Treats are terrific. They enhance the human-animal bond and enable pet parents to express their love for their beloved dog, cat, critter, bird. Every pet has a treat that gets it excited with anticipation at just the thought of devouring the delicious snack.
For retailers, treats are typically the No. 2 category – behind food – among their biggest sellers year-round. Treats come with an attractive price point and can provide a variety of functions, from being used as training tools to providing pets with added nutrition.
Similar to last year, consumers are attracted to treats that they can relate to, in terms of matching their own lifestyle. As with supermarket snack aisles, pet store shelves are loaded with natural, low-ingredient treats that promote a healthy well-being. While consumers continue to seek pet treats that are simple, satisfying and healthy, high quality and innovative treats are getting the most attention from pet parents.
Nancy Bleznak, owner of Medford Pet Supplies in Medford, New Jersey, describes “good quality” treats as the ones that are most popular with her customers.
“Good quality as in good ingredients, no fillers, no junks, just simple ingredients and nothing else,” she explained. “Packaging is also important for catching the eye of customers as they walk up and down the treat aisle. And the way you present your chews and treats is also a factor in selling treats and getting repeat customers.”
Bleznak points to several brands among her best sellers in 2021, including Earth Animal (No-Hide Chews), Fromm (Crunchy O’s) and Barkworthies (Bully Sticks). Last year she started carrying Nugget’s Bone Broth Jerky, a savory jerky treat that combines immune builders with nutrient-dense whole foods. Containing bone broth, shiitake mushrooms, coconut, beets and whole leaf kelp, the treats became an instant hit the moment they hit the shelves.
K9 Granola, a family-owned treat manufacturer based out of York, Pennsylvania, is another wildly popular brand at Medford Pet Supplies. Known for its packaged treats, K9 Granola offers a line called Donut Shop that features fresh-baked gourmet donuts. However, the brand is getting the most buzz of late for its Donut Shop donut holes.
“I am selling the gourmet donuts like crazy,” Bleznak said. “I sell all of her treats, but the donuts simply fly off the counter. And K9 Granola’s new treat are these donut holes – birthday ones and regular ones – and my customers are now asking for them. It’s a relatively new product, and they’re absolutely adorable. They come in a container that looks like a parfait cup with this lid on it, so it makes a great gift.”
Stella & Chewy’s is another go-to brand for Bleznak’s customers seeking treats, especially dog parents looking for freeze-dried raw treats. From responsibly soured animal proteins to 100 percent organic fruits and vegetables, the ingredients that the company uses come from from suppliers that the brand knows and trusts.
“Stella’s raw treats have been steady sellers for me, including the Wild Weenies,” noted Bleznak, adding that the single-ingredient treats appeal to many of her health-conscious customers. “Their Jerky Bites are new for me, but I’ve already had to repeat order them. It’s all about quality and healthy ingredients with my customers. Plus limited-ingredient treats are all the rage right now.”
When it comes to healthy treats, the recent trend of collagen chews has taken off with consumers. Collagen chews are being described as a safe, beneficial, long-lasting option as a dog chew. Made from the inner layer skin, often referred to as the corium, collagen chews are more digestible than the top later of skin used to make rawhide.
“Collagen is becoming a big thing, so I have a lot of it now,” Bleznak explained. “Collagen kabobs, collagen wrapped in cheese. Those are big sellers. Everyone is saying they’re the healthy alternative to rawhide.”
As for what makes collagen-rich treats so beneficial, the dog’s digestive system breaks the collagen down into collagen peptides, which are used to create and repair cells. Collagen peptides help reduce inflammation, increase bone mass and improve skin health.
Founded in 2014 by Patrick Caprez, Natural Cravings was formed with the idea of creating a holistic line of dog treats that were sourced and made in the United States. The livestock are treated humanely while being pasture finished and raised without antibiotics.
Barking Buddha, a separate brand comprised of grass-fed, free-range, sustainably sourced dog treats sourced from South America, was launched by Caprez two years after he started Natural Cravings,
Barking Buddha’s Beef Cheeks are its No. 1 SKU, says Lucy Calamari Caprez., adding that Patrick Caprez invented the product in 2016 but it wasn’t officially introduced to the industry until March 2017 at Global Pet Expo.
