Consumer demand for dog treats and chews has continued to rise, as have pet owners’ expectations of these products. Dog owners want to feel as though they are getting the most value out of their investment with chews and treats that fulfill a variety of wants and needs.
According to Jason Ast, owner of Just Dog People, a pet store in Garner, N.C., shoppers at his store want “their money to go as far as possible.”
In terms of chews, he said that means a product that is long-lasting and safe.
Tony March, marketing manager for Pet Factory, a Mundelein, Ill.-based pet chew manufacturer, agreed that the trend for chews has been going in the direction of getting as much out of the product as consumers can. He said that translates to innovative and natural chews that are highly digestible, offer excellent dental care, have limited or single ingredients and are USA made.
Pet Factory is responding to that demand by offering customers new product line extensions.
“We are very excited to announce the introduction of our new line of top-quality chews, called CareChewz,” he said. “CareChewz are 100 percent collagen from beefhide that are handcrafted entirely here in the USA at our Illinois facility. Collagen from beefhide is really the best choice for a naturally safe, fun and durable chew. Giving CareChewz as a healthy daily dental care [solution] rewards dogs with cleaner teeth, fresher breath and stronger gums.”
Janie Smyser, owner of K9 Granola Factory, a dog treat manufacturer in Abbottstown, Pa., reported that there are several factors owners take into account when making treat and chew purchases.
“Consumers are looking for simple ingredients that they can read and understand,” Smyser said. “Terms such as ‘regionally sourced,’ ‘USA made,’ ‘limited ingredients’ and ‘small-batch production’ speak volumes to pet owners.”
Doug Best, owner of the Dee-O-Gee franchise location in Missoula, Mont., said the store gets a lot of requests for chews and treats made with safe and natural ingredients.
“That’s what sets us apart from buying chews and treats at a big-box store or a grocery store—where you don’t really know what you’re getting,” he said. “Customers want that peace of mind that they’ve made a good choice for their pet.”
Rob Cadenhead, general manager of St. Francis, Wis.-based Gott Pet Products, parent company of the treat brand Charlee Bear, said that the inclusion of fruits and vegetables as ingredients in treats is another rising trend—and one that also makes pet owners feel good about fulfilling that health factor they’re seeking.
“In addition to enhancing the flavor, fruits and vegetables also provide a variety of essential vitamins and nutrients that benefit the pet’s overall health,” Cadenhead said. “Fruits and veggies are also growing in popularity among treats because they contain antioxidants and can add a feeling of fullness for pets that always feel hungry.”
Cadenhead said that the company’s Bearnola Bites are the newest addition meeting these needs.
“These crunchy granola clusters are crafted with wholesome ingredients pet parents might find in their own kitchen pantry, like real oats, honey, cranberries and blueberries,” he said. “Bearnola Bites come in four fun flavors—Pumpkin Spice, Cranberry Cobbler, Blueberry Pie and P.B. & Honey. We also recently introduced Grain Free Meaty Bites, which are raw, freeze-dried meat treats infused with real fruit or vegetables you can see. Consumers can find six varieties on shelves, including Beef Liver & Sweet Potatoes, Chicken & Blueberries, Chicken & Cranberries, Lamb & Blueberries and Salmon & Sweet Potatoes.”
Treats that offer nutritional benefits are also popular among dog owners, according to industry insiders. Plato Pet Treats, a Fresno, Calif.-based natural pet treat supplier, offers Lamb Thinkers and Mini Thinkers, which are hearty, lamb-packed meat sticks boosted with EPA and DHA to support healthy brain function, according to company officials.
Containing real New Zealand lamb as the first ingredient, the treats are made with limited ingredients, are naturally preserved and contain no artificial flavors, corn, wheat or soy. Thinkers offer substantial chewing satisfaction, while Mini Thinkers are size-appropriate for smaller dogs, officials added.
While health is an important focus, palatability cannot be overlooked, Smyser said.
“It doesn’t matter how wonderful the ingredients are if the dog will not eat it,” she added.
K9 Granola Factory’s Donut Shop launch, which included an expansion into Donut Holes and Long Johns, incorporates healthful ingredients in a fun and tasty treat, Smyser said. Bags of Mini Donuts in Honey Bun and Peanut Butter Cup Blizzard flavors as well as chew sticks in Donut Shop flavors are an expansion planned for later this year.
Displays are a great way to spark interest in a treat or chew that pet owners might not otherwise think to try. There’s no question that when prominently displayed, treats can be a last-minute purchase.
“Many times, products are attractive as impulse buys from the use of POP [point-of-purchase] floor displays,” said Tony March, marketing manager for Pet Factory, a Mundelein, Ill.-based pet chew manufacturer. “Our brands such as Twistedz and Made in USA Beefhide can be placed off shelf in floor displays for maximum exposure in all channels including seasonal packaging for holidays.”
Treats and chews also present the opportunity for retailers to generate interest in imaginative ways.
“Luckily for retailers, this is a fun category, so they have the opportunity to get really creative with displays,” said Rob Cadenhead, general manager of St. Francis, Wis.-based Gott Pet Products, parent company of Charlee Bear. “Since fruits and veggies are popular ingredients in the human food space, retailers can create a display that looks like a consumer’s kitchen. Such a display will certainly stand out and catch the eye of shoppers, while also helping to further communicate that these treats include ingredients that pet parents would find in their own diets. Proper signage in aisles is also key when conveying the many benefits that these ingredients provide.”
But sometimes it’s just variety that really ends up paying off. Regularly switching out or simply moving product around can ensure that pet owners keep coming back to see what’s new.
Jason Ast, owner of Just Dog People, a pet store in Garner, N.C., said that he keeps a constantly varying assortment of treats in the store’s “body-parts bar.”
“Customers get a kick out of the assortment, and it’s almost always different from the last time they visited,” he said. “The body-parts bar is centrally located and a main focus point within our store.”
Doug Best, owner of the Dee-O-Gee franchise location in Missoula, Mont., said that his bulk bucket displays of chews always perform well. It’s an easy grab-and-go display that inspires those impulse buys, Best said.
Best also sells locally sourced frozen raw beef marrowbones from a nearby cattle ranch.
“We sell those out of our freezer,” Best said. “Locals know the name, and it’s a treat they can feel good about.”
Connie Romano, owner of Bark Out Loud Doggie Boutique & Café in Mansfield, Texas, has a fun way of drawing attention to treats—photo ops.
Romano said that they have a lot of fun taking photos of the dogs that come into the shop and, with permission, posting them on social media.
“We offer them a variety of treats while snapping their pictures, and that generates interest,” she said. “We also have social media contests where we give away free treats.”
Aaron Merrell, CEO of Plato Pet Treats in Fresno, Calif.
Are dog owners paying closer
attention to the ingredients in their pets’ treats, and are they looking for any ingredients in particular? In what ways does Plato work to meet their expectations?
American households have been continually improving their families’ diets for quite some time now—and that includes all family members, not just the human ones. Pet parents have come to realize that the quality of the food and treats they give their pets can not only extend their lives, but also improve them, and they now see treat time as an opportunity to introduce more nutrition into their dog’s diet. That means they are seeking healthier treats made with clean, natural ingredients that have a high meat content. That’s why, at Plato Pet Treats, more than 80 percent of our treats are made with at least 75 percent meat or fish. Our recipes also are formulated with a limited number of recognizable, purposeful ingredients including real fruits and vegetables, brown rice and fish oil, and we air-dry them from 18 to 36 hours. It takes a lot longer than baking, but we think it’s worth it.