Tricks for treats

Pets—and their owners—are flipping over the latest items in the pet care aisle and begging for more.

By Richard Turcsik

Maybe you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but astute retailers and manufacturers have trained “pet parents” to look for new offerings of pet treats and other items along with old favorites on every visit to the supermarket. It’s a strategy that is paying off handsomely, as owners of guppies, Great Danes and everything in be­tween want to reward their pets with treats on a regular basis, industry of­ficials say.

“Within the pet care in­dustry, the dog snacks category has enjoyed higher than average growth,” notes Bill Salzman, director of corporate communications for St. Louis-based Nestlé Purina PetCare Co.

That’s because pet treats are on the shopping list of many pet owners, he says. “Since this is an ex­pan­dable consumption catego­ry, many consu­mers may know that they need treats, but often don’t decide how much or how many they will buy until they are in the aisle.”

Nestlé Purina PetCare recently acquired the Waggin’ Train brand to complement Purina’s existing dog snacks business. “The Waggin’ Train brand provides a new strategic growth opportunity by adding a leading marketer in the fast growing real-meat dog snacks segment to Purina’s portfolio,” Salzman says.

In early 2011, Purina is adding Waggin’ Train Country Ham, a real pork treat made with three simple ingredients and no artificial colors, preservatives, by-products or fillers; and Beggin’ Thick Cut Hickory Smoked Flavor bacon snacks to its Waggin’ Train line of Chicken Jerky Tenders, