Treats, Toys Tick Upward
Owner demand, manufacturer innovation
and retailer merchandising combine to
propel sales of small-animal toys,
treats and chews.
BY SANDY CHEBAT
Small mammals, and businesses in this category, are reaping the benefits of continued pet humaniza- tion and savvy pet owners. “According to the 2017-2018 APPA National Pet Owners Survey, 88 percent of small animal owners
purchase treats for their pets,” said Stephanie Carbaugh, marketing and design support for F.M. Brown’s
and Sons in Sinking Spring, Pa. “Due to the phenomenon of human-
ization, consumers want to treat/gift their pets just like they would
Michael Ford, manager of Affordable Pet Center in North
Hampton, Pa., noted he has witnessed this firsthand in his store.
“People are buying more of the stuff that treats their animals, not
just hay and food,” he said, adding that sales are up a bit. “People
want to give their pets things to do and treat them more like family
This refreshed view of small mammal pets, combined with consumer awareness of the available products, has owners searching for
high-quality goods for their critters, industry participants reported.
“Natural, organic and made in the USA are all key points that
are driving the consumer,” said Ginger Bussey, vice president of
Imperial Cat in Morrilton, Ark.
Stefan Wawrzynski, operations director for Brisky Pet Products
in Franklinville, N. Y., agreed that “all-natural products are very
popular,” and he reports seeing “growing demand for domestically
produced items and treats.”
Anita Ledtje, owner and manager of For Other Living Things
in Sunnyvale, Calif., said that environment enrichment with spe-
cies-appropriate toys is key for critter owners, and providing a va-
riety of toys and treats plays an important role in enriching pets’
environment, according to retailers and manufacturers.
“Consumers want to customize unique combinations of chews,
treats, toys and textures for their small animals,” said Jason Castro,
director of Chilton, Wis.-based Pets International-Kaytee, a division
of Central Garden & Pet Co.
When purchasing treats and chews, Carbaugh said, consumers
gravitate toward those that nutritionally benefit their pets.
“Treats are no longer just treats,” she said. “They are a way to
supplement your pet’s nutrition.”
The small mammal category is seeing a rise in companies entering
the segment as well as consumer demand for unique and quality
options for their pets. The result, insiders report, is more innovation
and product development.
“The small mammal market is slowly getting its recognition, and
you’re seeing other toy makers trying to get into the market, too,”
said Dena Tucker, president and owner of Greenfeather Bird Supply
LLC in West Hartford, Conn. “Even though I’ve had them as pets,
the reason I got into small animal is because some of my full-line
stores wanted me to make small animal toys for them.”
As owners moved from thinking small mammals don’t need
toys and treats to understanding their critters’ needs for enrichment
and healthful options, manufacturers have altered their products. A
notable change that Carbaugh has witnessed in product develop-
ment is an increase in foods and treats containing superfoods, such
as fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds, which naturally have extra-large
doses of vitamins and minerals in their formulas.
Ledtje noted that natural products are fairly plentiful these days.
“When we started in business, all the food and treats had artificial
colors and chemical preservatives,” she said. “Today, you don’t have
to look too far to find good, healthy nutrition for your little one.”
She attributed the changes to information and savvy consumers.
“More natural products and renewable resource products are
the trend recently,” Wawrzynski said, adding that “even specialized
subcategories are taking off.”
Those treats, chews and toys that feature different chewing textures are popular with small animal consumers, so manufacturers
are offering more two-in-one products that combine the textures that
are popular with small-animal consumers, said Castro.