Cat treat sales are faring well for many independent retailers who are curating a thoughtful selection. Premium treats appear more popular than ever, with cat owners paying close attention to ingredients and quality.

Dan Lavallee, manager of Pet World, a pet store in Natick, Mass., said that cat treat sales were up about 5 to 10 percent at his store in 2020. He attributed at least some of the rise in sales to more pet owners being home with their cats. With more people working at home, Lavallee said cat owners are looking to keep their pets happy—and busy.

“People are suddenly around their cats all day, and they want to have something to offer them outside of their mealtime,” he said. “But they want treats that are healthy and will complement the nutritious meals they’re already feeding their pet.”

To keep up with the demand, Lavallee said he keeps the cat treat section well stocked, and with a variety of brand options. His customers value choice when it comes to shopping for cat treats, he noted.

Cat treats are also performing well for Pawz on Main, a pet supply store in Cottonwood, Ariz., where owner Denise Strong said that pet owners are seeking healthful options for their feline friends.

“Cats are carnivores, and cat parents are seeking out real-meat treats that will satisfy their natural instincts while also delivering the healthy nutrition they need,” she said. “There’s no question that cat parents are paying attention to ingredients in treats just like they are for meals.”

Andrea Bourne, senior marketing specialist at Pure Treats, the Vaudreuil-Dorion, Quebec, Canada-based maker of PureBites treats, agreed that pet owners want to know what’s in the food and treats they’re feeding their pets.

“They are looking for products with limited ingredients and preferably with a single protein source as it’s ideal for cats with health issues,” Bourne said. “This has created a huge demand for raw, freeze-dried treats, which is forecast to continue over the course of the next few years.”

PureBites offers cat treats in 13 different one- to three-ingredient flavors. Bourne said the brand recently launched some unique protein options in its freeze-dried cat treat line that are selling extremely well—PureBites Freeze Dried Minnows and PureBites Freeze Dried Ocean Medley.

“Ocean Medley only has three ingredients—100 percent pure and natural human-grade wild-caught sockeye salmon, wild-caught yellowfin tuna and wild-caught shrimp,” Bourne added. “It’s a fantastic way to mix up treat time because your cat can enjoy three different proteins in every bag.”

Jocelyn Rosenthal, owner of Boo Boo’s Best, a pet treat manufacturer in San Francisco, said that, overall, she’s been happy to see that cat treats are becoming more than an afterthought to most pet owners.

“For a long time, cats didn’t get a lot of variety in terms of flavors, nor did they have a lot of options of treats made with healthier ingredients,” she said. “I’m happy to say it seems like cats are getting more love these days in the form of wider varieties of proteins and ingredients.”

Boo Boo’s Best just launched a cat version of its SuperFood Nuggets Dog Treats.

“They come in duck, turkey, salmon and whitefish flavors, are small-sized pieces with a smoky flavor and have satisfying chewiness,” Rosenthal said. “Plus, they have catnip to make them even more irresistible. We never use meat or fish meals; we only use real, humanely raised meats or wild-caught fish.”

Start Conversations and Stimulate Sales

Retailers can inspire sales in the cat treat section by educating shoppers.

Strong guides customers in the cat treat purchasing process—no matter what they’re seeking.

“Like all products that we carry in the store, we drive sales with education,” she said. “We’re available to help answer our customers’ questions and to direct them to the products that meet their needs. We do find that many more cat parents are doing their research and have an idea of what they’re looking for, but those customer conversations still help guide them in making the best choices for their pet. The relationships that we build with our customers are what keep them coming back.” 

Giving cat owners some of the attention often reserved for dog owners can pay off, too.

“Making a fuss over cats and cat owners can help make them feel special, too,” Rosenthal said. “Cat owners seem to really want those cat-only sections, and they look for treats that are specifically made for cats.”

Format Trends

What’s Selling

Cat treats come in a variety of formats, from flaked and baked to freeze-dried and wet, to name a few, and independent retailers are paying close attention to the formats that perform well in order to remain stocked with top sellers.

For Dan Lavallee, manager of Pet World, a pet store in Natick, Mass., the freeze-dried treat format has performed best. Lavallee said that freeze-dried raw treats are typically an all-meat product without a lot of filler, and that appeals to many of his customers who are specifically requesting “clean” treat options “without any chemicals.”

“The lack of fillers in freeze-dried treats also means they’re less likely to be allergy triggers, so that’s another reason they sell so well,” Lavallee added.

For Denise Strong, owner of Pawz on Main, a pet store in Cottonwood, Ariz., freeze-dried raw treats are performing well because they fulfill that healthful, real-meat criteria that cat owners are looking for while also being in an easy-to-give format that cat owners appreciate, she said.

Andrea Bourne, senior marketing specialist at Pure Treats, the Vaudreuil-Dorion, Quebec, Canada-based maker of PureBites treats, agreed that freeze-dried cat treats are highly sought-after because of the benefits they offer.

“Freeze drying is a delicate process that preserves the structural and nutritional integrity of fresh, whole raw food,” Bourne explained. “Cats receive the nutritional benefits that raw proteins have to offer including high protein levels, low calorie levels and high levels of essential vitamins nutrients and minerals like omega 3 and 6, taurine, iron and zinc.” 

And because most freeze-dried treats are made with just one or two raw ingredients, they are ideal for cats that are overweight, are diabetic, have allergies, have gastrointestinal disorders or are on a restricted diet, Bourne said. 

“In addition, freeze-dried treats are processed raw, so they are highly palatable for cats as the aroma, texture and freshness are locked in,” Bourne noted.

While freeze-dried treat sales seem to be up for many retailers, Lavallee said it is still important to have a good variety of formats, as many cats are finicky and tend to prefer a texture they are already accustomed to receiving.

Bethany Lontz, store manager of The Blue Dog Pet Shop in Lemoyne, Pa., said that while freeze-dried treat sales have picked up at her store, “crunchy treats” remain a steady favorite.

“I think it has a lot to do with cat peoples’ perception that crunchy treats do double-duty by also helping to clean the teeth,” Lontz said. “Crunchy cat treats, including ones that are filled, remain our best-selling format right now. It does help that they are also more affordable than freeze-dried.”