Pet Parents are Becoming More Health Conscious
Consumers are looking for treats that offer both taste and healthful ingredients.
Pet owners love to spoil their animal companions with luxuries, and treats are a popular indulgence. But not just any treat will do. “People are taking time to look at where their food comes from and how it is produced,” said Rebecca Deveau-Greene, product development manager for JBS-USA in Greeley, Colo. “I think we are going to see the Made in the USA trend continue to grow, with more of a focus on what exactly is in the pet treats, and in treats made with fewer ingredients.”
Aaron Merrell, CEO and co-founder of Plato Pet Treats in Fresno, Calif., sees an increasing emphasis from consumers on understanding the ingredients and the sources for ingredients.
“You’ll see an increase in the amount of transparency about sources and ingredients used in this category in response to this demand,” Merrell said.
Leigh Diggory, buyer at The Raw Connection in Carmel, Calif., said that her customers appreciate treats that also provide an added health benefit.
Aaron Merrell, CEO and co-founder of Plato Pet Treats in Fresno, Calif.
“When you can show a customer that a bag of chicken jerky has added glucosamine for joint health, or that their training treats contain omega 3s for skin and coat health, they are likely to go for those products over similar types that do not contain additional beneficial ingredients,” she said.
According to Merrell, veterinarians often request lower-calorie treat options for their patients, especially because many dogs in the U.S. are obese.
“At the same time, we recognize that dog owners love to give their dogs treats as a sign of affection or reward,” he said. “With this in mind, we formulated Small Bites to meet everyone’s needs—lower-calorie, palatable treats, with natural nutrition.”
Small Bites, Plato’s newest product, are approximately 90 percent lower in calories than the average treat, according to Merrell.
“They contain single-source and novel proteins, and are completely free of added sugars, artificial preservatives, byproducts, artificial colors, protein meals, soy, wheat, corn and fillers,” he said.
Tucker’s Raw Frozen & Treats in St. Francis, Wis., recently introduced a line of freeze-dried liver treats, said Michele Suarez, national sales manager. Barkin’ Blends are available in Beef Liver and Bacon as well as and Beef Liver and Sweet Potato flavors.
When it comes to ingredients, The Raw Connection’s Diggory is seeing more dog food and treat products with both sweet potato and pumpkin, which reportedly help with digestive health.
“There is a huge trend toward pumpkin and sweet potato in treats for digestive aid,” she said, adding that Plato offers a turkey/pumpkin treat that bridges the gap between a softer bite and a heartier biscuit.
“It has been one of our most popular treats for a couple of years now that people are hearing more and more about the benefits pumpkin can play in digestive health,” she said.
Healthful treats represent a growing category at The Raw Connection, Diggory said.
“We have a great selection of treats and chews,” she said. “From larger, more well-known companies such as Cloud Star and Nature’s Variety to companies we’ve watched grow through the years, like Plato, Bravo and ZiwiPeak, we are nearly always able to fulfill a customer’s treat requirements.”
The store also tries to bring in small, independent manufacturers’ products, Diggory added.
“One can find at least a few options for any treatable occasion: small, soft treats for training; hearty biscuits for a crate reward or bedtime snack; pure and barely processed freeze-dried or dry-roasted meats; a variety of chews for all different types of chewers—the list goes on,” she said. “We don’t bring in any treats that contain wheat, corn or soy, and we steer away from grains in general.”
The Raw Connection staff puts a lot of time and effort into researching treats before they bring them in-store, Diggory said.
“Our customers put a great amount of trust in us as far as that goes,” she said. “Our regulars know they can come in, grab anything off the shelf, and unless their dog has an acute allergy to a certain ingredient, they are going to be getting a healthful, high-quality product.”
When it comes to selling and marketing healthful pet treats, it’s important to bring customer attention to the benefits of the product, according to manufacturers.
“Based on the growing amount of feedback we’re receiving from customers, it’s critical for retailers to actively educate their customers about the features, benefits, ingredients and sources of the products that they sell,” said Aaron Merrell, CEO and co-founder of Plato Pet Treats in Fresno, Calif. “This is an added-value service that builds trust with the consumer at a time when trust has never been more important. Pets are members of our families, and consumers are taking what they feed their pets very seriously. They’re also becoming educated about what they feed their pets. It’s important to recognize and actively meet this need for trust and education.”Michele Suarez, national sales manager for Tucker’s Raw Frozen & Treats in St. Francis, Wis., offered additional recommendations for selling treats.