Harnessing the Potential of Healthy Treats and Chews

While consumers spend record amounts of money on their animals, they look to manufacturers to produce treats and


As consumers live healthier, more active lives, they also want to extend that quality of life to their pets. Yet, at the same time, they want to be able to spoil their four-legged companions with a special treat (or two or three) from time to time. While these two disparate drivers of purchasing decisions may have been mutually exclusive in the past, today’s pet care market is making it possible for pet owners to get the best of both worlds with products that serve as snacks while also maintaining ideal weight, promoting dental health or providing essential nutrients. Not surprisingly, the demand for these types of healthy treat and chew products continues to grow by leaps and bounds as a result. 

One of the fastest-growing categories of healthy pet treats is the grain-free segment. In fact, according to New York-based market research firm GfK, the 34.6-percent annual growth rate of grain-free treats is second only to weight-control products. That is because as the grain-free trend in the human-food market grows, consumers are exploring how grain-free pet treat options can help address health issues such as skin irritation and digestive problems. 

“Any dog or puppy suffering from a health issue could also have an allergy to grain,” explains Ann Hudson, vice president of marketing for Whitebridge Pet Brands, parent company of Cloud Star. “There are several options when it comes to grain-free diets, but very few when it comes to supplements and treats.”

By preventing or eliminating suffering due to allergies through diet, consumers can ensure the comfort of their pets. But first they have to be able to find products that fit the bill—a process that, as Hudson points out, can be a challenge. 

For Dawn Ward, co-owner and founder of Dogs Love Kale, finding the right treats to address her beloved pet’s allergies actually led to the development of her company’s product lineup. “One of our dogs is allergic to wheat and grain, so we decided to provide both wheat- and grain-free products for those dogs who are allergic as well,” she says.

Like Dogs Love Kale and Cloudstar, a number of other manufacturers have noticed the growing demand for grain-free treats and are responding with an expanded selection of these products. This increased selection, combined with consumer conscientiousness of the connection between a pet’s diet and wellness and longevity, should continue to drive the category to new heights.

“Consumers are getting smarter about feeding their pet,” says Ward. “If they want to save on vet bills, they will be very careful about what goes in their pet’s mouth. Consumers are pressuring the retailers to provide quality pet food, and the retailers are paying attention.”

Keeping it Real Active
Whether the cause is too much time spent indoors, inactive owners, or being spoiled by a loving family, pet obesity affects the health of many domesticated animals in the U.S. While the market growth of weight-management chews and treats is undeniable, Barbara Denzer, vice president of marketing for Cardinal Pet Care, reveals that pet parents are now recognizing their animals must also remain active to maintain a healthy body.  

“Research shows that 73 percent of all dog parents walk their pets, and that this percentage is growing particularly fast in urban areas,” she says. “With 40 percent of U.S. dogs overweight, it’s no wonder that more owners are turning to walking to help trim their pet’s waistline.”

Increased activity, while beneficial, also causes wear on pet bodies, therefore products that fortify through joint support are integral to optimize animal health. Joint issues are not exclusive to older pets, but also younger animals that are active or predisposed to certain health conditions. 

“It is important to address the various canine health issues that are inherent in certain breeds or develop over time as a dog ages, such as hip and joint issues or digestion issues,” says Susan McCann, national marketing manager for Ethical Products, Inc. “Glucosamine and chondroitin act to repair and rebuild dogs’ body tissue, alleviating joint pain and improving day to day life.”

While retailers are not expected to hold a degree in veterinary medicine, remaining knowledgeable regarding the health benefits of treats and chews will lay a foundation of trust with health-conscientious pet parents. 

Less is More
As consumers increasingly want to learn about ingredients that are included in the food they eat, this trend has trickled down to the pet-treat industry. As a result, limited-ingredient diets are changing how manufacturers produce food and treats, including how they preserve these products to make them shelf stable. 

“Limited-ingredient treats are very important to us,” says Stacy Milchman, operations manager for Pet ‘n Shape. “A consumer should be able to read a label and know exactly what they are getting in their pet’s food…the freeze-drying process is an excellent way to preserve the nutritional value of the ingredients (chicken liver, fruits and veggies) while ensuring long shelf life and portability.”

SO Bright, LLC, takes a similar approach in keeping the ingredients panels on its products as easy as possible for pet parents to follow. “We are a big proponent of ‘if it doesn’t need to be there, don’t add it; keep it simple,’” says Tyler Thielmann, director of marketing at SO Bright. “This includes keeping additional flavors, salts and artificial preservatives out of our products…we have always loved limited-ingredient treats which is why SO Bright is built around this idea. ”

The growing focus on the labeling of food products intended for human consumption will inevitably continue to influence the pet-products market, ultimately driving the popularity of limited-ingredient treats that address health issues and promote wellbeing.


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