Baked-In Goodness

Pet owners want baked and gourmet treats to be special snacks with clear nutritional benefits.


For humans, baked and gourmet might sound like something indulgent or reserved for a special occasion. For their pets, though, baked and gourmet treats are premium snacks that often have nutritional benefits. Some are available in creative shapes and sizes to make them even more appealing, but manufacturers say pet owners are seeking treats that fit into the ongoing trend of providing better foods for their furry loved ones. 

“In the gourmet treat category, the trend toward high-quality, safe-to-eat proteins is leading the way,” says Chris Meiering, director of innovation for Zuke’s, based in Durango, Colo. “Consumers are valuing transparency and rewarding their pets with wholesome nutrition.” 

Zuke’s expanded its Mini Naturals lineup to include varieties for puppies and small breed dogs. Zuke’s Puppy Naturals, made for the special nutritional needs of puppies, are tiny morsels that have protein, vitamins A and E, and DHA and EPA to help support healthy brain development. Zuke’s Tiny Naturals are less than 1.5 calories per treat and are designed for delivering rewards frequently when training. The moist dog bites are made in the USA and are free of harsh additives, preservatives, and the common allergens grain, wheat, corn and soy. Puppy Naturals are available in Salmon & Sweet Potato, Pork & Bacon, and Lamb & Chickpea recipes, and the Tiny Naturals are available in Tasty Peanut Butter, Tasty Chicken and Delightful Duck recipes.

Also from Zuke’s, a new product line called PureNZ is scheduled to launch later this summer. Made in New Zealand, these jerky treats are handcrafted and made in small batches using only a limited selection of regionally sourced, non-GMO ingredients. All varieties feature 80 to 90 percent meat and are crafted with New Zealand grass-fed beef and additional proteins like salmon, whitefish, lamb and venison. Fruits and vegetables, such as apples and sweet potato, are incorporated into the recipes to add nutrition. Every PureNZ treat is free of grain, gluten, artificial preservatives, colors and flavors. The PureNZ lineup includes a number of new product forms. The Steaks are thick and meaty with whole-food veggies in the jerky. The Cuts are thinner slices of meat with visible, fresh peas. The Bites are meaty, little snacks flavored with fresh herbs. The Cords are soft jerky sticks that can be fed whole or torn into smaller pieces.

The shapes and flavors appeal to dogs, while other features such as product safety appeal to their owners. “Zuke’s has been producing dog and cat treats since 1995, and we’ve never had a recall,” says Meiering. “All of Zuke’s products are manufactured in the United States and New Zealand, and our manufacturing facilities are SQF Certified (Safe Quality Foods), one of the most rigorous standards available. For all of Zuke’s products, we have signed Certificate of Origin Statements (COOs) for every ingredient used, and we never source ingredients from China.”

The lack of recalls is important to pet owners. According to Packaged Facts’ Pet Treats and Chews in the U.S. June 2015 report, sales growth in the pet treat market has consistently outpaced that of the more mature pet food market and pet supplies in general, but sales growth moderated in 2012 and 2013, after several recalls. However, the report noted, sales rebounded, and the treat market overall saw a 5.5-percent increase in 2014. In fact, the Rockville, Md.-based firm estimates total U.S. retail sales of pet treats were $5.4 billion in 2014, reflecting a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.9 percent during the 2010-2014 period.

In addition to safety, pet owners are also looking for healthful gourmet treats. Sojos recently launched Simply Goat, adding to the Simply Turkey, Simply Beef and Simply Lamb treats that the Minneapolis-based manufacturer introduced in 2014. The bite-sized pieces are freeze-dried to protect the taste and the natural nutrients. Sojos Simply Meat Treats are available in four-oz. bags. 

 “Today’s pet parents are looking for much more than just indulgence,” says Ward Johnson, co-founder of Sojos. “Treats are now being recognized as an extension of a pet’s daily diet. So as healthy, raw diets continue to gain traction, so does the demand for raw treat options. And human-grade, freeze-dried treats are at the forefront. Dogs love the taste—and there’s the added benefit of knowing the natural enzymes, vitamins and minerals haven’t been cooked out.”

On the baked side, Sojos added Shepherd’s Pie to the line of Good Dog gourmet baked treats. These bite-size bones are designed to be a training treat for dogs of all sizes. With a short, simple ingredient list, the Shepherd’s Pie recipe is crafted one batch at a time in Sojos’ Minnesota bakery. Sojos Good Dog treats are available in eight-oz. boxes. 

Johnson adds that retailers can benefit from consumers’ desire for raw foods, as well as for high-quality treats. “Treats have become much more than just an impulse purchase,” he says. “It’s time to think of them as an essential and fun part of a healthy daily routine. Either as a reward, or a meal topper, raw treats are not only good for the dog—they’re great for adding incremental sales to every purchase.”

Another raw food entry in the gourmet treat category comes from Green Bay, Wis.-based Vital Essentials, which debuted the Freeze-Dried VE RAW BAR in March. VE RAW BAR features 11 gourmet freeze-dried snacks for dogs, including Duck Feet, Duck Necks, Turkey Wing Tips, Chicken Necks, Pig Ears, Turkey Tails, Twisted Cod Skins, Braided Bully Sticks, Rolled Salmon Skins, Bully Sticks and Turkey Necks. The VE RAW BAR is a smorgasbord-like display of treats, so pet owners can select snacks for their dog’s age, size and preference. 

“Freeze-dried treats and snacks appear to be leading the pack, most certainly in terms of rate of growth and innovation within the gourmet and premium treat category,” says Vital Essentials’ CEO Lanny Viegut. “Pet parents continue to demand more choices and are trending towards premium, freeze-dried raw snacks and treats.”
Viegut adds that grain-free, gluten-free snacks and treats made from single USA-sourced proteins with limited ingredients are very popular with consumers and their pets. Vital Essentials offers an 11-SKU line of gourmet freeze-dried Vital Treats for Dogs.  

The right approach to merchandising can help drive sales, Viegut says. “Designating areas in the store to highlight products in this rapidly growing category can surely draw more customers and potentially become a new consumer shopping destination within their stores,” he says. “The use of manufacturer branded endcaps, branded product display racks and concepts like VE RAW BAR also help to create awareness and draw more consumers to healthy, premium snacks and treats.”

Dog owners seem more likely than cat owners to buy premium treats. According to Packaged Facts, among dog owners who purchase treats, 17 percent spend more than $30 per month on treats, and another 17 percent spend between $20 and $30 each month. Among cat owners, only 15 percent spend more than $30 a month, and 12 percent spend between $20 and $30. 

Still, it is important to offer treats for cats too. Vital Essentials also offers a seven-SKU line of gourmet freeze-dried Vital Cat Treats. Educating the consumer about the benefits of all the treats, Viegut says, will help drive sales and profits for the retailer. 

Meiering agrees that education can help boost sales. “We recommend that retailers and their staff communicate with consumers on the store floor whenever possible,” he says. “They are a wonderful resource to answer questions about pet nutrition and provide information.” 

In fact, the company uses a third-party online training and incentive program to train sales reps and retail sales associates. Sales professionals who complete the training are rewarded with Zuke’s logoed gear and discounts on products.


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