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Product Merchandiser Focus: Functional Treats Promise Greater Health, Profit

Posted: October 22, 2013, 10:50 a.m. EDT


By Anthony Stoeckert

With their potential for better health, fresher breath and even improved pet-owner relationships, functional treats are becoming a desirable product for pet owners who want to improve their pets’ lives via tasty treats.

Functional treats—snacks with a purpose—are designed to improve breath, hip and joint comfort/flexibility, overall nutrition and more.

"We think that treat time doesn’t have to be junk food time,” said Rachel Murray, brand marketing executive for Los Angeles-based Dogswell. "Pet owners can feel good about feeding their pups a treat that’s not only great tasting, but is also enriched with functional benefits and free of gluten, corn, wheat, soy and other fillers.”

Tricks of the Treats
Dogswell’s treats are high in protein and provide functional benefits to pets, Murray said. Two recent additions to the company’s line are Jerky Bars and Jerky Strips. Jerky Bars are like protein bars for dogs with "real food ingredients”; Jerky Strips offer simple, healthful ingredients, according to Murray.

Dogswell also sells Happy Hips treats, enriched with glucosamine and chondroitin for joint health. The company’s Vitality treats are enriched with vitamin A, vitamin E and flaxseed for eye, skin and coat health.

"Dogs have 320 bones in their bodies,” Murray said. "That’s 115 more than humans, which makes for a lot of joints. Happy Hips helps maintain the cartilage in all of those joints. With many dogs experiencing skin issues, the vitamin E in our Vitality treats helps support skin health.”

Franklin, Tenn.-based Greenies, a brand of The Nutro Co., makes treats designed to address dental issues and joint health while also providing a tasty snack.

The brand started by producing products to simplify and improve pets’ oral care, said Monica Glass, Greenies’ senior corporate affairs manager. Its products include Greenies Canine Dental Chews and Feline Greenies.

"The Greenies brand’s first products were invented to provide a pet- and pet parent-friendly solution to delivering oral care,” Glass said.

"Greenies’ Canine Dental Chews were the first product to receive the Veterinary Oral Health Council Seal of Acceptance for Plaque and Tartar Reduction. And today, Feline Greenies Dental Treats are the only feline treats with the VOHC Seal of Acceptance. The VOHC is similar to the American Dental Association seal [for human products]. Products with the seal must submit clinical research proving dental efficacy, which is reviewed by a panel of board-certified veterinary dentists.”

Pet Naturals of Vermont, a division of FoodScience Corp. in Essex Junction, Vt., manufactures beneficial treats for cats and dogs, promising supplements in "highly palatable treat form,” said Sara Phillips, the company’s strategic brand manager. Some of its products include Hip & Joint for Dogs, Hairball for Cats, Calming for Dogs and Cats, and a line of multivitamin supplements called Daily Best.

"While our products may look and taste like a treat to your pet, these formulas are condition specific and contain therapeutic levels of nutrients,” Phillips said. "Our condition-specific products include Hip & Joint, Calming, L-Lysine for Cats, Hairball for Cats, Breath Bars for Dogs, Scoot Bars for Dogs, Skin & Coat, UT Support for Cats and others.”

Tropiclean recently launched its line of Fresh Breath +Plus Dental Treats for dogs.

"Our new line of all-natural dental treats features wholesome ingredients that are also gluten free, grain free, wheat free and corn free,” said Brian Collier, marketing coordinator for the Wentzville, Mo., company. "Each treat is uniquely designed to clean teeth, freshen breath and promote overall pet wellness.”

The line includes Advanced Cleaning System With Flaxseed, which has baking soda and helps clean teeth and promote "a healthy oral environment,” Collier said.

"Each of our four new dental treats helps clean teeth, promoting healthy dental hygiene while also providing additional health benefits,” he said. "The Hip & Joint [Plus Glucosamine] dental treats support healthy joints and are designed for older dogs that are less mobile and active.”

The Skin & Coat Plus Omega 3 & 6 helps nourish and support healthy skin and coat, and the Digestive Support Plus Prebiotics has chicory root to encourage digestive health, Collier said.

Improving dental hygiene can improve a pet’s quality of life, Collier said, because periodontal disease is the most common disease among dogs and cats.

