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Invested in Ingredients

Savvy pet owners are reading treat labels closely and want products that meet the health needs of their dogs.


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When it comes to consumable products, pet owners want only the best for their dogs. Many carefully select food and treats based on the ingredients. As such, demand for treats with healthful ingredients has increased. 

With dog owners in the U.S. buying four packages of dog treats on average per month, according to market research firm Wakefield Research, manufacturers and pet specialty retailers are paying close attention to the trends in the category. 

Tom Wien, director of marketing for Cardinal Pet Care in Azusa, Calif., said one of the biggest trends the company has noted is the growth of organic dog treats. 

“Consumers have become increasingly aware of the connection between diet and good health, and they’re buying more organic products for themselves,” he said. “So now they want to extend their healthy lifestyle choices to their pets, who—as part of another big trend today—are being viewed and treated as members of the family.”

John Hart, president of Isle of Dogs in Germantown, Wis., said the company is seeing a growing demand for functional and effective treats that help provide health benefits. 

“Grain free continues to be a consumer focus, and potato and chickpea free are gaining momentum as well,” he said. “Consumers seem to be grasping the concept that substituting other carbohydrates for grain is not a true ancestral diet alternative.”

Customers are scrutinizing ingredient panels on treat packaging to find what they are seeking, and Denise Strong, co-owner of Pawz On Main in Cottonwood, Ariz., said that, for her customers, less is more.

“Ingredients are key, and my single-source ingredients are bestsellers,” she said. 

Pet owners are also considering the format of the treat. There are three types of treats purchased most frequently by dog owners in the U.S., according to market research firm Wakefield Research. In a survey conducted by the firm in March, 64 percent of dog owners said they purchase soft, chewy treats, 58 percent said they purchase dental chews, and 57 percent said they buy hard, crunchy treats for their dogs. 

Kim McCohan, chief happiness officer at Bend Pet Express, which has two stores in Bend, Ore., noted that freeze-dried treats are especially appreciated because they meet the rising demand for gluten-free products.

“We have protein-specific treats behind the counter to give to dogs that come in,” she said. “When the pet parent is purchasing a bag of duck food, we will find the duck freeze-dried treat and complement the purchase. Usually, pet parents get excited to see their pet super interested in those treats and want to know what it is for next time.”

Merchandising

Suggestive Selling

Pet owners often need to be reminded of products that might not be on their shopping list but could be helpful with issues their pets are experiencing, according to industry insiders.

Conditions such as bad breath or anxiety are examples of conditions that pet owners often forget to address without some subtle reminders.

For this reason, it’s always a good idea to make functional treats visible in high-impulse shopping sections of the store, said John Hart, president of Isle of Dogs in Germantown, Wis.

“Drive-aisle displays definitely help sell treats,” he said. “This tactic not only benefits impulse buying, but also serves as a good reminder to the shopper of things they may have left off of their shopping list.”

The Quirky Pet in Montpelier, Vt., has the appearance of an old country store, complete with a real-life tree near the counter, which has 12 small metal buckets attached to it, each containing a variety of treats.

“We also have huge buckets underneath the counter with 10 different types of bones,” said owner Cindra Conison. “Our counter has a lot of old apothecary jars, all labeled and filled with treats.”

At Pawz On Main in Cottonwood, Ariz., treats are displayed in several areas throughout the store.

“But all are displayed on unique shelving to make for a more enjoyable shopping experience,” said co-owner Denise Strong.

The primary reason pet owners head to their local pet store is to purchase food, and stores can help remind them to buy treats by utilizing clip strips in the food aisle, said David Rizzo, director of operations for Durango, Colo.-based Zuke’s, a brand of Merrick Pet Care in Amarillo, Texas. In addition, providing pet owners with bundling incentives to purchase treats with their more routine food purchase can also help build the basket, Rizzo said.

Tom Wien, director of marketing for Cardinal Pet Care in Azusa, Calif., said the company’s Crazy Dog Train-Me! Organic Training Rewards can be merchandised in areas other than the treat section as part of thematic displays.  

“For example, retailers can create a natural and organic display, which would contain products across different categories—treats, foods, grooming products, health remedies and so forth,” he said. “This will capture the attention of shoppers who are health and organic oriented, and may generate tie-in sales to these consumers.”

