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Cat Treats Get a Makeover

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When it comes to cat treats, felines certainly have their favorites in respect of tastes and textures.

However, for longest time, the allotted shelf space in the average retail store featured a very limited selection. It’s only recently that manufacturers have started to truly cater to the taste buds of these popular companion pets ultimately giving cat treats the right to be deemed a comprehensive category.

Many of the new lines are following in the footsteps of popular dinner recipes and focusing on single ingredients and other trends such as grain-free and soy-free.

“Consumers are becoming much more savvy, aware and interested in the ingredients in treats,” David Yasulka, vice president of marketing communications for Halo, said. “With the ongoing jerky scare, customers have peace of mind when treats, including ours, are all made in the USA.

“Also, another big concern for cat owners is obesity and weight management,” he said. “Over-treating or treating with high calorie treats can quickly contribute to weight gain. Our beef, chicken and salmon Halo Liv-a-Littles are our top seller. They contain only one ingredient, namely freeze-dried chicken, salmon or beef.

“And, because feline diabetes is another growing concern, again when it comes to treats, they are being pointed in the direction of nutritional basics. For cats, there’s nothing more basic than a pure protein treat.”

According to Chanda Leary-Coutu, the communications manager for Wellpet, the idea of guilt-free treats is becoming popular across the industry.

“Besides our treats being grain-free, wheat, corn and soy free, we place a lot of emphasis on the fact that they are guilt-free too,” she said. “The Pure Delights range of soft moist flavors that includes salmon, turkey, chicken and lamb are only 1 – 1.5 calories per treat and made in the United States.”

The company will be introducing a new range of crunchy treats called Kittles next month, which is set to debut at the Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Fla. The grain-free treats in fun shapes will be available in chicken and cranberries, tuna and cranberries, and salmon and cranberries.

“From a merchandising standpoint, both lines are peggable for drive-aisle and in-line placement or both,” Leary-Coutu said.

In terms of shape, The Honest Kitchen’s entered the cat treat space with Smittens, which launched a few months ago. The treats are low calorie heart-shaped snacks made from freeze-dried, wild line-caught haddock fished off the coast of Iceland.

“While our Wishes treats, also made from haddock fillets, are also suitable and very popular with cats, we wanted something specific dedicated to the feline market,” Stacey Yip, public relations spokesperson for the San Diego-based company, said.

“The heart shape wasn’t originally designed around a cat’s tactile needs; we wanted to create a treat that felt really friendly and cute, the size of a pill without actually looking like one! So the heart was a natural choice for the shape, and the really happy coincidence was that it was really easy for cats to pick up.”

Following on their lines of innovative dog treats such as Grill-licious and Barksters for dogs, Loving Pets Products launched their Purrfectly Natural Cat Treats in four flavors: namely beef lung, chicken, shrimp and buffalo. The treats, also made in the USA, are 100 percent freeze-dried protein with no additives, fillers or preservatives and, in line with the latest dietary trends, are also glycerin soy, grain and wheat free.

“My customers tend to buy a variety of treats to start, then they come back to us to purchase their cat’s favorite one,” Jeff Sarachik, owner of Pet Delight in Brooklyn, N.Y., said.
“They are also beginning to question where the treats are made, favoring those made in the USA like the Purrfectly Natural range. The dry treats are more popular than the old style of soft, moist treats, because dry to semi-dry treats offer a crunchier texture, and dryer treats also benefit a cat’s dental health/tartar control.”

Evangers is also thinking beyond standard protein choices with the introduction of their raw freeze-dried beef hearts.

“Beef heart is loaded with essential nutrients for supporting the health of frisky felines,” Erin Terjesen, public relations spokesperson for the company, said. “Because of the palatability and wholesomeness of these treats, they are excellent for finicky cats or pets with food sensitivities, as well as for use as a food mixer.”

From a retail standpoint, the market for treat products is being boosted with the introduction of cat puzzles, which are fast becoming the latest toys to keep cats both physically fit and mentally engaged. Also behaviorists are recommending that cat owners set up treasure hunts around the home so that cats remain active and hone their hunting skills.

It’s this type of advice that retailers can also use to promote treat sales and explain the benefits beyond enhancing the human-animal bond.

Pet Central in Honesdale, Pa., introduces customers to new treats through their Treat of the Week promotion.

“We advertise when something new comes in by placing stickers that say ‘new item’ to highlight them on the shelves to draw customer attention,” Adam Levine, the owner, said. “While we keep a packet of open dog treats on the counter for pets to taste, we haven’t yet done that with cat treats to give cat owners an opportunity to take a few home to try. But it’s an idea worth considering.

“Because of the huge selection customers do come to us for advice if they don’t know their cat’s taste preferences. Many buy treats to prevent tartar build up or hairballs. Others stock up randomly to give their cats choices. Our treats for both cats and dogs get a lot of shelf prominence so it’s easy for customers to find.”

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