Chris Meiering, marketing director for Zuke's, discusses how his company is helping retailers succeed in the increasingly segmented pet treat category.
Pet Business: How is the market for functional treats performing? What is driving the category?
Chris Meiering: With the increased consumer awareness around the health needs of their pets and the ingredients that will help to keep them healthy and active, we have seen a strong surge in the functional treat market.
PB: What are the latest trends in the pet treats category? How can retailers make the most of these trends in their stores?
Meiering: Alternative proteins have become a hot trend recently among pet parents with dogs that are sensitive to certain proteins, but also those who are in search of ways to keep treat time more enjoyable and varied. Conversely, some pet parents are looking for options that don’t include meat proteins at all. These vegetable-based recipes are popular for consumers whose pets have allergies, are on raw diets or just want more veggies in their pet’s diet. Lastly, we are seeing increased awareness towards whole-food ingredients, with pet parents looking for treats made with real food ingredients, not byproducts or fillers.
This wide range of trends demands more options in the market and will create greater segmentation in the category. To meet these varying consumer requirements, retailers need to understand what is driving consumer decision-making and ensure that their retail mix has significant variety to satisfy very different customer demands.
PB: What sets Zuke’s and its products apart from competitors in the market?
Meiering: Our authentic roots set us apart from the competition. While on a hike with his Chocolate Lab Zuke, founder Patrick Meiering noticed Zuke was tired and lacked energy. Seeing his dog in need, he broke off a piece of his energy bar and gave it to Zuke. That moment inspired the idea that our pets deserve the same nutrition as we provide for ourselves, so all Zuke’s products are developed with the pet’s health and well-being in mind.
Zuke’s also helped establish, and donates a portion of every sale to, The Dog and Cat Cancer Fund in Zuke’s memory. The fund directly supports pet parents by helping to pay for cancer-related veterinary bills if they are unable to afford the cost. To learn more, visit dccfund.org.
PB: Early this year, Zuke’s was acquired by Nestlé Purina. How has this impacted the Zuke’s brand?
Meiering: We recently published an open letter from our president, John Hart, on this very topic and on our channel strategy. In short, Zuke’s is 100-percent committed to maintaining the same or better sourcing, manufacturing, distribution, quality standards and retail partners we have always had. The full letter is available on our website, zukes.com.
From a day-to-day perspective, the acquisition by Nestlé Purina has had minimal impact on the Zuke’s brand and our business practices, with the majority of change happening behind the scenes in areas like finance and human resources. The biggest area where our customers will begin to see the impact of the acquisition is through increased support and opportunities for growing the brand in our traditional markets. We now have the chance to reach more pet parents with new products, exciting marketing initiatives and new advertising campaigns. To be able to grow while still staying true to our core values makes this a very exciting time for our company.
PB: What are the biggest, most commonly missed opportunities in the treat category for pet specialty retailers?
Meiering: Cross-promotion and brand-blocking are the two basic marketing opportunities that we see retailers overlook. By cross-promoting functional treats with other product categories, a retailer can offer multiple points of contact between product and customer, and it can provide education about an overarching topic of interest, versus a single product. Conversely, by brand-blocking in the treat section, retailers can spotlight the brands in their retail mix, making them easier to find, compare and purchase. These two strategies work very well together in the retail setting when implemented correctly.
PB: What are the latest and most exciting developments from Zuke’s? Are you working on any new product introductions?
Meiering: Our newest creation is Genuine Jerky. It is a limited-ingredient, human-style, beef jerky treat made with 100-percent grass-fed, omega-3 rich, New Zealand beef. Genuine Jerky is a high-protein product that is naturally preserved and contains no nitrates or nitrites. Shipping now, Genuine Jerky comes in three crazy tasty flavors that dogs love: Barbecue, Teriyaki and Original Beef.