What to Know About Functional Treats

Functional treats have the ability to offer pets benefits beyond what traditional treats can provide.




Pet treats are a big deal—and they always have been. The American Pet Products Association’s 2020 Pet Industry Market Size Outlook found that pet food and treats make up the largest spending category in 2019, with $36.9 billion in sales.

To break down this broad category, pet treats have constantly stayed at the forefront of sales, and there are tons of treats that can offer a multitude of nutritional benefits for pets.

Traditional treats are used as a training tool and a method of rewarding pets for good behavior, but functional treats offer a dual purpose by going beyond that basic need and serving as a palatable snack to satisfy a pet’s hunger. Pet owners are seeking solutions to a wide variety of ailments their pets may face, and they’re looking to functional treats to alleviate them.

“Traditional dog treats ... may be tasty, however, they rarely contain ingredients that address health needs,” says Julianna Carella, CEO and founder of Treatibles.

For Einstein Pets, functional treats are defined as treats that are made with natural, raw ingredients and offer nutritional, health-promoting and energy-boosting benefits.

“The dictionary defines treats as a product given for enjoyment, or as a ‘reward,’” says Kelly Ison, co-founder of Einstein Pets. “I believe the functional treats are a reward, like traditional dog treats, but with a twist—supplements added to ‘complete’ a product or reinforce a product.”

Functional treats can offer a range of support for pets faced with different ailments or conditions.

Ark Naturals’ functional treats are formulated to take into consideration dogs with special dietary needs and specific ailments, so we do our best to keep the calories and sodium minimal while still making products that dogs crave for optimal dental, joint, senior and overall health,” says Michael Stoeckle, president and CEO of Ark Naturals.

When creating treats formulated specifically to also serve as a supplement, manufacturers are faced with stricter regulations.

“The term ‘functional treats’ may be an oxymoron, as ‘treats’ are defined as food, and food products are not meant to be ‘functional’ in the opinion of regulators,” says Carella.

When it comes to deciding what to feed a pet, it’s up to a pet owner to determine what the purpose of the treat is and if it best suits their pet’s needs. There are a variety of functional treat products that include one of the most talked about ingredients in the industry—CBD.

According to the 2020 Pet Industry Green Paper by Nielsen and Headset, hemp-based CBD products are expected to represent 3-5 percent of all hemp sales within the U.S. by 2025.

At this juncture, CBD products are not considered food, because legally food products cannot contain CBD. Although Treatibles offers treats for pets, the company specifies that their chews are a dosage form product.

“We refer to these dosage form products as ‘hard chews’ or ‘soft chews,’” explains Carella. “Given their functional nature, the dosage form classification is how we remain compliant while educating our customers on the health benefits that our products offer.”

For Carella, her interest in the functional treat category came from previously working with a medical cannabis company that created gourmet edibles for people. After clients became interested in using the edibles for pets suffering from similar conditions, Carella researched how she could help provide pets with relief in a safe, appropriate and effective way.

“Understanding the complexities when it comes to THC and pets, I decided to research how to provide pets with relief using other components from the cannabis plant,” explains Carella.

Actively Educating
Ison emphasizes the importance of properly educating retailers (and therefore consumers) to ensure functional treats are being used to their full potential.

“Sometimes the message or purpose of the products are not well communicated to the retailer or consumer and end up being used purely as a treat or as a reward and not for the nutritional functionality the treats can provide,” says Isons. “Functional treats bring all three ‘extras’ together in as a reward, a treat and a supplement to provide [a] ‘complete and balance’ treat.”

It’s also an important lesson for customers that true results come with diligence, meaning they shouldn’t expect an overnight difference in their pets.

“I think it is important to understand that functional treats are not a ‘one and done’ type of remedy,” says Stoeckle. “Most products require a commitment and discipline to provide consistency so the products have time to work for your pet. Additionally, a daily regimen may be necessary for optimal health and well being.”

Conveying information about functional treats is key to selling their functionality to customers. The idea of a two-for-one product is appealing as it makes consumers feel that much better about their purchase.

Educating customers can be done in a variety of ways, ranging from important signage, brochures, dosage charts, in-store demonstrations are more.

“We offer weekly interactive webinars for retailers and their staff that not only feature the benefits of our products, but also the history and science of CBD, information on current studies, updates on federal and state regulations, and a whole lot more,” says Carella.

Carella knows that today’s customers are asking more questions, thoroughly reading labels and seeking out the best quality ingredients, and feels that pet parents interested in functional treat products should learn about National Animal Supplement Council approved companies to be sure the product they’re interested in purchasing meets regulatory and quality standards.

Retailers have the responsibility to share all this information with their employees, as sales associates can make a huge impact through recommendations.

“Due to their face-to-face, in-store interaction, retailers have a unique opportunity to personalize their approach to product education,” says Jaclyn Sion, marketing director of NPIC. “Knowing this advantage, I would encourage retailers to leverage the resources provided by their distributor and/or manufacturers.”

Stoeckle highlights that when giving advice to customers about functional treats, it’s important to avoid veterinary advice when explaining the active ingredients and dosage of any functional treat.

Not all customers may be interested in chatting, so for those browsing customers, making sure functional treats are properly displayed can draw them in. Carella recommends placing functional treats in a supplement section, as a “calling card to the pet parents that these products are not simple treats.”

Stoeckle suggests that functional treats should be in their own space, whether that’s embedded in a functional category or near the treat section.

“Functional treats can create a higher ring at the cash register, are great basket build items and are easy for consumers to see the value in due to features and benefits,” says Stoeckle.

Functional treats, like all pet treats, are expected to grow even more throughout 2020. As pet parents seek alternatives to traditional medicine, they are seeking natural and easy solutions that allow pets to be happy and healthy in a manageable way.

“I speculate we’ll see some new ingredients being used—i.e., more sustainable ingredients that also provide functional support,” says Sion.

New innovation in this category is sure to draw consumers’ attention, but it’s also important to keep in mind how organically this category can expand on its own. Pet parents want pets to be happy and healthy, but making sure pets take pills or medications is not always the easiest task.

“Instead of struggling with forcing pills down a pet’s throat, which can be stressful for both the human and the pet, or trying to disguise unpleasant-tasting supplements with food, pet parents can now offer a delicious chew or treat as the delivery system,” says Carella. “Everyone is happy!”  PB


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