Healthy and Fun Treats and Chews for Dogs
As dog owners continue to focus on pet health and well-being, treats are increasingly being provided not only as an indulgence, but also as a way to boost the dog’s diet and deliver some important benefits.
Dog treats may be one of the more impulsive items to buy in the store, but that doesn’t mean pet specialty retailers should take a casual approach toward merchandising these items, particularly since pet owners are starting to put treats under closer inspection. As these products—and the roles they can play in pet health and happiness—receive more attention, people are purposely seeking them out.
“Treats are great for fun, health, training, rewards, travel and on-the-go, gifts for holidays, stocking stuffers and so much more,” says Eric Abbey, president and founder of Loving Pets. Located in Cranbury, N.J., the company provides a variety of foods, treats, feeding bowls and accessories for dogs and cats.
The treat category offers pet specialty retailers “tremendous opportunity,” says Abbey, mentioning that the company “takes pride” in devising treats that humans can recognize. “Since the pet parent is making the purchasing decision, retailers want to offer treats their customers can easily relate to, and understand the ingredients and the benefits,” he explains.
Loving Pets just introduced two new USA treat lines designed to attract pet owners and build on the momentum driving the humanization of treats and chews, says Abbey. The company’s USA Taste Buddies promote fun and flavor with combinations like Mac & Cheese, PB & J and more; the USA ActivPetz incorporates supplements into the treat designed to promote bone and joint health, improved digestive support and more. The company also offers the Ora-Bone daily dental chews.
The latter two treats illustrate a growing interest among pet owners in functional treats. A treat becomes more than just a treat when there are “tons of additional health benefits included,” says Alan Snyder, general food and safety manager for Diedrich Pet LLC, a Milwaukee provider of beef chews for dogs, including bones, rolls, chips, ears, tails and more.
Among the company’s offerings is the 7-in. Retriever Roll, dried-beef chews made in natural and chicken flavorings and designed to challenge even the toughest chewer, says Snyder. The product, 100 percent made in the U.S., contains up to 95 percent protein and is high in collagen, helping the dog’s joints and providing a shiny coat. The chew also supports dental health.
Pet owners are paying more attention to superfoods, also considered functional ingredients, says Rashell Cooper, marketing director for Redbarn Pet Products in Long Beach, Calif. The company manufactures over 200 premium treats, chews and foods for dogs and cats. These include the Redbarn Naturals Protein Puffs for dogs, a light, less-than-one-calorie treat offering 75 percent protein; a line of natural, single-ingredient esophagus-shaped beef treats for light-to-moderate chewers, available in braids, braided rings or springs, also high in protein and low-fat; and the 100 percent natural, single-ingredient Odor-Free Bully Stick chews, made from free-range, grass-fed cattle.
“There are the classic superfoods like blueberries, cranberries and salmon oil,” says Cooper. “And then there are the trendier but equally valuable ones including coconut oil, pumpkin and turmeric. Today’s dog parents are incredibly savvy when it comes to their pet’s nutrition and understand the right superfoods could have significant health benefits for their four-legged friends.”
Just as is the case when it comes to human diets, dog owners are looking to supplement their pet’s diet as a way to keep them happy and optimize their well being. For this, they are turning to functional treats, says Joe McIver, brand manager for Whitebridge Pet Brands. As such, they are taking a hard look at the ingredients these items contain.
“The nutrition of each treat is carefully scrutinized, as it should be,” says McIver. “This means that brands need to be more transparent than ever before. And as consumers demand transparency in the products they purchase, pet treats have certainly required more visibility in sourcing, ingredient decks, natural claims and other claims important to pet parents.”
Headquartered in St. Louis, Whitebridge provides pet owners with a range of minimally processed, natural and wholesome dog and cat foods and treats under brands such as Cloud Star, Dogswell, Buddy Biscuits, Happy Hips, Tiki Pets and Petite Cuisine. Cloud Star treat offerings include the aromatic and breakable Tricky Trainers (formulated with both dog and trainer in mind), and the Wag More Bark Less, a guilt-free indulgent treat. Dogswell meaty treats focus on 100 percent real meat with ingredients included for specific functions, such as immunity and defense, healthy skin and coat, or hip and joint health.
