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Dog Marketplace: Follow the Treat Trend

Posted: March 11, 2013, 9:15 p.m. EST

Pet owners are looking for health-boosting natural treats made with a limited number of ingredients. Here's what's at the top of their list.
By Carolee Anita Boyles

Manufacturers are responding to customer demand by creating a new generation of treats that cater to not only a dog's palate, but also its nutritional needs. This means happy dogs, happy customers and more dollars on retailers' bottom lines.

Pet owners increasingly want to give their pets healthful treats made with high-quality ingredients, noted Tracey Quillin, category manager of treats and consumables for PetSafe, based in Knoxville, Tenn.

“More pet parents are becoming concerned about where their pet treats are manufactured and are asking for USA-made treats,” she said. “The humanization of the pet market is the strongest factor that's driving the trend to higher-quality ingredients and more healthful treats. Consumers are reading the labels more and asking about calories. Significant product recalls on jerky products made in China also are driving consumers to demand USA-made treats.”

In response to these trends, PetSafe released USA-made jerky treats as well as a lickable dog treat, Quillin added.

Dog treats
Stores can offer a wide variety of treats to cater to the canine palette. Sherri L. Collins/I-5 Publishing at Kriser's in Irvine, Calif.
“This year we're launching Lickety Stik Gel, which allows dog owners a fun way to give a highly palatable treat with added health and oral care benefits,” she said. “We're also introducing our Indigo Smokehouse Meats, which are made with real chicken or beef and vacuum-sealed for freshness. These are premium and safe jerky treat alternatives and always made in the USA.”

Gregg Bernhardt, owner of Bag of Bones Barkery, a retailer in Hamilton, N.J., prepares a proprietary line of all-natural treats that he sells in his store and wholesales to other pet retailers. He's noticed a growing demand for exotic and alternative proteins in pets' treats.

“Meats such as kangaroo, ostrich, elk, wild boar, quail, pheasant, rabbit and even goat and llama are coming up more in conversations with our customers,” he said. “There's a strong niche market for these types of treats because they're excellent solutions for dogs with allergies to common proteins such as beef, chicken, turkey and lamb.”

Recalls of foreign products also influence what dog owners buy, Bernhardt said, as more ask for USA-made and -sourced treats.

“The newest dog treats that we make ourselves are our Vet-I-Care Organic quinoa treats and our Just Jerky line,” Bernhardt said. “Our Just Jerky line is made entirely from meats from trusted sources.”

These pet treat trends date to the 2007 pet food recalls, said Laura Boston, president of Animal Sense Pet Products in Thornhill, Ontario, Canada.

“Since the 2007 poisoned pet food recall, consumers have become more aware of what ingredients go into dog treats, and where they are made,” she said. “Buying local is a growing trend, and North American manufacturers have experienced increased sales.”

Naturally Healthful
Dog owners also are taking a “back to basics” attitude toward treats, Bernhardt said.

“Many people are leaning toward single-ingredient or limited-ingredient treats that are free of preservatives and artificial additives,” he said. “Not only are they more healthful, but they tend to add fewer calories to the diet and contribute less to the growing problem of pet obesity.”

At Bag of Bones Barkery, the entire line of Barkery Bones contains very limited natural ingredients such as barley, rye, egg and arrowroot, with no wheat, corn or soy, Bernhardt said. Another fairly new line for the store is Bitty Blossoms, small flower-shaped, low-fat treats in three flavor combinations.

The trend toward more healthful treats that are grain-free and natural is gaining momentum, agreed Ava Olsen, brand manager for Charlee Bear Dog Products in Madison, Wis.

“Natural treats continue to grow in popularity,” she said. “This moves into the growing interest in supplements as well, and to treats that provide some functional purpose, such as joint support, or healthy skin and coat. It also includes the use of natural foods, such as berries and vegetables, to supply added nutrients. Dog treats have been opened up to the use of many new food ingredients that provide new flavors and added nutrition.”

The factors driving the treat trends correspond to factors driving products in the human food arena, Olsen added.

“People are considering their dogs to be part of the family,” she said. “As people become more aware of the health implications of their own diets, this is crossing over into what we want to feed our dogs. Treats that dogs love and are healthful for them are a perfect combination.”

Charlee Bear's treats are all-natural, made with simple ingredients and contain three calories each, Olsen noted.

Grain- and soy-free treats also are popular, said Laura Bussing, president of Gone To The Dogs in Salida, Colo. The most recent treat lines she added to her store are from Isle of Dogs, Barx Naturals and So Bright.

“They're all wheat-, corn- and soy-free,” she said.

Brodie Bergeson, owner of Bozeman Dog Co. in Bozeman, Mont., has ingredients-minded customers as well.

“They either want something made locally or a grain-free treat,” he said. “What drives it is people's perception of their own health.”
His store carries green bean chips.

“They're made by the K9 Granola Factory,” he said. “The ingredients are green beans, canola oil and salt.”

Many pet owners prefer treats with five ingredients or less, noted Kelly Raiser, co-owner of Max & Ruffy's, a treat maker in Arlington, Va.

