dried treats are increasing in popularity, said Larissa Hunter, sales associate at Pets Naturally in Traverse City, Mich.
"[They are] usually 100 percent animal protein, and cats, being carnivores, tend to love them," Hunter said. "Also, when a pet has an allergy, it’s easier to find freeze-dried snacks that correlate with the diet restrictions."
Whether freeze dried or not, another cat treat trend of interest is the expansion of treats containing beef, pork or novel proteins, rather than just the traditional fish and poultry flavors, said Starla Carter, store manager at Denny’s Pet World in Kirkland, Wash.
Yet, fish and chicken are still the most common cat treat flavors, said Ann Hudson, vice president of marketing for Whitebridge Pet Brands in St. Louis.
"A protein-based treat is a must," she said. "The most popular trends today include new formats—something different than the typical crunchy and soft and chewy options."
Palatability is important, too. It centers on aroma, texture and mouth-feel, Hudson said, "so in addition to protein source, we are looking at new forms like flakes and purees."
Often, manufacturers are inspired to create pet products that are in sync with human food trends, such as The Honest Kitchen’s incorporation of goat’s milk, bone broth and turmeric in some of its cat products.