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Pet specialty retailers report growing consumer interest in low-calorie treats and those designed specifically for training. One reason this subcategory has remained strong and continued to grow over this past year is the abundance of households with new pups.

“Our sales are up especially because a lot of people have gotten a dog in the last year-and-a-half in the quarantine,” said Miriam Orzol, CPDT-KA and floor supervisor at Animal Crackers Pet Supply, a pet store in Corvallis, Ore.

Other retailers agreed that more time spent at home has added to the treat category’s stability.

“My treat sales are steady thanks to people working from home and walking their dogs on their breaks,” said Cindra Conison, owner of The Quirky Pet, a pet store in Montpelier, Vt.

The humanization of pets also affects this segment, according to industry insiders, who specifically noted how people’s preferences in their own diets are mirrored when they seek options for their pets.

“We are living in an age of wellness,” said Ronna Krahl, vice president of marketing, companion pet, at Manna Pro, the Chesterfield, Mo.-based manufacturer of Fruitables treats. “Consumers demand convenient and healthy on-the-go snacks for themselves, and that trend carries over to dog owners.”

According to Glenn Novotny, president and CEO of Emerald Pet Products, a Walnut Creek, Calif.-based manufacturer, consumers want “natural treats that do not contain artificial ingredients or preservatives.”

Pet owners also want limited ingredients and all the details about what the product is made with, said Eric Abbey, president and founder of Loving Pets, a manufacturer in Cranbury, N.J.

“Today’s pet parent wants to know exactly what is inside and where it’s from,” he said. “Pet parents are looking for treats that they can easily relate to and understand the ingredients and benefits.”

In particular, dog owners want treats made with superfoods and high-quality meat, insiders said.

“In dog food and treat categories, superfoods like sweet potato, cranberry and blueberry continue to increase in use and popularity with our pets,” Krahl said. “The use of real, simple ingredients that are low in calories, like pumpkin, fruits and vegetables, are a big hit with dog owners and deliciously healthy for dogs.”

Recommendations from dog trainers also play a key role in treat sales, retailers said. Orzol reported that Animal Crackers Pet Supply works closely with local training companies and finds out what treats they’re promoting.

“If we agree with the ingredients, we’ll consider bringing them in,” she explained. “If we bring in something better, we’ll direct customers to that product with the higher transparency and higher-quality meat and ingredients.”

As U.S. pet owners take a more European approach of taking their dogs in public with them, Novotny said they are spending more time training and need low-calorie and training treats.

“They want to make sure their dogs are well-behaved in public and are looking for solutions to reward their pets without too many calories,” he said. “It’s easier to train and reinforce behavior with low-calorie treats so you don’t have to worry about weight gain and calorie content.”

On the Market

Top-Selling Snacks

Independent pet stores report steady sales in the low-calorie and training treats category.

“A lot of people want instant gratification, so if a company can market that the treats will help with dog training, it puts them at a huge advantage,” said Miriam Orzol, CPDT-KA and floor supervisor at Animal Crackers Pet Supply, a pet store in Corvallis, Ore.

This makes Etta Says! Sit! Training Treats a top choice for her customers, Orzol said. She also noted that the softer texture of Cloud Star’s Tricky Trainers make them popular.

Small sizes are key for sales at The Quirky Pet in Montpelier, Vt. Owner Cindra Conison said Zuke’s Minis are her store’s best-selling training treats and K9 Granola Simply Treats and Charlee Bear are the leading low-calorie sellers.

Little Chewzies are a best-seller for Emerald Pet Products, a manufacturer in Walnut Creek, Calif. President and CEO Glenn Novotny attributed the product’s popularity to the ability for handlers to easily break apart a larger treat without messy or distracting crumbs.

“People prefer soft treats that do not crumble like a cookie, so we do ours in a bone shape to allow owners to break it into five small pieces,” Novotny explained. “The dog eats the whole thing, and they keep their focus on you. When crumbs fall on the ground, they lose focus.”

Manna Pro, a manufacturer in Chesterfield, Mo., also offers a treat bar that is designed to be split apart. In February, the company introduced two Fruitables branded products that offer healthy, on-the-go treating, said vice president of marketing, companion pet, Ronna Krahl.

Fruitables PB n’ Joy dog treats combine peanut butter and fruit in a soft, chewy treat bar and come in three flavors: Peanut Butter and Banana, Peanut Butter and Apple, and Peanut Butter and Blueberry. Fruitables Biggies dog treats are two times larger than the company’s original baked treat, Krahl said, and come in four flavors: Peanut Butter & Banana, Pumpkin & Blueberry, Crispy Apple & Bacon and Almond Butter & Coconut.

In an effort to offer a low-calorie, easy-to-travel treat, Loving Pets, a manufacturer in Cranbury, N.J., offers Houndations Small Dog, Puppy, and Training Treats. Each soft chew treat is less than 3 calories, and they come in five varieties: Beef, Chicken, Duck, Lamb and Salmon, said president and founder Eric Abbey.