In addition to full transparency, pet owners want clean, easy-to-understand labels, says Kelly Ison, CEO of Einstein Pets LLC, a Sarasota, Fla., provider of an array of dog treats, such as the company’s heart-healthy biscuits. The small-batch, 100 percent all-natural balanced nutritional treats contain things like chia seeds to aid in digestion and heart health. Other treats include PB ‘N Jelly Time, Cha Cha Coconut, Pumpkin Time, Turkey Time, Black & Whites, Sweet Potato and more. Traceability and human-grade ingredients with proactive ingredients are also high on the list, she adds.
“Pet parents are concerned about preventative healthcare for their pets and want to know they’re giving their pet a treat that the pet not only likes, but also has an added functional purpose to it,” Ison says. “We’ve seen a rise in the number of choices highlighting the inclusion of nutraceutical ingredients such as probiotics, vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids and so on.”
She foresees this demand will also propel increases in the number and variety of pet treat choices calling out health benefits and functional characteristics.
Pet specialty retailers should be aware they are dealing with customers that are more educated than ever, says Stephanie Volo, vice president, marketing and sustainability for Earth Animal. Located in Southport, Conn., the company develops treats, supplements and foods designed to help prevent and heal. Among the company’s most popular treats are the No-Hide Wholesome Chews, an alternative to rawhide. The digestible, long-lasting chews contain a protein, brown rice flour, olive oil, organic eggs, pineapple and banana. Proteins include chicken, beef, pork, salmon and venison—all of which are humanely raised, free-range, grass-fed and wild-caught. Also available are the Chicken Cutlets with Brushed-on-Benefits treats, formulated to address nine ailments common to dogs, such as anxiety, weight, energy, pain, dental, etc.
“Consumers today have become savvier, nutritionally focused and socially conscious,” says Volo. “They are very aware of what they put into their bodies. And because of this, they’re willing to choose quality over price. Their priorities are now nutritional value versus price.”
All of this is helping to spur overall category growth, although according to McIver, this has been slight. However, he adds, when it comes to functional and grain-free, natural treats, growth is very strong.
“The beauty in the category is that impulse-purchasing is still one of the main drivers,” says McIver. “Manufacturers and retailers can run highly effective promotions at store level to grow basket rings. They also lend a great way for brands to try out different flavors, like seasonal, to test and see if these resonate with customers. Since treats are less of an investment than food, consumers are much more inclined to try something new compared to any other category in the pet industry.”
Even though many treat manufacturers have gone out of their way to design eye-catching packaging that clearly informs pet owners about what’s inside, that doesn’t mean pet specialty retailers are off the hook when it comes to providing guidance and suggestions.
“Pet specialty retailers are key to interacting with their customers, gaining insight and recommending the perfect treat,” says McIver. “All dogs have different tastes and preferences and it’s essential for retailers to understand each customer’s needs before they recommend.”
This requires asking questions, says Abbey, such as about any known allergies, or what the treat will be used for, like training a puppy (suggest a small-sized treat, he advises), or for helping a specific condition like itchy coat or skin, bad breath, or joint stiffness.
Also inquire about form preferences, suggests McIver—some may prefer biscuits, chews/jerky, soft treats and so on. And ask about the pet’s life stage, breed and size, he adds. Volo reminds to query the pet owner about chew strength and how the dog chews, since this can also influence the type of treat purchased.
“And ask if the dog likes to play,” she adds. “Offering a chew that can be combined with a toy can provide a fantastic treating experience.”
As for merchandising these items, there are not many places in the store they can’t go. Putting them by the register is, of course, a given and will capitalize on their impulse-buy nature. But in addition to locating treats with the food, you can also place them where you sell products for dental care, travel, training, skin and coat care, puppy care, supplements and remedies, beds and crates, with the toys, and on endcaps, paying particular attention to seasonal displays since treats are often given as gifts. And don’t forget to “sample, sample, sample,” says Volo, explaining that some treat manufacturers offer sampling programs to inspire trial and sales.
Finally, don’t confine your merchandising effort to your four walls, says McIver. “Connecting with your customers on Instagram or Facebook with special, exclusive buys can also be a great way to drive foot traffic,” he says. “Bundling products—buy food, get x-percent off treats—with a special code you promote on your social channels will entice pet parents to make a visit and drive them to interact with your social channels.” PB