The Key Ingredients Consumers Demand in Cat Treats

With cat owners becoming more knowledgeable about their pets’ nutritional and emotional needs, cat treats made with premium ingredients are selling well.

"Cat treat sales are up, across the board, for healthier, premium offerings," said Scott Ragan, managing partner at Meowijuana in Lenexa, Kan. "A big part is demographic shifts with more millennials adopting cats, a population shift to more urban/city living and a focus on better-quality items for pets."

Retailers and manufacturers reported that freeze-dried treats are the go-to snack for cats.

"Freeze-dried treats are always popular," said Nathan Warner, store manager at All the Best Pet Care, which has multiple locations in Washington. "We like the freeze-dried treats because they require no binders or starches to hold their form, allowing most of them to be 100 percent meat, whis is great since cats are obligate carnivores."

Because of the way they are made, these treats offer cats a nutritious, concentrated protein snack, said Don King, vice president of marketing for Champion Petfoods in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

"The freeze-drying process, at extremely low temperatures, works to remove moisture and concentrates the bioavailability of nutrients," King said. "This provides cat owners with a convenient and safe way to provide the benefits of a raw protein in a convenient form."

What flavors are best-sellers depends on whom you ask, but chicken and fish treats perform well for many retailers.

Warner noted that, by far, the best-selling protein in cat treats at All the Best Pet Care is chicken. Turkey and duck are also popular, as well as fish, he said. Manufacturers and other retailers also noted chicken’s popularity, in addition to turkey and various types of seafood.

While freeze-dried treats are perennial favorites, lately, stores have been seeing high sales in puree-style tube treats as retailers are educating consumers more about cats’ dietary need for moisture and more brands have been introducing these types of treats.

"At All the Best Pet Care, we’ve been talking about cats’ desert origins and strong need for dietary moisture as long as I’ve worked here," Warner said. "The high-moisture treats fit in wonderfully with that [message], and the cats love them. Once you’ve given your cat one, you can’t go back!"

Kim McCohan, chief happiness officer at Bend Pet Express, which has two stores in Bend, Ore., said the stores’ top-selling cat treats are both lickable puree treats: Tiki Cat Stix and Nulo Perfect Purees.

"Lickable treats are a great mixer for kibble or canned," she said. "Those persnickety gatos prefer the liquid, and these [treats] create instant nutritious puree [in] any food.

"I believe very moisture-rich treats are trending because pet parents are becoming more aware of cats needing moisture-rich foods for optimal health," she added.

And as cat owners learn more about ingredients and cats’ needs, they seek high-quality products with ingredients they recognize.

"We notice that consumers are looking for treats with simple ingredient labels that have only one to two ingredients," said Andrea Bourne, senior marketing specialist at Pure Treats, maker of PureBites treats, in Vaudreuil-Dorion, Quebec, Canada.

Stuart Scher, CEO of Surrey, British Columbia, Canada-based The Granville Island Pet Treatery, which manufactures a variety of cat treats, agreed that simple is better.

"Consumers are looking for authentic treats they can recognize—things they would eat," Scher said.

Concerns with proper nutrition are also driving sales.

"Taurine is an extremely popular ingredient in treats right now," said Walter Scott, co-owner of Dallas-based One Heart Pet Products, which makes Happy Fish treats for cats. "It is critical for cats to maintain normal vision, digestion and heart muscle function, as well as to maintain a healthy immune system. Because cats don’t manufacture enough on their own, it is important for them to have sufficient amounts in their food and treats."

New Products

A Seafood Bounty

Manufacturers are offering a variety of new cat treat options designed to appeal to the feline palate with fish flavors.

Dallas-based One Heart Pet Products launched Happy Fish Cat Treats last year. Made with just one ingredient, these dried fish treats are caught off the shores of Japan and packaged in the U.S. They can be used as treats or food toppers and provide essential nutrition for cats, including taurine, protein and omega-3 fatty acids, according to the company.

Pure Treats of Vaudreuil-Dorion, Quebec, Canada, has seen great success with its PureBites Ocean Medley treats, which are made with just three wild-caught, human-grade ingredients—sockeye salmon, yellowfin tuna and shrimp—said Andrea Bourne, senior marketing specialist. Launched last summer, the freeze-dried raw treats contain the aroma and freshness that cats love, she noted.

Meowijuana in Lenexa, Kan., released its Crunchie Munchies line in September. The treats feature a crunchy exterior with cat-favorite flavors such as salmon, tuna and chicken and have a soft center flavored with valerian root and catnip.

Consumer & Retail Staff Education

Encouraging Customers to Try More Treats

Retail staff can help pet owners make the right treat purchases for their cats by clearly explaining the nutritional needs of cats and understanding that these pets can be choosy with their food.

For many retailers, the most frequently asked question they receive is "Will my cat like this?"

All the Best Pet Care sends staff to extensive product training sessions, both internally and with vendors, to ensure associates are well educated on what they sell.

"We also frequently make it a priority to let our staff try either free or heavily discounted product with their own pets to gain firsthand knowledge of the associated benefits," said Nathan Warner, store manager at All the Best Pet Care, which has multiple locations in Washington.

He added that the stores also offer customers a 100 percent hassle-free guarantee.

"That really helps [give them] confidence to take a chance on something new," he noted.

Kim McCohan, chief happiness officer at Bend Pet Express, which has two stores in Bend, Ore., provides free samples of new treats to cat owners so they can allow their pets to taste test them before purchasing an entire bag that might go to waste.

"The best way we have been able to expand any cat owner’s [purchasing habits] is giving free samples of something similar," she said. "This way they find out if their cat likes it before they buy it."

Consumers also want to know if treats are safe and healthful for their cats.

"In this case, we will point out that there are no chemical preservatives, byproducts, food coloring or sugars," said Toni Shelaske, owner of Healthy Pet Products, which has stores in the Pittsburgh area. "This usually pleases them and seals the deal."

For cat owners seeking dental treats for their pets, McCohan is steering consumers away from conventional crunchy treats with unnecessary ingredients and instead turning them toward some more unconventional items: raw chicken necks.

"It’s common for dog owners to ‘give their dog a bone,’ but cats, not so much," she said. "Cats crushing their prey’s bones and rough skin all help with dental hygiene. Raw chicken bones are the closest that I can get to re-creating this."


Simplifying the Selection Process

Retailers have found that once an owner knows what kind of treat their cat prefers, they will stick with a particular brand or type of protein. Displaying merchandise organized by brand or type of treat helps consumers more easily find products they know their cat will like.

Toni Shelaske, owner of Healthy Pet Products, which has stores in the Pittsburgh area, groups cat treats by manufacturer, either hanging on a wall or on shelves.

"Occasionally, novelty proteins will be grouped together to make it easier for the consumer to find a specific protein if feeding a limited-ingredient diet," she added.

Kim McCohan, chief happiness officer at Bend Pet Express, which has two stores in Bend, Ore., takes a similar approach in her stores by organizing cat treats by type. For example, the stores display the freeze-dried treats, hairball remedies and lickable treats grouped together so that shoppers can make a quick selection based on what they need.