Dog Marketplace: Treat Customers To Tasty Trends
Savvy retailers can help shoppers choose that special something for their pets by noting the top trends and best ingredients found in today’s dog treats.
By Stacy N. Hackett
The dog treat aisle in pet stores can be daunting to consumers. Selections include everything from pig ears to biscuits, dental bites and soft chews. How can retailers help uncertain customers make smart choices?
Understanding the contents and purposes of the treats before they make it onto the shelves is an important first step, manufacturers and retailers reported.
“Retailers and their employees [need] to be educated across a wide array of ingredient functions and treat benefits,” said Chris Meiering, director of innovation for Durango, Colo.-based Zuke’s.
Retailers should be knowledgeable about the wide range of treats available today—not just those that they stock in their stores, said Veronica Glynn, founder and owner of Cincinnati-based One Dog Organic Bakery.
“They should be able to match their recommendations to the needs and wants of the customer and be able to keep up with the dynamic nature of the pet industry,” Glynn said.
Education remains a top priority at every one of the 54 Pet Food Express locations in California. The chain’s education department carefully reviews every product before it is introduced to store shelves, said Michael Levy, owner of the Oakland, Calif.-based chain. The goal is to ensure that each product meshes with the chain’s philosophy to offer healthful products for pets, Levy said.
“We have very strict standards,” Levy said. “We do not carry any products that contain ingredients that are nondescript. When it comes to dog treats, our emphasis is on healthy.”
It’s important not to sabotage the healthful benefits of a high-quality dog food with a treat that contains ingredients not suited for a pet’s particular diet, retailers reported.
“Some people do a great job of feeding their dogs a high-quality pet food to deal with an allergy, then forget to check the ingredients on treats,” said Shelly Dillingham, owner of Pet Stop in Murrieta, Calif. “We can help our customers find a good treat that will complement the food they’re already feeding.”
Knowing which products can meet specific dietary needs ties back to retailer and employee education—and adds a layer of service customers come to appreciate.
Savvy retailers understand the contents and purposes of treats to help customers make the best choice for their goals and their pets' needs. Radio Systems Corp.
“Retailers should be cognizant of what is in the various products they are carrying,” said Tom Peters, president and CEO of Healthy Dogma in Lake Orion, Mich. “Knowing which products match their requests will help consumers trust that the retail environment is there to help them source good options for their pet.”
In many cases, customers walk through the doors of a pet store armed with information about ingredients, intent on finding a particular type of treat or avoiding a certain ingredient.
“They are looking for more natural options and are realizing even something as small as treats counts for or against their pet’s health, especially regarding allergies or weight management,” Peters said.
Customers also seek treats made with natural ingredients.
“We are seeing increased awareness toward whole-food ingredients, with pet parents looking for treats made with real food ingredients and no byproducts or fillers,” said Meiering of Zuke’s. “Alternative proteins have become a hot trend recently among pet parents with dogs who are sensitive to certain proteins. Conversely, some pet parents are looking for options that don’t include meat proteins at all.”
At Natural Pet Food and Supplies in Temecula, Calif., customers frequently share the information they’ve gathered about treats and food ingredients with owners Becky and Rudy Loya.
“With the technology we have these days, people are learning so much on the Internet and are more interested in taking great care of their pets,” Becky said. “We keep learning all the time, and our customers are teaching us about what they learn.”
At Pet Stop, customers often read treat packaging labels to find products that are Made in the USA, Dillingham said. She added that treats made with chicken, and those offered by Blue Buffalo and Redbarn Pet Products, remain popular at her store.
Recent customer studies conducted by Pet Food Express revealed that 80 percent of the chain’s pet-supply purchasing decision-makers are female—and those customers tend to know what they want, Levy said.
“When it comes to treats, women want to feed their dogs something clean (that doesn’t make a mess), safe and healthy for their pet,” Levy said.
But the key factor, he said, is taste.
To that end, manufacturers strive to combine healthful ingredients in pleasing taste combinations. Zuke’s offers 13 lines of natural dog treats and chews, including grain-free options and a range of protein choices, Meiering said. Treats from One Dog Organic Bakery contain essential vitamins, nutrients and omega fatty acids, Glynn said, with some treats including chia seeds, flaxseed and coconut oil.
The all-natural dog biscuits and grain- and gluten-free treats offered by Healthy Dogma come in a wide variety of flavors, Peters said.
“Pet owners enjoy going over the various options and choosing the ingredient blend they think their pet will most like,” he added.
Even if a treat contains all of the best ingredients and meshes perfectly with a customer’s expectations, it doesn’t matter if the dog won’t eat it. Pet Food Express has a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee and will accept returns of treats that fail to pass a dog’s taste test, Levy said.
“If the dog doesn’t like the product, the customer can bring it back,” he said. “We will take anything back. Our customers can try the treats right there to make sure the dog likes it. And that’s what it really comes down to with all our customers—what the pet likes.”
All stores in the chain also provide samples to customers before they buy, Levy added.
Made in the USA
As much as possible, Pet Food Express stocks dog treats that are Made in the USA, said Michael Levy, owner of the 54-store chain based in Oakland, Calif.
“We look for companies that are sourcing their ingredients and making their products in the U.S.,” Levy said. “This has become easier to do in the last few years.”
Yet Levy recognizes the merit of products made internationally, too.
“We stock many quality treats that come from other parts of the world, such as Canada and New Zealand,” he said.
Customer demand for U.S.-made products, however, drives Pet Food Express to search out such items, he added.
Pet owners desire organic products that are Made in the USA, said Veronica Glynn, founder and owner of One Dog Organic Bakery in Cincinnati.
To that end, One Dog Organic Bakery makes its dog treats with 100 percent human-grade, certified-organic and GMO-free ingredients in the U.S., she said.
“We lost our cat to a pet food recall and have since watched many fellow pet parents suffer the same heartbreak,” Glynn said. “We want to offer people a better, safer option.”—SNH