Something For Everyone

Manufacturers offer a variety of flavors, forms and functions within the all-natural segment of the treats market.


By definition, a “treat” is an indulgence, an occasional delight, perhaps even a guilty pleasure. But pet treats have come to mean something more for many consumers. Recently, pet owners have begun to use treats to supplement pets’ diets and provide a quick nutritional boost. And manufacturers are designing and marketing  treats to target these various consumer needs and preferences, making them more of an essential purchase for the consumer than an impulse buy.

This is good news for independent pet specialty retailers because it means  that the treat category can create ample sales opportunities. After all, even the more expensive brands are often within reach from an affordability standpoint for most consumers.

High Demand
Manufacturers report that treats, in general, have fared well sales-wise in recent years. David DeLorenzo, president of Dallas, Texas-based Vetscience, says the category seems to have been fairly resilient during the economic downturn. Apparently, consumers don’t mind spending their discretionary income on little extras for their pets. “The belief is that pet owners are cutting back in many other areas, including items for themselves, in order to make their pets happy in some small way every day,” he says.

Sales of all-natural treats, in particular, are growing as the latest introductions in this market hone in on specific consumer preferences, DeLorenzo adds. Customers are considering various factors when deciding which treats they will grab off the shelves–price, flavor and ingredients are just a few–and many have several reasons for buying one over another. Fortunately, the treat market is becoming more nuanced all the time. Even within the all-natural and organic segment of the overall category, manufacturers’ offerings are varied enough to meet a variety of needs and personal consumer preferences. 

Patrick Meiering, founder of Durango, Co.-based Zuke’s, says that when shopping for treats, consumers often have several “prerequisites” that lead them to their final choice–requirements that are not limited to price or flavor. “There is also the ‘function’ of a treat that becomes a decision-making criteria, whether it is to help with training, sustain energy for competition or outdoor adventures, or to prevent the onset of bone deterioration and arthritis,” he explains.

DeLorenzo adds that pet-owners will often stock several brands or varieties of treats and chews in the pantry in the same way people frequently have several snack choices on hand for themselves in the kitchen. One customer may have several options in the cupboard–perhaps, one specifically designed for a toy they own, one for training and another just because the pet likes it.

Ultimately, however, many pet-owners have a special favorite they buy over and over. “The great thing about our treat market is there is something for everyone, and while the choice is great, there is that one treat which is very special in the relationship between the pet and pet parent,” DeLorenzo says.  “That treat has value far beyond the price at the shelf for the pet parent.”

Fortunately, the market has no shortage of options–green, freeze-dried, fruit-based, upscale and functionally specific are all included in the repertoire.

Going Green
Wheat grass is not the first thing most people think of when they think of a “treat,” but pet owners who have had to clean up after a sick cat or dog that has been munching on the house plants or the lawn might want to reconsider their definition of a treat. Bell Rock Growers, based in San Marcos, Calif., offers a solution. The company’s wheat-grass-based products for cats and dogs promises to supply the “green” nutrition many pets are craving.

Catherine Hoffmann, president of Bell Rock Growers, says dogs and cats that take to eating plants and grass are often instinctively seeking missing nutrients from their diet. “One theory is that in the wild, dogs and cats might’ve gotten green nutrition from their prey,” she says.

Fruit is another component of the diet many consumers are looking to include in their pets’ daily menus. Fruitables Pet Food, made by Vetscience, offers to fill this niche with a line of low-calorie treats in flavors like pumpkin and apple and pumpkin and blueberry. “The migration of human food choices to pet food and treats is continuing, and as people age, learn more about nutrition and alter the choices they make, those same decisions are being made for their pets at the same time,” says DeLorenzo.

A recent entry into the U.S. pet specialty market, Rush Direct, based in Brazil, is looking to gain market share with several all-natural products, including functional cookies and rawhides, which capitalizes on the company’s well-established reputation in the rawhide business. But it may be its recent foray into the freeze-dried arena that sets this company apart. Prime Taste Treats are cubes of human-grade meats quick frozen to minus-35 degrees and then vacuum-sealed to remove all moisture. The result is a lightweight cube with all the nutrients trapped within. Executive Director Charles Ferreira says the product can either be re-hydrated by adding water or eaten as is–either way, it has retained its original nutrients, a feature that is likely to make it attractive to nutrition-focused buyers.

Freeze-drying is a costly process, and consumers pay for it at the register. Ferreira says, however, that these treats are meant to be special and something of a delicacy, and consumers will be willing to spend more for them.

Ferreira is not alone in his belief that people will seek out and purchase higher-end products. “Consumers aren’t looking for a typical biscuit,” says Frank Hon, director of operations for Canidae, a holistic pet food manufacturer based in Norco, Calif. “They are looking for something that is a lot more upscale and natural, with ingredients that would be similar to what you and I eat. Those treats seem to be on the upswing.”

So despite the economy and the financial woes many Americans have been experiencing, cheaper doesn’t necessarily equate to better in their minds. Natalie Gershon, director of marketing for Dogswell, says that thinner wallets are not prohibiting treat sales. Consumers, she says, are more than happy to “budget in” treats when they shop, making the treats market a climbing one. “What I think is fascinating is that despite the economy, people are really still connecting with their emotional purchases for both pets and babies,” she says.

Gershon reports that Dogswell has seen solid growth with its treats in the last two years, and attributes the company’s success to its portfolio of functional treats, which, like many of the dietary supplements on the market today, target specific health conditions and age groups. Gershon says that customers often buy two or more types of treats designed to help address conditions like joint mobility issues, obesity, and skin and coat health, further boosting sales.

“People are feeding their treats like multi-vitamins,” she says “They are really getting the best of all worlds–vitamins in a format their pets enjoy.”

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