New Products

Light Bites 

In order to meet the demand of varying consumer needs, pet treat manufacturers continue to bring new innovations to the market. 

Cardinal Pet Care recently introduced organic versions of its Crazy Dog Train-Me! Training Rewards, which are available in Organic Beef and Organic Chicken varieties, said Tom Wien, director of marketing for the Azusa, Calif.-based company. 

“The new Crazy Dog Train-Me! Organic Training Rewards contain real organic beef or real organic chicken as the No. 1 ingredient, which makes them not only healthy and rich in protein, but also gives them a taste and aroma that are irresistible to dogs,” Wien said. “We feel that with the introduction of Crazy Dog Train-Me! Organic Training Rewards, we’re giving pet parents and trainers the best of both worlds.”

According to market research firm Wakefield Research, millennials are more likely than baby boomers to purchase dog treats for training purposes. In a recent survey of dog owners, Wakefield Research found that 53 percent of millennial dog owners purchase dog treats for training purposes, compared to 38 percent of baby boomers.  

G.O.A.T. Pet Products recently released its G.O.A.T. Milk Dog Treats, which were featured on ABC’s “Shark Tank” and at Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Fla., in March.

“It’s gotten an amazing response,” said Michelle Winowich, founder of the Bloomfield Hills, Mich.-based company. “Our G.O.A.T. Milk Dog Treats are gluten free, grain free, made with real goat milk and yummy peanut butter. Every treat sold helps provide jobs for Americans with disabilities.”

Zuke’s is relaunching its PowerBone, a treat first created by the company in 1995. 

“The bar features just nine simple ingredients—chosen with purpose—and leverages a balanced protein-to-fat ratio to provide dogs with energy when they need it most,” said David Rizzo, director of operations for the Durango, Colo.-based brand, which is part of Merrick Pet Care in Amarillo, Texas. “The treats are specially crafted in the USA using the Earth’s best ingredients, like 85 percent real beef, chicken or pork, plus antioxidant-rich blueberries or cranberries.”

John Hart, president of Isle of Dogs in Germantown, Wis., said the company does extensive research on health trends and maintains a robust new product development pipeline to address the needs of pets. In late 2017, the company debuted its Isle of Dogs Nourish functional dental chews, which come in three varieties: Breath, Skin + Coat and Hip + Joint. 

“These grain-free treats are results oriented, as each flavor contains a different health supplement that you can actually see,” he said. “Each chew has a heart shape running through its middle, which contains ingredients that help maintain either fresh breath, joint mobility, or healthy skin and coat.”

Stella & Chewy’s in Milwaukee has a new line of dog treats available.

“Raw Coated Biscuits is a new family of four 9-ounce chicken, beef, duck and lamb baked treats, inspired by the whole prey model diet, with meat as the No. 1 ingredient,” said Lee Hessenthaler, vice president of sales and marketing for the company. “They have high levels of protein and are coated with our freeze-dried raw, with a suggested retail price of $6.99, to capitalize on the rapidly growing treats segment, and exclusive to neighborhood pet specialty.”

Marketing

Samples, Bundles and Freebies Win with Customers

Pet specialty retailers have found a variety of ways to remind customers to pick up treats when they’re in the store shopping for other necessities. 

At The Quirky Pet in Montpelier, Vt., owner Cindra Conison offers $10 sampler treat bundles, so customers can experiment to see what their dogs like. These sell well all year, she said, but especially around the holidays. 

Denise Strong, co-owner of Pawz On Main in Cottonwood, Ariz., reduces the risks that customers take when trying something unfamiliar by allowing them to sample product.

“I offer free taste-test samples on many of our products so that the ‘fur customer’ can ‘try before they buy,’” she said, adding that she also explains to customers that she purchases the store’s products from reputable companies, a majority of them family owned and operated, that source and manufacture in the USA.  

At Bend Pet Express, which has two stores in Bend, Ore., treats are promoted with ‘buy a bag of food, get a bag of treats’ campaigns.

“When the sale ends, the customers will look for the bag, and upon seeing it’s moved, reach out and ask where it went,” said Kim McCohan, chief happiness officer at Bend Pet Express. “This is prime time to take them to a display where there will be a ton of alternative treats similar or complementary along with their familiar treat bag.”

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