Natural Pet Treats: A Healthy Growth Category
Invest in natural treat offerings to cater to customers with an ever-increasing focus on their pets’ health.
All things natural have made a significant impact on the dog and cat treat category over the years. Limited-ingredient treats are trending stronger with consumers, according to industry sources, as are whole foods such as real chicken and tuna, which are making their way into treats, along with fruits, veggies, garden greens and kelp.
Pet owners continue to seek out natural products that are made of high-quality, highly digestible ingredients that promote health, said Lion Houkes, global marketing director for Paragon Pet Products in Veendam, Netherlands.
“Currently, pet parents are regularly seeking out products that are grain free and corn free, as well as products that offer limited, natural ingredients,” said Houkes. “The pet health category mirrors the human health category, as greater importance is placed on dental health.”
Deborah Viney, account executive for New York-based BH Pet Gear, maker of Kaleb’s Organics Dog Treats, noted that people are looking for healthful, human-grade and non-GMO ingredients for their pets.
“Our ingredients, such as blueberries, provide nutrients that have antioxidant properties, making the treats not just delicious, but also nutritious,” she said.
The company recently earned The Non-GMO Project’s official verification, and has some new developments in store in 2016 as the Kaleb’s brand grows.
“Via informational handouts, we can break down the ingredient benefits so our consumers can feel good about what their pets are eating as well as information on what exactly non-GMO certification means, which can be confusing to navigate,” Viney said.
Consumers might need help identifying what truly deserves the “natural” label, said Holly Sher, owner of Evanger’s Dog & Cat Food Co. in Wheeling, Ill.
“USDA certified organic is a natural label that consumers can quickly identify,” she said. “If people want a true natural product, they should purchase USDA certified organic. The true definition of natural should be ‘minimal processing,’ meaning the [product] is only handled enough to be mixed, and only cooked to be safe and sterile, nothing more than that.”
Another thing that registers with customers is image.
“We see a desire for treats that look more natural,” said Steve King, vice president, sales and marketing for Benni & Penni in Irvine, Calif. “The consumer not only wants to see ingredients from natural sources, but they also want the product to look wholesome and natural—not colored, processed or extruded.”
Companies need to go the extra mile to prove to consumers that their products are natural and safe, said Eric Abbey, president and founder of Loving Pets in Cranbury, N.J.
“On our packaging, Loving Pets prominently displays easy-to-read graphic icons to help retailers and consumers quickly identify each treat’s key selling points, such as grain free, low fat, etc.,” he said.
Taking advantage of the newfound interest in natural, Lindsay Mutschler, owner of Concord Pet Foods & Supplies, which has stores in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, said the stores have been promoting natural treats lately and working to increase sales in the category.
“Not only have we been doing some BOGOs monthly, but we also have been having weekend sales,” she said. “These items have been highlighted items for the employees, and they are really asked to push these items. I have been amazed at the results we have had, and the increase that we have gotten has held strong for months to follow after these highlighted items have occurred.”
Customers searching for natural treats often want treats that are grain free or have a low quantity of grains, said Heather Sullivan, marketing manager for Mounds Pet Food Warehouse, which has stores throughout Wisconsin.
“They are also looking for treats without a lot of preservatives, salt or sugars and with more fruits and vegetables, and a higher meat content,” she said. “Our tip to selling more treats is to listen to the customer and ask questions. Find out their specific needs and show them a selection of treats to fit the needs of their pet.”
Taka Mineyoshi, general manager at Inaba Foods USA, said the company’s Ciao line of Grilled Fillet and Churu Purée cat treats, introduced at Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Fla., in March, combine whole food ingredients such as real, whole tuna and chicken fillets and a light, tasty broth.
Paragon Pet Products recently launched its Whimzees Veggie Collection, which includes calcium as well as aromatic and dental-health-promoting clove bud oil, Houkes said.
Loving Pets just launched Chicken Tenders, Duck Tenders, Chicken Sausages, Beef Sausages and Duck Sausages as part of its Natural Value line of treats; the names of the treats were selected because they are easy for consumers to identify and understand, Abbey said.
Highlighting ingredient lists helps pet owners identify truly natural products, said Sher of Evanger’s.
Consumers are looking for all-natural, USA-made products, and there’s also a trend toward unique protein sources, said Laura Jones, finance officer for Jones Natural Chews in Rockford, Ill.
“Sorting the treats and chews section by USA or by natural helps the consumer,” she said. “Sorting the treats and chews by recommended dog size is helpful as well.”
While Concord Pet Foods & Supplies has a standard treat aisle, it also uses special displays to highlight sale items, keeps monthly specials by the register and hangs clip strips with treats around the food sections, Mutschler said.
On occasion, Mounds Pet Food Warehouse will cross-merchandise certain treats in other aisles.
“We will have dental treats like Greenies by toothbrushes or treats for hip and joint by supplements for hip and joint health,” Sullivan said. “We don’t normally use a lot of signage in the stores unless the brand rep provides us with something specific they want us to use to call out specific benefits of a treat.”
This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of Pet Product News' special supplement, Natural Pet News.