Manufacturers say constant innovation is the key to boosting natural treat offerings in pet stores.
The natural pet treats category is still a leading area of innovation in the pet category. While the term “natural” is not exactly new, consumers do expect to see a steady stream of new ingredients and interesting presentations in the natural treats they buy for their pets. Luckily, manufacturers have keyed in on this demand and are helping pet stores boost sales in the treat aisle by constantly developing new products that fit the bill.
Chicago-based research firm Mintel, in its Pet Supplies—U.S.—August 2016 report, backs up the assertion that consumers are quite interested in product innovation. Pet owners are especially interested in new products that can improve the health and well-being of their pets. That includes products such as treats made from organic ingredients. In fact, 38 percent of pet owners say they are currently buying organic treats, and 40 percent say they plan to buy them in the future.
Organic treats are not the only segment that can benefit from consumers’ desire to buy higher quality treats for their furry loved ones, though. Manufacturers say many different types of natural treats are gaining traction with pet store customers.
“Intuitively, pet parents want products that sound just like those they eat themselves,” says Ann Hudson, vice president of marketing for St. Louis, Mo.-based Whitebridge Pet Brands. “Treats should allow indulgence without guilt. It’s at the crossroads of how pet parents want to engage with their pets.”
Hudson says the company’s Cloud Star brand offers simple, natural, homestyle recipes in various formats. This year, Cloud Star moved into limited- and single-ingredient treats. The brand’s newest treat—Cloud Star Rogue Air-Dried Meats—comprises pieces of real beef, lamb, chicken, duck or pork that have been naturally preserved. The company is also expanding its treat portfolio to include grain-free options within its top-selling Cloud Star Tricky Trainers and Cloud Star Wag More Bark Less lines.
Grain-free, non-GMO, freeze-dried and limited ingredients are growing trends throughout the treat category. “In some ways, it’s more about what is not in the treat,” says Hudson. “This might be a form of starch or a preservative that has been discovered to have a detrimental impact on a pet’s health. Extra calories, weight gain and unknown additives are all concerns for pet parents.”
Laura Jones, president of Rockford, Ill.-based Jones Naturals LLC, says all-natural ingredients are now a must for consumers who want to buy natural treats. Also, the use of different protein sources is shaping up to be an important trend.
“We are always working on new ideas for meat products as our product line is strictly meat based,” says Jones. “We have an exciting lineup of new products including soft chicken patties, soft beef patties, beef backstraps, three flavors of new stuffed bones, chicken feet and duck feet coming out in 2017.”
According to Jones, the outlook is positive for natural treats in general, and for Jones Naturals in particular. “There are many opportunities in the field of dog treats. Consumers love to treat their dogs to a natural healthy treat or chew,” she explains.
Ahdee Abramson, president of Pet Ventures Inc. in North Hollywood, Calif., agrees. “Consumers are going to continue to spend their hard-earned dollars on pet treats and continue to treat their pets with love and happiness. Consumers have shown their commitment to their dogs and want to give them natural treats,” he says, noting that his company added Natural Beef Lung Steaks and Natural Beef Lung Chunx treats for dogs under its Pet ‘n Shape brand.
One of the innovations, Abramson says, is that natural treats are available at price points ranging from value to premium, to accommodate a wide variety of consumers. That is one of several factors that will help the category continue to grow. “Natural is still the word consumers are looking for,” he says. “It’s a category that seems to have more growth in it especially as the human market continues to grow, that obviously transitions to pet.”
Consumers also want simplicity, says Bo Nelson, president and founder of WholesalePet.com in Richmond, Va. “The natural, single-ingredient treats have gotten very popular,” he says. “People don’t want additives in the natural treat market.”
Pet owners are also looking for variety, says Nelson. And treats sourced from unusual proteins such as cod skins, duck feet, kangaroo and crocodile are gaining in popularity.
Of course, made in the USA and sourced in USA are still important product features in the treat category. “There has been pushback on anything from China,” he says. “Ten years ago, we saw a lot of dried chicken from China, but now most of the dried chicken is from the U.S.”
In 2016, Wholesalepet.com, a business-to-business marketplace with about 350 suppliers, launched its own product into the treat category—GIVE Treats, which contain no wheat, corn or soy and are available in three vegan flavors: Peanut Butter, Pizza Crust and Sweet Potato. Independent pet stores can custom-label the GIVE Treats packaging to support a favorite animal welfare charity. For every box sold, $1 goes to the business’s preferred animal charity.
“Our take on it is, support local stores with local charities,” says Nelson. “Our theory was the store already has a relationship with a local charity, and this supports that bond and gives them something tangible to call out in the store.”
So far, GIVE Treats are available in 100 stores. Nelson says the concept resonates especially well with Millennial shoppers. “All things being equal, they will buy something charitable rather than something that isn’t,” he says.
Another new entrant in the natural pet treats category is Dog Mamma’s LLC, based in Stuart, Fla. The company’s treats are available in three flavors: Butternut Kale Bites Organic Dog Treats, Berry Banana Coco Chunk Organic Dog Treats and Pumpkin Snaps Organic Dog Treats. All of these products are verified by the Non-GMO Project, which ensures that they are made using ingredients that have not been genetically modified. “That lets our customers know we have gone through the rigorous verification process,” says Kathryn Durno, proprietor.
Dog Mamma’s treats contain 100 percent human-grade, USDA-certified organic ingredients. “Our consumers are looking to get the most bang from their buck from a treat,” says Durno. “Why give them something with corn or soy or cheese flavor when you can give them vitamins and nutrients that are beneficial for them.”
For example, pumpkin offers digestive benefits and vitamin A, and berries have antioxidants.
Durno says there are opportunities for treat sales to grow as consumers continue to learn more about quality ingredients like these. “Consumers have come a long way in food, so the next step is treats,” she says. “You don’t want to give your pets super premium food and then a biscuit with chemicals.”
Ultimately, the limited-ingredient trend is redefining the treat industry, says Lindsay Tracy, director of new business and product development for Redbarn Pet Products in Long Beach, Calif. “Pet owners are influencing new developments within pet, due to the owners’ progressive health and wellness mindset,” she says.
For its treat innovations, Redbarn has focused on industry growth areas such as grain-free, limited-ingredient, natural, freeze dried, low-calorie and rawhide alternatives. The company expanded its Chew-A-Bulls dog chew assortment with new shapes, including rings, pretzels, braids and sticks. In 2016, Tracy says, Redbarn found great success with freeze-dried cat treats, grain-free dipped biscuits, flavored bully slices and other products.
“Redbarn is looking ahead at 2017 to be a big year, full of new innovation, customer engagement and an expanding portfolio of unique products. Expect to see treats that make your furry friend happy, healthy and keep them busy.”