“I remember Patrick holding up the product and announcing, ‘I am going to call it a Beef Cheek,’” Calamari Caprez recalled. “Barking Buddha Beef Cheeks have been a home run for us. Innovation and quality are important to us. When it comes to innovations, you have to think of what the pet owners are looking for to keep their dogs healthy, and Patrick’s always thinking ahead.”
The couple believe they have hit it out of the bark once more with their newest treat, Barking Buddha’s Vanilla Mint Beef Cheek, which is launching right now. Calamari Caprez sees this variety of beef cheek being a practical treat that’s not only got a good price point, but also has a purpose to it.
“Patrick was thinking of vanilla to expand on the flavors that we have,” Calamari Caprez said. “Other brands do vanilla varieties, but we came up with the idea of adding mint to make it a breath freshener. It’s a natural chew, it’s rich in collagen and it’s a multi-functional treat.
“The test dogs love it even more than our peanut butter recipe, which we think is just crazy,” she added.
Natural body parts are among the most popular treats, with bully sticks sitting atop the list of big sellers, followed by pig ears, tracheas and femur bones. Brands that specialize in these treats are Chasing Our Tails, Nature’s Own Pet Chews and Jones Naturals. These brands carry products that fall into the categories that customers seek out, which are single-ingredient chews that are natural and contain no additives.
Jones, which has been involved in meat processing for six generations promotes the company’s wholesome and natural stuffed bones and chews being hand-stuffed with a variety of natural recipes. In addition, the entire Jones Naturals manufacturing procedure from start to finish takes place in the U.S.A., with its products being purchased from USDA-inspected meat plants.
From a retailer’s viewpoint, how you display your body parts and natural chews make all the difference in the world.
Pet stores can get the strongest customer response from a treat bar, which features an open display of loose natural chews that include Himalayan yak chews, pig ears, bully sticks, marrow bones and other body parts,
“For me and my store, it’s always been a popular destination for my customers who have dogs,” Bleznak explained. “When it comes to these types of treats, I like having the loose product so customers can touch it and smell it. I think that’s huge.”
She gets a majority of her treat island chews and body parts from Erik Senders, owner of Mika & Sammy’s, which is based out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
“I was doing OK with my previous supplier, but I liked Erik’s other treat offerings, so I examined the loose products and decided to switch over to his line,” Bleznak recalled. “I trust Erik, he’s never steered me wrong. His quality is superior to any other products that I’ve purchased for my treat bar. The bullies cost a little more, but the yak chews actually run less expensive for the customer than the previous ones that I carried.”
One thing has Bleznak believing that she made the right decision to switch over to a new supplier: The response from her customers.
“I’ve never received a single complaint about any of his products,” said Bleznak, adding that retailers always get concerned about raising prices on anything, as she did with the bully sticks. “The customer feedback that I’ve been getting on the Mika & Sammy’s bully stick is that they last longer and don’t stink, which is an important factor for any dog owner.”
Mika & Sammy’s specializes in limited-ingredient treats, with the Himalayan Yak chews being the product that contains the most ingredients with four. In addition to his treats being all natural and containing a low number of ingredients, quality is a top priority for Senders, who admits that if he cannot get a product from what he considers the best source, “then I’m not going to get it.”
“I’m not going to settle,” he continued. “This has been my mantra since Day One: I’m not going to give someone else’s dog something that I wouldn’t give to my dog.”
When COVID-19 took hold in early 2020, it impacted lives of pet parents and the pet industry. It also affected the suppliers that Senders had been relying on, which forced him to adapt to the changing environment.
“The treats are still the core of our business, but now we move a lot of body parts and bones,” said Senders, whose brand became known for his line of dehydrated treats, which carry such colorful names as Philly Chicken Cheese, Uncle Justy’s Just Chicken, Poppin’ Peanut Butter and Paw Lickin’ Pumpkin Chicken. “When COVID hit, we had to switch things up. A lot of the proteins we were getting before COVID – the beef liver, the chicken – they became really hard to get, so we were forced to shimmy a bit and focus elsewhere.”