“A matching carabiner on every bag makes this the perfect on-the-go snack,” Abbey said.

Part of the company’s Dollar Program for affordability, Natural Value Puffed Cheese Treats are 100 percent made in the USA and contain no corn, soy, glycerin or byproducts, the company stated. Also U.S. made are the company’s new Natural Value Sweet Potato Krisps. Containing only two ingredients—sweet potato and rice flour—these crunchy treats are low fat and low calorie, Abbey added.

Product Development

Treat Innovation Trends

Most innovation in the low-calorie and training treats category stems from human trends, manufacturers reported. Right now, health and convenience resonate with pet owners.

“Overall, what is driving new product development in this segment is all about wellness and healthy ingredients,” said Ronna Krahl, vice president of marketing, companion pet, for Manna Pro, the Chesterfield, Mo.-based manufacturer of Fruitables treats. “What continues to hold true is the belief that if it’s good for me, it’s good for my dog.”

Companies reported high-quality and limited ingredients, as well as USA sourcing and manufacturing, as key demands in any new offerings.

“The humanization of treats for all pets—not just dogs—continues to transition from a trend to something that is here to stay,” said Eric Abbey, president and founder of Loving Pets, a manufacturer in Cranbury, N.J. “Closely following human trends, retail partners are looking for treats for training and in general [those] that have limited ingredients as well as [those] low in calories and fat for more regular rewards.”

There’s also been a rise in demand for treats with “clean proteins with a single meat source,” said Glenn Novotny, president and CEO of Emerald Pet Products in Walnut Creek, Calif.

Consumer preferences are driving product development for many manufacturers. Loving Pets, for example, approaches innovation “by listening to our consumers and following industry trends,” Abbey said, adding that “retailers need high-quality treats and chews that offer a value and good margins.”

Fruitables treats were developed as a result of academic research, Krahl said.

“This brand grew out of university research with the goal of solving pet obesity using low-calorie pumpkin as a fortified food supplement,” she explained. “This underlying philosophy became the foundation of a pumpkin or sweet potato base of treats along with our CalorieSmart ethos for pet wellness and health.”

Pricing Trends

Paying for Quality

Consumers are willing to spend good money on low-calorie and training treats for their dogs, according to industry insiders.

“Healthy, low-calorie treats tend to be more premium priced,” said Ronna Krahl, vice president of marketing, companion pet, for Manna Pro, the Chesterfield, Mo.-based manufacturer of Fruitables treats.

At Animal Crackers Pet Supply in Corvallis, Ore., shoppers are not particularly price sensitive when it comes to quality treats, said Miriam Orzol, CPDT-KA and floor supervisor for the pet store.

“People are starting to recognize if you want quality treats, you may have to dish out more for it,” she said. “There are benefits to giving out a little more money for high-value treats for more attention or dogs who need it.”

Retailers and manufacturers reported steady rising sales in this subcategory of treats.

“Dog chews and treats are continuing to rise, especially focused on those treats that provide both healthy proteins with a low calorie count,” said Eric Abbey, president and founder of Loving Pets, a manufacturer in Cranbury, N.J. “Our sales have been growing throughout the pandemic and continue to be stronger year-over-year.”

Pricing of low-calorie and training treats tend to be in the $5.99-$9.99 range, with dog owners averaging two bags or packages a month, Orzol said. In the past, people came in, bought a bag of kibble and walked out, she said, but that has shifted.

“There’s been a change in behavior training in the last five years with people realizing that relationships affect training,” Orzol said. “You build [the] relationship with food, toys and treats. People realize that a better relationship with the dog creates a better outcome in training, too.”

Cindra Conison, owner of The Quirky Pet, a pet store in Montpelier, Vt., does well keeping her low-calorie and training treats at manufacturer suggested retail pricing, with her range being $7-$17.50.


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Trade Talk

Joe McIver, senior brand manager at Whitebridge Pet Brands in St. Louis

How have dog owners’ needs for training and low-calorie treats changed in the past year? What does Whitebridge offer to help meet these needs?

As people have been spending more time in their homes, they have, in turn, been spending more time with their pets. With the additional interactions, there is a greater probability to over-treat your dog. That is why consumers are gravitating now more than ever to treats that are low in calories and, because of the increase in treat frequency, marked at a reasonable price point.

Previously, pet parents looked toward training and low-

calorie treats to simply train their dogs or help solve a weight issue. Now, these smaller treats are being used for every treating occasion, like training, rewarding or simply making the much-needed connection with your dog.

Whitebridge Pet Brands has a diverse mix of treats that cover the lower-calorie characteristics needed by pet parents. Cloud Star Tricky Trainers and Wag More Bark Less soft and chewy treats have been a dedicated leader in the pet specialty channel for more than 20 years and are trusted, limited-ingredient brands. Our Pet Botanics and Crazy Dog training treats are synonymous with the lower calories (as low as 1.5 kcals/treat), and consumers are sticking to these brands beyond the initial training phase with their pet.