Pet parents’ concern about nutritional value and ingredient quality isn’t just about choosing the right food anymore—treats are now facing similar scrutiny.
When looking for special treats for their furry friends, finding the tastiest choice is no longer the sole priority for pet owners. Now, pet parents are seeking out the healthiest options for their animal, without compromising on flavor. Treats serve a variety of purposes, but consumers are increasingly seeing them as part of their pets’ overall nutrition, instead of just something delicious for their pets to enjoy.
“Just as people are becoming increasingly aware of making smart food choices for themselves and their families and learning what to look for on ingredient labels, they’re also investing the same time researching into what’s best to feed their pets,” says David Rizzo, director of operations at Zuke’s. “With pet obesity on the rise, it’s important for consumers to avoid feeding their dogs empty calories and understand that not all treats are created equal.”
People give their animals treats because they enjoy making the animal happy, but there are a number of other reasons pet parents dole out these tasty snacks.
“Some offer treats for training, others for specific functional benefits, but more often than not they are given to our furry friends as a sign of affection and reward,” says Mike Picka, product manager at Royal Pet. “Treats should never be given in replacement of a dog’s meal, but in moderation certain functional treats can provide great physical health benefits, and choosing treats that are intended to increase play and bonding time can offer tremendous emotional benefits to our dogs as well.”
The choice of which treats your customers should select to give their companions should depend on the individual animals and their needs. However, there is a general trend toward more all-natural treats that animals can both enjoy and easily digest.
“The nutritional value and benefit of treats varies by the treat being given,” says Stephanie Volo, vice president of brand and communication at Earth Animal. “There is no nutritional value in giving a dog a chew made of nylon. There is no health benefit in giving a dog a rawhide chew that is indigestible and that has been treated with a harsh group of chemicals. Giving animals treats that are biologically appropriate—high protein, moderate fat and minimal carbs—simply augments what is hopefully an already healthy diet.”
Considering this trend toward healthy, all-natural ingredients is also present in the human food world, it is likely that the number of people looking for these same qualities in their pets’ treats is only going to grow.
“In the treats category, we’re seeing a trend toward high-quality, safe-to-eat proteins,” says Rizzo. “Consumers are demanding better ingredients and more transparency within the category. They want to know where their pet treats are made, where the ingredients come from and why they were chosen.”
In addition to general quality and nutrition concerns, many pet parents are looking for treats that fill a specific need or provide a health-related solution. For example, one of the most important functions treats can serve is providing a convenient way to support dental hygiene. Since pet dentistry is so expensive, many owners are looking for chews and treats that can help keep their animals’ teeth healthy.
“Pet treats increase the bond between the pet parent and their loved companion while also providing healthful benefits,” says Glenn Novotny, president of Emerald Pet Products. Novotny points to the company’s dental health-oriented products, including Emerald Pet Feline Dental Treats, designed to clean cats’ teeth and massage their gums, and Emerald Pet Fresh Smileezz Dog Dental Treats, which contain dill, parsley, mint and chlorophyll to freshen breath and aid in digestion.
Even if a pet does not have a specific issue that the owner is looking to address, treats can provide general benefits that support healthy living as the animal ages. As Rizzo points out, many pets are living longer, sparking a need for products that can bolster their wellbeing as they get older.
“This was a big inspiration for our launch of Zuke’s Enhance Functional Chews, which are made from some of the best herbs and high-quality ingredients that nature has to offer, from chamomile and L-theanine for calming, or turmeric and MSM for healthy hips and joints,” says Rizzo.
One of the most important aspects of this trend is that customers are educating themselves on what is best for their pets, and they come to retailers armed with knowledge.
“Consumers are becoming highly educated in pet nutrition,” says Novotny. “In the past, consumers bought grocery store branded treats that were nothing more than fillers and sugar. Now they realize if they are spending so much time and money to buy premium food, they must also do the same with their treats to continue the healthy lifestyle.”
Pet parents are also the experts on their pets, and they pay attention to which foods make their companion feel good. Those who have seen the health benefits of switching their pets to species-appropriate diets are more aware than ever that both animals and humans are what they eat, leading them to consider the ingredient list on treat packaging with more scrutiny as well.
“Today’s consumers are not only more concerned about what their animals eat, they are far more educated,” says Volo. “They know to avoid chemical preservatives, dyes, empty calories, biologically inappropriate foods like sugars and starches, and chews made from or with high chemical content.”
Retailers can utilize this to their advantage, pointing knowledgeable customers towards treats that meet their needs.
“The best way to give your customers what they want is to ask them what they want,” says Mike Thomas, vice president of development at QT Dog. “Today’s pet parents are a well-educated bunch—rely on them for your best advice.”
Because there is such a wide range of uses and motivations for giving treats, the number of options on the market can be overwhelming. Retailers need to build a comprehensive selection for their store, making sure they have products to meet their customers’ varied needs.
“Retailers should offer a variety of treats to meet the needs of a broad range of consumers,” says Picka. “Offering a selection of functional treats, training treats and treats that promote activity will allow consumers to choose the right treats for their dogs.”
An Education in Nutrition
Just because consumers are shopping smarter for their pet treats does not mean retailers have nothing to teach them. Even the most well-prepared and health-conscious pet parents will feed their pets unhealthy treats if they don’t see treats as part of a bigger picture. Novotny says educating consumers about the nutritional value and ingredients in treats can be just as important as talking to them about their pets’ main diets.
“If a consumer feeds premium food, they need to also be thinking about what other treats they feed their cat or dog,” says Novotny. “Why go to the expense of buying grain free if you are still giving your pet low-end treats filled with sugar, salt and grain? The treat category is often overlooked by consumers when it comes to nutrition and is a huge opportunity for stores to upsell.”
Manufacturers are stepping up to plate by being transparent with retailers about their ingredients and sources and the health benefits of their treats, making it easier for retailers to pass that knowledge on to their customers.
“By understanding the nutritional value and product attributes of the pet treats they carry, retailers can help their customers make good choices about what to purchase,” says Rizzo. “To support them, Zuke’s offers marketing materials and FAQ sheets, along with online training modules for retail associates at 3point5.com. These deliverables are designed to help the retailers be well-versed about our products and how they support a dog’s healthy and active lifestyle.”
A thorough understanding of all the treats they stock will be invaluable in helping retailers assist customers on an individual level. “[Retailers] can market to [pet owners] by asking them questions regarding their dog’s lifestyle, any health concerns they may have, what their daily routines consist of, and then make recommendations to fit those needs,” says Picka. “Retailers need to be equipped with the knowledge and understanding for the intent of each treat, whether it is targeted for a specific functional benefit, used for training, weight loss, or just a healthy option made from natural ingredients with the intent of rewarding your dog and spending quality time together.”