Little Treat, Big Reward
Pet owners seek out flavor-packed treats with wholesome ingredients.
Treats might be a quick reward, but most dog owners are still looking for something that delivers. Aside from flavor, pet owners are concerned with nutrition and ingredients. The treats category continues to be incredibly popular. Rashell Cooper, marketing director for Redbarn Pet Products in Long Beach, Calif., said that the category has grown exponentially over the years. But as pet owners become more educated, they’ve also become more particular about what they want out of a treat. The grocery store variety of treats no longer cuts it for many owners.
Carmen Alcalde, co-owner of Bad Dog Frida in Madison, Wis., said that owners are looking for quality, safe ingredients—continuing the trend seen in food purchases. Shoppers also want to give their pets something that they’ll enjoy.
“Our criteria for a good treat is one that is soft, smelly and small,” said Carmen Alcalde, co-owner of Bad Dog Frida in Madison, Wis. “Many treats we carry are small, but some pet owners do buy bigger ones and break them into smaller pieces. The idea is to give the dog something that they can eat really quickly—without losing sight of why they’re receiving the treat, such as a training task—but that is still really delicious and rewarding.”
Lisa Gay, co-owner of H3 Pet Supply in Stratford, Conn., agreed that quality is key for pet owners.
“The trends we see in treats are in line with what we see in food purchases in general,” Gay said. “Pet parents are looking for a healthy treat with safe and natural ingredients.”
Consumers want treats made from unique protein sources and with simple ingredients, and they will turn the bag over to read the ingredient list on treats they purchase, said Laura Lang, COO of Jones Natural Chews in Rockford, Ill. Lang said they also are looking to see whether the product was not only made in the USA, but that ingredients were sourced in the USA. Any time you can highlight those facts, you are going to draw more attention to a product, Lang said.
Lindsey Testerman, general manager of Lizzi and Rocco’s Natural Pet Market, which has stores in Columbia, Mo., concurred.
“Many dog parents are interested not only in USA sourced but even locally sourced,” Testerman said. “We’ve started [selling] spent-grain dog treats that are made from local breweries in town, and they’ve been incredibly popular.”
Know Your Products
Customer education begins at the store and distribution level, said Heidi L. Nevala, president of Natura Petz Organics in Minneapolis. It’s important that retailers truly understand the products they’re selling in order to be able to answer questions and educate customers. To this end, Nevala suggested that pet specialty retailers take advantage of what manufacturers and distributors have to offer in terms of training tools.
“For all our brands, we offer educational training videos, as well as video or in-store training options on using hemp and nutraceuticals for pets—which includes our treat lines and other products,” Nevala said. “We offer detailed FAQ pages for all our brands, QR code links to educational audio and video files, plus shelf and bottle talkers, brochures, POS displays, a sample program and research guides that dive deeper into the ingredients we use in our lines.”
Rashell Cooper, marketing director for Redbarn Pet Products in Long Beach, Calif., agreed that retailers should partner with manufacturers for the best possible customer education experience.
“Working alongside brands to display educational materials at point-of-purchase is key to increasing sales,” she added.
Brad Gruber, president and COO of Health Extension Pet Care in Deer Park, N.Y., agreed, and said that retailers must know their products inside and out—including the ingredients, features, benefits and nutrition facts.
“The staff should be very conversant and engaging in asking pet parents questions about their pets in terms of age, breed, allergies, and specific health and dietary issues,” Gruber said. “Ask what the treat is being used for, such as training, to address a particular problem or just as a simple reward.”
Gruber said that this information should help retailers narrow down the best choices for pet owners. It’s not uncommon for consumers to have a lot of questions about treats, and retailers should know their assortment well enough to be able to answer confidently, he said.
Give Them a Reason to Spoil Their Pet
Shoppers are always looking for novel products to excite and appeal to their pets, said Timothy Fabits, vice president of sales for Barkworthies in Richmond, Va. Displays are a great way to showcase anything new. With so much interest in exotic proteins, Fabits suggested that retailers dedicate a specific section in the treat aisle to exotic protein sources.
“Pet parents are constantly looking for new and delicious ways to treat their pets,” Fabits said. “There are plenty of dogs who have food allergies and/or stomach sensitivities, and pet parents are increasingly interested in exotic proteins like crocodile, rabbit and kangaroo, to name a few.”
Merchandising best practices also include featuring the proper display of treats with accompanying educational material, added Rashell Cooper, marketing director for Redbarn Pet Products in Long Beach, Calif.
“Picking the right treat for a pet is a very personalized process and retailers should take advantage of manufacturer-provided resources,” Cooper said.
Holidays pose an excellent time to get shoppers interested in dog treats. Adrian Pettyan, CEO and co-founder of Caru Pet Food in Vero Beach, Fla., said that building displays that are relevant to upcoming holidays is a great way to draw attention to treats.
Pet owners also like to treat their pets on their birthdays, and creating displays that cater to birthdays can attract interest, said Mary Ellen Oertel, owner and founder of Ma Snax Dog Treats in Santa Rosa, Calif.
In addition to a large shelving unit that is completely dedicated to treats, Carmen Alcalde, co-owner of Bad Dog Frida in Madison, Wis., said she displays some treats in the toy section.
“Toys that serve as activities, such as toys that the dog can roll around and get treats to fall out of, are popular sellers,” Alcalde said. “We display treats that work well inside of those toys right next to them.”
Lisa Gay, co-owner of H3 Pet Supply in Stratford, Conn., said that any time the store introduces a new treat to customers, they’ll display it by the food brand so that dog owners can become familiar and comfortable with it. Gay said they often run special sales, as well.
“We will do discounts if they buy both a kibble and a treat from the same manufacturer, at the same time,” Gay said. “We’ve found that even a small discount often encourages the customer to pick up a bag of treats under the same brand name.”
Lindsey Testerman, general manager of Lizzi and Rocco’s Natural Pet Market, which has stores in Columbia, Mo., said that customers often become “fiercely loyal to brands” when it comes to food. As a result, it typically benefits the retailer to display treats near their matching food brand.
“While we do have a dedicated treat wall, we’ll often try to get a little peg display in near a popular brand,” Testerman said. “We might include a sign that says, ‘If you love this food, why not try their treats?’”
Fun & Function
Mary Ellen Oertel, owner and founder of Ma Snax Dog Treats in Santa Rosa, Calif., said the company is in the testing phase of a new granola-type treat. The company currently has a few new shapes available, as well as Hanukkah Gelt and Christmas Loot for the coming holiday season—gold and silver foil-wrapped peppermint bark biscuits resembling coins festively wrapped for Hanukkah and Christmas.
Earlier this year, Caru Pet Food in Vero Beach, Fla., introduced Tuna Recipe and Pheasant Recipe to the company’s Soft ‘n Tasty line of all-natural treats for dogs, said Adrian Pettyan, CEO and co-founder.
This summer, Barkworthies, based in Richmond, Va., introduced Superfood Jerky treat recipes for dogs. Made with real meat, plus superfood ingredients such as blueberries, carrots and pumpkin, these new treats help support muscle growth and development, according to the company. The line is available in a variety of flavors, and the company will soon be offering two-pack trial sizes of the treats to help introduce consumers to the brand.
Health Extension Pet Care in Deer Park, N.Y., recently introduced the company’s first made in the USA whole-muscle jerky. Made from real chicken, it works as a training treat or a reward and comes in a 4-ounce bag, the company reported.