October 5, 2016

It’s a biblical truism that man cannot live on bread alone. Likewise, rabbits, cavies, hamsters, mice and their small mammal brethren crave more than critter kibble and plain pellets to satiate their palates. To make their tiny taste buds truly sing “hallelujah,” our furry friends appreciate treats.

Thankfully, there are plenty on the market to choose from that can get their owners coming back to your establishment for a fresh snack supply.

Savory Indulgences Without the Guilt
Lucas Stock, communications manager for Oxbow Animal Health in Murdock, Nebraska, said consumers nowadays are always on the lookout for fun treat choices—especially those marketed as nutritious.

“More and more, we’re seeing an increased call for wholesome, enriching treat options that customers can feel good about giving to their pets,” Stock said. “They’re seeking out products that they feel their pet will find appealing from both a nutrition and taste standpoint.”

Shane Rice, manager for Last Place on Earth, a pet store in Charlotte, North Carolina, can vouch for the fact that treats with natural ingredients—minus fillers like unneeded grains—continue to be in demand.

“Customers are trying to replicate more of what their pet would actually eat in the wild, which means they’re gravitating more toward healthier treats with fewer additives,” said Rice, who notes that granola and yogurt treats are particularly popular among shoppers at his store. “They’re also buying more treats than years ago, probably to pamper and reward their pets.”

Treats are also making the register ring more probably because manufacturers are staking more of a claim in this subcategory, rolling out a greater number of new brands, flavors and configurations of between-meal or meal replacement snacks for small animals with each passing year.

Additionally, “today’s customers are educated, and high-quality treat products keep them coming back,” said Paul Juszczak, director of Sales and Marketing for Wolcott, New York-based Marshall Pet Products.

Stock agrees.

“The overall quality and nutritional value of treats has improved by leaps and bounds, and there are certainly more options in this category than in years past,” Stock said. “In many ways, these product improvements make selling treats easier. Many of our retail partners tell us that they are more comfortable and confident selling treats they can believe in from a product quality and enrichment standpoint.”

Small Animals Also Get the Munchies
Treat trends Stock has identified include hay-based, freeze-dried fruit and vegetable, and bakedthinkstockphotos-508325896 treats. To accommodate this consumer inclination, Oxbow makes Organic Barley Biscuits, billed as 100-percent natural oven-baked treats made with certified organic ingredients including hay, fruits and vegetables.

Additionally, made-in-the-USA and high-protein treats are on the rise, according to Juszczak. Consequently, Marshall offers Bandits Freeze Dried Ferret Treats made with 100-percent whole raw animal protein and created via a delicate freeze-drying process that locks in the natural nutrition and fresh meat taste.

Another leaning that has legs is the diversity of creative, colorful and tasty treat and chew shapes that brands are providing. Consider Living World’s Wheel Delights, a perfectly round crunchy munchy; Vitakraft’s SunSations Loofapalooza chews, loofa gourds flavored with berries; Kaytee’s Apple Orchard Sticks and Big Branch Bites; and F.M. Brown’s Tropical Carnival line, which includes Crinkle Crisps with Carrots Gluten Free treats, designed with special dental ridges to promote oral health, and Baked Pretzels shaped just like the kind we like to enjoy with a cold beer and football game.

A wealth of flavors have also invaded this space, as evidenced by Living World’s vast array of newer tastes, including hamster, rabbit or guinea pig sticks available in honey, fruit or vegetable flavor, Small Animal Bites with Quinoa, and fieldberry-flavored rabbit drops.

And microwave popcorn isn’t just for homo sapiens any longer—now small animals can indulge in this fun food as well, thanks to SunSations’ Yumbo Pops and Mini-Pop Indian Corn Treat, either of which can be served popped or unpopped.

Thinking Outside the Shelf
Stock has observed retailers dedicating more shelf space to treats in recent years—a positive sign, but one that can make for tight real estate. All the more reason to give careful paws—pause, that is—to how you’re going to strategically position treats in your set.

Many experts, Stock included, insist that treats are best merchandised at eye level, where they are likely to catch the attention of more consumers.

“Whenever possible, they do great in the end cap space, as well as on clip strips within the aisle,” Stock said.

Juszczak, however, cautions that pigeonholing one area for treat merchandising can limit your sales.

“Retailers should avoid stocking category specific products like treats only in one section of their store,” he said.

Last Place on Earth follows that advice.

“We try to spotlight new treat products near or on the counter to encourage add-on and impulse purchases,” said Rice, who also prominently displays treats in his store’s designated section for small animals.

It also helps that Rice’s store is hands-on and customer-centric.

“We often let customers pet and handle our for-sale animals,” Rice said. “We’ll let kids put treats inside a cage, and you see their eyes light up as the animal goes for the snack.”
To further send the message that treats are important, “we also bundle carefully chosen treats in our small animal starter setups.”

Lastly, remember that BOGO offers and limited-time deals can further boost treat biz. Consider running a promo where the customer gets a free package of treats with the purchase of a bag of bedding, hay, food or another staple.

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