“Their preference is for purity, meaning no added colors, additives, preservatives or fillers,” she said. “Clients are moving away from treats that contain unnecessary sweeteners, such as cane sugar or brown sugar, and are opting for sweeteners that have beneficial properties, such as mineral-rich blackstrap molasses or unfiltered honey. There is also a significant demand for grain-free treats.”

Max & Ruffy's continues to develop and expand its line of 100 percent organic, all-natural treats, Raiser said.

“We recently released two new flavors, 327 B.C.: Banana & Coconut Flavor and Tree of Life: Coconut, Molasses & Flax Flavor,” she said. “Both of these new flavors contain organic extra-virgin coconut oil and organic coconut flakes in an effort to offer our clients treats that have beneficial nutritive properties for skin and coat.”

Canadian customers also are much more health-conscious about their dogs than they were in the past, said Danica Witzke, sales associate at Barking Babies in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

“Many people want more natural products without gluten and wheat,” she said. “We get a lot of freeze-dried meats, and we recently started carrying some sweet potato treats. They are just dried sweet potatoes and dogs really like them, plus they're good for digestion.”

Barking Babies also started carrying duck feet, she said, noting that they are high in glucosamine and chondroitin and are popular for older dogs and puppies.

Less Is More
Treats that promote the same nutritional benefits as pet foods are gaining ground, according to Eric Emmenegger, senior brand manager of Instinct for Nature's Variety in Lincoln, Neb.

“For example, pet owners who feed grain-free kibble also want to feed grain-free treats,” he said. “We've recently introduced Instinct Limited Ingredient Treat dog biscuits to give pet owners who need to closely manage what their dog eats a simple, healthful and delicious treat option.”

Each Limited Ingredient biscuit formula has only 10 ingredients and is free of chicken, beef, fish, eggs, dairy, grain and gluten, he said. The company also expanded its selection of freeze-dried raw treats with Instinct Raw Boost Bites and Instinct Raw Boost Minis.

Animal Sense Pet Products' treats also are notable for what they don't contain.

“We've just launched Gobbles Omega Blasts, tasty, grain-free, nutritious biscuits using certified organic ingredients with omega-3 and -6 fatty acids,” Boston said. “Another new product is Gobbles Berried Treasure, a grain- and gluten-free dog biscuit rich in antioxidants.”

Treats that deliver supplements also are a big trend, according to Kathy Bassett, marketing director at Scott Pet Products in Rockville, Ind.

“People are becoming much more aware of the health benefits they want to give their pets,” she said. “We have glucosamine treats that are just a regular dog biscuit with glucosamine in them. We started making them because of customer requests in the middle of 2012.”

Getting the Word Out
The treat category is largely impulse driven, PetSafe's Quillin said.

“This is why we always provide our retailer partners with secondary merchandising options to help drive that impulse and point-of-purchase signage to increase awareness of our products,” she said, adding that the manufacturer also increased product awareness with giveaways.

“We utilized social media through our PetSafe Facebook page to sample 25,000 bottles of Lickety Stik,” Quillin said. “We were astonished to have 25,000 PetSafe fans request a sample bottle in less than 24 hours.”

At Bag of Bones Barkery, Bernhardt uses sampling to drive sales.

“Placing a small dog bowl at our register with a sign stating ‘free samples' and the treat packaging has been an excellent way to entice people to try something new for their pets, as well as to start conversations about products,” he said. “We also have partnered with a number of vets in our area, educating them about the nutritional aspects of our products and how they're made, in an effort to obtain referrals. This has been a very successful program for us, since many customers will consult their veterinarian before changing or starting any food regimen.”

As a new company, Yappy Hour Vineyards, which makes a nonalcoholic “wine” for canines—a chicken-based au jus type of gravy to pour over dry kibble—has generated buzz with everything it's tried, said Tasha Nesbitt, co-owner.

Social media, networking and postcards all have helped in the process,” she said of the Port Hueneme, Calif., manufacturer. “We are finding that our biggest advertisement is word-of-mouth.”

Participating in grassroots marketing has yielded the highest awareness around the Max & Ruffy's brand, Raiser said.

“This includes, but is not limited to, participating in local festivals, blog contests and contests where we engage with dog owners, and donating to silent auctions or gift bags for animal awareness organizations, as well as Facebook page promotions,” she said.

Animal Sense Pet Products uses a spokesdog on Facebook to get the word out.

“Ruby, our company mascot and taste-tester extraordinaire, has her own Facebook page with thousands of ‘friends' worldwide,” Boston said. “I also use LinkedIn to promote our products and the Animal Sense Pet Products Facebook page.”

Social media are important for advertising, and not just Facebook, said Nature's Variety's Emmenegger.

“We also engage with pet food bloggers who sample the products with their dogs and write reviews,” he said. 


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Dog Marketplace: Follow the Treat Trend

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Reader Comments
Thank you Carolee Anita Boyles and Pet Products News for a great article! I must say my company product YAPPY TREATS CART Dogfroyo Treats is right on trend with what consumer pet parents are asking for. It should be a great year!
Laura, New York, NY
Posted: 4/13/2013 1:19:32 PM
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