In fact, Senders believes luck was on his side, as he had just launched his Himalayan yak chews in January 2020.
“January was our first shipment, and now we’re very serious about that line,” he recalled. “We get them shipped in from Nepal. If it’s not from Nepal, it’s not real. I know the people I get it from, and it’s the real yak cheese. It’s a family-owned and operated business, just like we are. I met them at Global . I’m at the show, and I go to sit down and eat [in the food court]. I sit down and they ended up sitting down with me because there were no other seats. We started to talk and we ended forming this great relationship.”
Another brand that has established a reputation for making high quality dog and cat treats is PureTreats, which was founded in 2005. Built on a core principle of asking pet parents to examine its pure, natural ingredients list, the manufacturer has built a loyal following of its PureBites brand with consumers who want only the best for their dog or cat.
All PureBites dog and cat treats are made with only one, two or three ingredients. Made with human-grade ingredients that are sourced in the United States, PureBites treats are pure, natural and grain-free. The brand’s freeze-dried treats are high in protein, low in calorie and support healthy skin and coat.
“PureBites offers pet parents the peace of mind knowing that they are buying treats made with ingredient labels that have one to three ingredients and that are easy to read and understand,” said Andrea Bourne, marketing manager for PureBites. “All PureBites treats are made using a delicate process to ensure only the fewest whole ingredients are included.”
As any cat parent will tell you, things can get tricky with it comes to treats that their companion animal will accept. Depending on who you ask, cats aren’t exactly impressed by innovation or creativity, rather they respond to treats that have a flavor they crave.
“It’s really hard to get a palatable treat for cats,” Bleznak noted. “You know cats, they’re very particular.”
This is why brands like PureBites, Tiki Cat and Inaba are getting so much attention with cat parents. For Bleznak, the Soft & Chewy line is her No. 1 cat treat with her customers. The grain-free treat is low calorie (only three calories per piece) and comes in two varieties, chicken and tuna.
Inaba’s popularity has never been in question, and its Churu line of lickable puree treats has caught the attention of cat parents. Lickable puree cat treats are arguably the fastest growing form of cat treats, with pet parents quickly adding them to their companion cat’s treat repertoire. As with all treats, quality ingredients are important to pet parents, and if the treat contains human-grade ingredients, that’s a plus.
Lickable puree treats typically come in pouches or single-serving tubes that let pet parents squeeze the contents out gradually for their cat to lick from the pack. High in moisture and low in calories, these treats are a healthy treat option. In addition, their creamy texture make them useful as a food topper, as well.
According to Bleznak, Medford Pet Supply carries a few brands of lickable treats, with the Fussie Cat line of purees, which come in eight different varieties, being most popular with her customers.
Today’s manufacturers are listening to consumers as they continue to evolve and produce healthy, delectable treats. As a result, retailers have the ability to offer their customers a wide variety of new treats that they can purchase to spoil their fur baby. As the current demands from consumers include wholesome, natural, limited-ingredient treats, store owners can rest assured that there will be plenty of options for them to stock, which will result in full shopping baskets and increased sales. And if there are those customers that are apprehensive to take the plunge on a new treat?
“Some companies will give us sample bags of treats,” Bleznak noted. “Fifty to 100 in each bag. We’ll give a sample or two to the customers and tell them “Here, take a couple home with you.’ They think that’s the greatest thing in the world. If you can get a few bags of samples from a treat company, and you give 2 to 25 customers, somebody’s coming back and buying them. That’s been a big help for me.”
When it comes to offering samples, manufacturers like Senders are happy to oblige, as they appreciate the effort that retailers have been making during these uncertain times.”
“During the pandemic, as a country, we went through a lot of stuff that’s political, there was a lot of people at each other’s throats, and it was nice to see the industry come together and support each other,” Senders concluded. “And our consumers really stepped up to the plate to support us even more. There was a lot of love that existed in this industry.”
It’s hard to argue against treats being the most adored pet product for both retailers and consumers. Treats offer incredible value for retailers, as they come with an attractive price point, healthy margins and inspire impulse sales. They also give pet parents another way to spoil their beloved companion animal and shower it with love. It’s a win for everyone involved.