Embracing an Indulgence

Baked and gourmet treats offer fresh, customizable goodness that make them a favorite among pet parents seeking a special reward.




When we accomplish something difficult, celebrate a birthday or holiday or want a way to reward ourselves for a job well done, we seek out treats. And as dogs and cats become extensions of families, pet parents are holding pet treats to higher standards.


“Customers are looking for healthier treats that mirror the type of rewards and indulgences that they give themselves,” says Tim Hall, founding baker at Paws Gourmet Bakery. “They want something that is fun and festive but that they can feel good about giving.”


This is where baked and gourmet treats come in.


“Baked and gourmet treats are given for completely different reasons than chew treats or training treats,” Hall says. “This category is more of an indulgence, while the other two categories fill very different—yet specific—needs.”


Paws Gourmet Bakery offers a variety of hand-cut and hand-decorated baked treats, often using the same type of cookie cutters one would use in a home kitchen. The company also offers a “pastries” category that includes doughnuts, cannolis and puppycakes—similar to what you’d find in a human bakery. Paws’ treats are free of corn, soy, fillers, GMOs and artificial preservatives and are sourced in the Pacific Northwest. Retailers can also order custom decorated treats with things that appeal to their specific customer base: store names, sports teams, events, etc.


Baked and gourmet treats can offer pets and pet parents different features than more traditional treats or training treats. Oftentimes, baked and gourmet treats have more of a homemade, artisanal feel and are frequently produced in small batches.


“Gourmet treats tend to be fresher,” says Laura Taylor, owner of Woofables Bakery. “Think of it like buying a box of human cookies off the shelf at your local grocery store. These cookies were likely baked and boxed months ago using preservatives and additives for a longer shelf life. But if you go to a bakery, the cookies you get there were generally baked in the last few days without all those preservatives.”


Woofables’ treats are made from scratch using human-grade ingredients. The company customizes its treat shapes and designs for different regions: lobster treats for New England, life preservers and dolphins for beach cities and football helmets in team colors around the Super Bowl.


Offering a wide selection of baked and gourmet treats provides retailers with a unique opportunity to bring non-pet owning customers into their store. Many non-pet owners use those products as an opportunity to give pet owners gifts, says Taylor. “Custom decorated biscuits are unique and special, so we get asked to write special messages on treats or decorate treats with certain colors.”


Trending Now

Tyler Thielmann, director of marketing at SO Bright, calls baked treats the “chameleons of treats” for their ability to morph into most treat trends. Like the trends affecting other treat categories, baked and gourmet treats are shifting toward being grain free, made in the USA and having limited ingredients.


“Trends have shifted over the last few years from just USA-produced to USA-sourced ingredients,” says Amy Singelais, partner at Preppy Puppy. “We buy 98 percent of all our raw materials from USA companies. This is very difficult to achieve. Sometimes buying from the USA means paying more for the product.”


According to Singelais, Preppy Puppy is a leader in the “birthday category,” offering products ranging from four-layer soft-filled cakes to birthday-themed bones. The company bakes and decorates more than 200 different items. “We tend to tackle the hard-to-make-and-ship items such as soft-filled cupcakes and pastries,” Singelais says. “Our seasonal offerings are vast and always changing.”


Above all, pet parents still want to feel like the baked and gourmet treats they feed their pets are in line with a healthy agenda, even if they’re not a primary source of nutrition.


“Healthier snacking is becoming a major priority for pet parents,” says Chanda Leary-Coutu, director of consumer experience and marketing at WellPet. “Similar to the human snack industry, we’re making sure that treats for both dogs and cats are made with wholesome, quality ingredients that can help supplement their regular diets. We’re seeing a growing interest in grain-free treats to help with weight control and also to accommodate pets with grain allergies or sensitivities.”


WellPet offers the Old Mother Hubbard brand of dog biscuits, including its Classics line with P’Nuttier, Bac’N’Cheez and Just Vegg’n flavors. The company also carries WellBars, WellBites and Puppy Bites that are all grain-free.


Relaying to Retail

Though baked and gourmet treats are seeing a popularity hike, more traditional treat varieties are still the norm. For this reason, educating your customers about the current offerings and trends in baked and gourmet treats is an important part of making the sale.


Singelais says that gourmet treats aren’t usually a vital part of a pet’s nutritional needs, so retailers should present them as indulgence and impulse items. “It is a reward and way to show love for your pet—no different than an ice cream for your child,” she says.


Retailers can also discuss baked and gourmet treats with customers as part of a routine or a way to connect with one’s pet, says Taylor.


“Many owners establish a certain time of the day—like when they leave or when it’s time to go to bed—where they give their pet a treat,” she says. “Treats are not meant to replace the nutrition of the food given at meal time, but a little something at certain times of the day are a nice way to show love and reward your pet throughout the day.”


Merchandising Munchies

When it comes to merchandising and marketing baked and gourmet treats, Thielmann advises retailers to take notes from bakery displays as those types of settings relate directly to the category. Consider how your local bakeries are displaying their products and how those visuals could transfer to the pet segment.


Taylor says some of Woofables’ retailers aim for the bakery feel by putting treats in bakery cases and providing wax bags for the customer to hand-pick the treats they want, but some retailers prefer to have the treats prepackaged, which Woofables will provide along with accompanying signage.


David Rizzo, director of operations at Zuke’s, points out that retailers should prioritize offering at least some baked and gourmet treats that are free of common allergens like soy, wheat and corn. “With consumers becoming increasingly aware of pet allergies, it’s advantageous for retailers to offer these,” he says. All of Zuke’s products are free of those common allergens and are manufactured in the U.S. or New Zealand.


Because of the boutique feel that baked and gourmet treats take on, the category benefits from offering smaller selections in store, creating a fresh and simple impression. The treats’ intricate shapes, colors and designs will shine in small batches, making customers really focus on the detail of every treat.


“I always suggest you start small and keep it fresh,” says Singelais. “This is an impulse purchase, so change the items out often. It keeps customers always wondering what fun treat they will see next.” PB


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