"Research shows us that gum disease is not only painful for our pets, but it can also have serious health consequences when left untreated,” he said. "Some studies even show that our pets may live a shorter life if periodontal disease is not treated.”

Getting Treats Into Shoppers’ Hands
The potential to improve a pet’s health in an easy, affordable way is one that is sure to appeal to owners. When it comes to working with retailers as to how to get the message out to customers, Collier said Tropiclean’s marketing begins with its products.

"Our goal is to provide excellent products that retailers can be proud to stand behind,” he said. "We also work hard to create POP displays and merchandisers that help tell the story behind our products and educate consumers. In addition we actively advertise in consumer magazines, online and engage in social media to pull customers to their shelves.”

Lisa Conrad, vice president of Dogadillo Dog Boutique in Austin, Texas, said when it comes to displaying functional treats, her store separates lines based on what each product does, but that not all customers are finding them easily.

"We try to display these types of treats in multiple locations,” she said. "We will have bad breath treats next to the toothpaste and toothbrushes as well as mixed in with the regular treats. We also have a separate shelf of dual action treats/supplements that focus on hip/joint, skin/coat, breath, calming. It does seem that no matter how we display them we still have people ask us if we offer any treats like these.”

Communicate the Benefits
Teaching customers about the benefits of these treats just might be the best way to improve sales, according to industry experts.

"Pet Naturals concentrates a lot of effort on education: education of our retailers through detail sheets, phone trainings and in-person trainings,” Phillips said. "We also promote education of our products via our website and social media. Pet Naturals products truly are different from typical functional treats because our products contain therapeutic levels of nutrients.”

Tami Michalik, manager and buyer for Lofty Dog in Austin, Texas, said her store calls attention to functional treats by creating sections for them, or by highlighting the treats on endcaps. She agreed that education is an important component to selling this category.

"We also make sure the staff is educated on all the treats, and stress the ease of giving supplements to your dog in treat form, especially finicky animals,” she said. "If it happens to be pet dental month (February), we will put all dental on sale. We keep a point-of-sale dental display on our register counter at all times and stress to our clients [that] taking care of their dogs’ teeth will be beneficial to a happy and healthy dog.

The store staff at Lofty Dog uses the functional treat lines they sell, making it easier to promote them to shoppers.

Murray noted that customers often seek out input from employees in stores in regards to foods and treats, and that offering knowledge about Dogswell products to those employees is an important part of the company’s marketing strategy.

"We make sure retailers are well-versed and educated on our products to help them when faced with questions from consumers,” she said. "We also provide signage to help our product stand out at shelf and educate shoppers on each product’s benefits.”

Chip Sammons, owner of Holistic Pet Center in Clackamas, Ore., said he makes an effort to make sure his customers see these treats on display.

"We have a counter display of In Clover Grin Treats with a sign that says, ‘Does your dog have bad breath?’” he said.

The Pet-Owner Bond
Perhaps one of the best marketing concepts for beneficial treats is their potential to help improve the bond between owner and pet.

"The way we see it, dogs were born awesome,” said Murray. "They can hear better than us, smell better than us, and they don’t just put up with us, they love us. We think that the best way to keep them happy and healthy is to give them food and treats that they were meant to eat, that they love to eat, and that was designed just for them.”

Most dog owners will admit that they can’t stand "doggy breath,” Tropiclean’s Collier noted. And it isn’t just unpleasant, it can be an early sign of periodontal disease.

"This is a warning that our dogs need help cleaning their teeth and staying healthy,” he said. "By providing proper oral care for our pets, we are able to spend more time with them and we are certainly more likely to enjoy a closer relationship once their breath is fresh.”

That alone, he said, can help store owners promote functional treats.

"Our products enable pet owners to enjoy more hugs, more kisses, more adventures, more time and more life with their pets,” he added.

Manufacturers also expressed a willingness to work with stores to develop creative ways to merchandise and sell functional treats.

"Our team is thrilled to hear from retailers on what is working well and what needs improvement,” Collier said. "We are quick to make adjustments and are always excited to launch new displays and merchandisers to help retailers position our products to the best of their abilities.”

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