Baked and gourmet treats thrive as consumers seek special items for their pets that are both nutritious and decadent.
Few things in life are sweeter than baked items—now, make that a gourmet baked food, and it is all the better.
Just as humans enjoy baked and gourmet foods, so, presumably, do dogs and cats. Manufacturers say these treats are more popular than ever as pet owners seek small extravagances for their loved ones.
The demand is largely being driven by pet owners’ growing awareness about what they are feeding their pets. Consumers are paying attention not only to ingredients, but also to how these treats are prepared. “For many years, natural was primarily an ingredient concept,” says Olivier Amice, president of Whitebridge Pet Brands in Chesterfield, Mo. “The rationale was if we use good ingredients, we will make good products. Now consumers understand that the manufacturing process is as important as the quality of the ingredients to measure the quality of a natural product.”
Whitebridge was formed earlier this year with the merger of Cloud Star and Tiki brands. Cloud Star, which makes products that the company boasts are “baked to perfection,” recently launched a Wag More Bark Less line of natural treats. “The Wag More Bark Less lifestyle is about taking a cue from our dogs, who always know how to make us smile, no matter what life brings,” says Amice. “We are introducing this treat line as a way to give back a little love to our furry friends.”
The lack of certain ingredients is also an important feature. Amice says being able to boast the absence of certain ingredients—for example, soy or artificial preservatives—will continue to be a key driver for new products, as will being made in the USA.
The process used to manufacture products will continue to become more important, as well. “Alternative foods and treats such as raw frozen, raw freeze dried, dehydrated or baked products have been growing very rapidly in the last few years,” says Amice. “This trend will continue, and manufacturers using alternative manufacturing methods versus the traditional high-temperature extrusion will want to make their difference very clear to the consumer.”
For some treat manufacturers, baked is the very basis of their products’ positioning. “Baked has always been our passion,” says Tyler Thielmann, director of marketing for the Kiel, Wis.-based So Bright. “It’s what we started with in 1990.”
The family-owned business makes several treats, including oven-baked So Natural treats made with bison, chicken, duck or peanut. There is also a grain-free version that contains tapioca. Because they are baked, the treats can be made with few ingredients. “It feels like it’s a treat in its more simple form,” says Thielmann. “You don’t have to use a lot of ingredients to make it. It is not soft and chewy where you worry about stabilizing the sugar.”
Thielmann adds that So Bright’s location in the Midwest makes it easy to find USA-sourced ingredients, such as whole organ meat. “We always try to make it simple, keeping ingredients recognizable,” he says. “We try to keep all our baked treats one protein, one flavor.”
The company will soon launch fruit- and vegetable-based treats. The focus on ingredients other than meat will be a first for So Bright. “It’s an area we need to get into,” says Thielmann. “We have baked a lot of treats through the years. We are always trying to add those wholesome ingredients.”
Other manufacturers are also adding to their baked and gourmet treat lines. Exclusively Pet, which is based in Milwaukee, offers Exclusively Dog Cookies and Exclusively Dog Treats. The company recently added Exclusively Dog Chewy Training Treats, which are available in three flavors, Savory Chicken, Bacon Apple, and Cheese. They all contain chicken as their main protein, and they are wheat, corn and soy free and made in the USA. It is the company’s first small treat designed to reward dogs during training, and the limited ingredients are meant for dogs that have allergies, or pet owners who simply want to avoid certain ingredients in their pups’ snacks.
Avoiding allergens is still an important trend. Glenn A. Novotny, vice president of sales and marketing for Walnut Creek, Calif.-based Emerald Pet Products, says the company’s new Smart n’ Tasty Little Duckies have really taken off at retail because consumers are looking for treats for allergen sensitive dogs. “The limited-ingredient formulas are made with clarity to help those customers looking for treats that do not include chicken, grain, soy, gluten or dairy,” he says. “We use ingredients like pumpkin to soothe stomachs and aid in digestion, blueberry which is high in antioxidants, sweet potato for vitamin C and fiber, and cranberry to support urinary tract health.”
Pet owners are still educating themselves and seeking ingredients that are similar to what they are eating. Novotny notes that savvy shoppers know how to read a label, and they make sure the ingredient panel is absent of any sugars, sweeteners or other artificial ingredients. “Our Little Duckies treats were created specifically for customers that want to feed a baked treat with 100-percent clarity on the ingredient panel,” he says. “Making a gourmet treat starts with using only high-quality ingredients that dogs are naturally drawn to, like Indiana farm-raised duck in our Little Duckies treats, and adding healthful ingredients like pumpkin, blueberry, sweet potato or cranberry for added nutrition.”
He adds that gourmet treats will continue to focus on formulation clarity and sourcing. “Customers continue to ask what is in my treat and do they understand what that purpose is of each ingredient,” Novotny says. “At Emerald Pet Products, we are focused on staying ahead of the consumer and addressing their concerns in advance, such as not using any artificial preservatives or ingredients in our Smart n’ Tasty treats for dogs and cats.”
Preppy Puppy Bakery, based in West Wareham, Mass., also bakes treats that are wheat, corn, and soy free, but that is likely not the main reason why pet owners buy the products. Preppy Puppy makes cakes and other products that look like pastries for humans. Among the newest products is triple-layer, soft-filled birthday cakes in carob and peanut butter flavors, that are meant to be indulgent. “The cakes are just decadent,” says partner Amy Singelais. “A triple-layer cake is something you buy for your child for their birthday.”
The retail prices are in line with cakes for human birthdays. Consumers spend about $30 for these special occasion cakes for their dogs. For Preppy Puppy’s other baked items, such as the Pup Pockets, which are empanada-like pastries that consist of a pumpkin dough with pumpkin filling, pet owners spend $3.50 and up at retail. Those are amounts that some retailers thought were too high, so Singelais sent free cases to stores and instructed them to at least try to sell them.
“The only way to get them to try it is to make them try it,” says Singelais. “The same customers order multiple cases at a time now.”
It helps that the baked goods are high quality. Sometimes when the economy is strong, Singelais says, people spend just for the sake of spending. In this current growing economy, consumers want a reason to splurge, and a loved one’s birthday will suffice. “You have to be careful with decadence,” she says. “You have to have demand for it.”
People do not want just decadence though. The market, she explains, is evolving. “The business is changing a little—from wanting treats to wanting quality treats to wanting more all-natural ingredients to wanting decadence,” says Singelais. “The benchmark keeps raising and changing.”