Dog Treats: A Delicious Opportunity

Dog treats are not just great tasting, they’ve become more functional, giving dog owners the ability to better match treat to lifestyle and pet specialty retailers the chance to ring up higher sales.


Snacks are taking on a whole new role, at least for those obsessed with health and wellness. For many people today—and their numbers are growing—treats not only have to taste good, they have to be healthy. A quick stroll down the grocery aisles bears this out with their offerings of flaxseed and soy chips, products loaded with chia seeds, high-protein snacks, high-antioxidant snacks, organic treats and snacks designed to power you through a workout or restore you afterward. In fact, if a treat is not functional beyond being just an indulgence, it is a guilty pleasure that for many is best left on the shelf.

Inevitably, this trend toward healthful snacks has worked its way over to the pet arena, and it is fueling a raging demand for beneficial treats for shoppers’ canine counterparts. 

“As pet parents become more focused on their own health, we want to nurture our pets in the same way,” says Matthew Dweck, president of BH Pet Gear, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based company that develops and manufactures pet products and accessories under a variety of brands. “Healthy treats are a great way to show affection, strengthen the human/animal bond, provide a reward for training and also provide nutritional benefits.”

Also of heightened interest are organic, natural or USA-made treats, says Laura Jones, finance officer for Jones Natural Chews Co., a Rockford, Ill.-based company that manufactures natural dog treats and chews. Jones says demand for USA-made treats is such that pet specialty retailers should consider creating a separate made-in-the-USA section in their stores and organizing it by either protein source or by dog size.

Treating with Purpose
People treat for many different reasons. Treats are used to reward, entertain (in the case of chews) indulge or nourish and boost health. But one type of treating seems to be becoming increasingly popular, according to Emily Benson, marketing director for pet product manufacturer Starmark Pet Products, Inc., in Hutto, Texas. “While the number of people purchasing treats remains fairly steady, using treats as a training aid is on the rise,” Benson says. “According to American Pet Products Association’s (APPA) 2015-2016 APPA National Pet Owner Survey, treats are the most used training device over all others.”

This spells significant opportunity for pet specialty retailers, since the need to have well-trained, well-behaved dogs is more pronounced than ever. Dogs are pretty much going everywhere these days; in fact, our culture has become so dog-friendly and accommodating, there are fewer and fewer reasons to leave them behind. All of this companionship—as well as the growing number of dogs living in densely packed urban areas—requires training if dogs are going to play well with humans and other pets. This need for training translates into good treat sales for stores.  

The fitness trend that has people completely obsessed with how many steps they take in a day (thanks to various wearable tracking devices) also lends a boost to treat sales. As people walk more, dogs are going along for the jaunt, says Barbara Denzer, vice president of marketing for Cardinal Laboratories, Inc., an Azusa, Calif.-based pet product manufacturer. Inspired by data showing that 73 percent of dog owners walk their pets daily, the company recently introduced a fitness-enhancing dog treat formulated for that “huge market of pet owners,” says Denzer.

“The treat category is becoming more specialized; people are no longer regarding dog treats as all the same,” Denzer says. “They’re looking for treats to use for different purposes, whether it’s for a training reward, a nutritious pick-me-up during physical activity, or simply as an for a training reward, a nutritious pick-me-up during physical activity, or simply as an occasional indulgence to show their dogs they love them.”

Another trending segment includes treats designed to promote oral, joint, heart, digestive and skin and coat health. For example, there are treats for dogs containing fat-burning/lean muscle-preserving ingredients and those loaded with vitamins and nutrients or with protein to supplement the diet. 

Many treats feature sustainably raised and sourced ingredients, and recycled or sustainable packaging, as well. These options are appealing to growing numbers of consumers. Although this gives pet specialty retailers plenty of varieties to offer their customers, it also means retailers must create order from (potential) chaos and also actively participate in helping customers find the treat that best fits their needs.

In order to help customers narrow down their choices retailers may consider asking them about:

• The dog’s chewing habits. Is the dog a gulper, or chewer? Is it aggressive or soft-mouthed? “If the dog is a gulper, I wouldn’t recommend a pig ear, trachea or any other chew that could be swallowed while still too large of a piece,” Jones explains. “Aggressive chewers should choose from a beef knee cap, beef shank bone, or the jerky/sausage types of treats.”

• The dog’s size and weight. “If the dog is very small, a full-sized treat might put on too much weight, especially if given repetitively for training,” says Denzer. “So suggest a lower-calorie alternative.”

• Any allergies, dietary concerns and lifestyle. “Also, be sensitive if there’s a pricing concern and offer alternatives,” says Dweck.

• The intention of the treat. Is it used for training, or inside a toy or to help address a particular concern, or is it just simply a treat? If it’s to be used for training, Benson advises suggesting one that is bite-sized and quickly eaten. “This helps the dog maintain his focus on the handler versus cleaning up any crumbs from a large or messy treat,” she says.

• Where it will be used. “Packaging is important to look at,” explains Denzer. “If a treat is going to be given on the go, you should suggest one that comes in a package that is resealable and/or is easy to transport in a pocket.”

Retailers should also inquire about other general preferences, such as organic, all-natural, sustainability, non-GMO, humanely raised, sourcing and so on. For many consumers, these qualities are extremely important.

As for merchandising, make these items easy to locate and figure out. For example, grouping like treats together, such as biscuits, chews, baked treats, crunchy, soft-moist and so on, can be helpful to customers, says Benson. 

“Similarly, placing treats next to the toys into which they fit or that are in a series gives a visual of the treat-toy system as a whole,” she adds.

Although treats should have their own area, sectioned off in a way that makes sense to the customers, displaying them with other types of products that a particular treat may be associated with will promote sales, says Denzer.

“For example, small treats designed to be given as repetitive training rewards should be merchandised with other training-related products such as leads and training videos,” she explains. “An activity-oriented treat would do well in displays with products like doggie backpacks and portable water bottles.”

Other possibilities include placing dental treats by the dental care products, or those geared toward skin and coat health with remedies and treatments targeting the same, and so on.

And don’t overlook the register, says Dweck. “Treats are a feel-good item and often an impulse add-on,” he says. “Counter displays are a great way to add units to a pending sale.” 


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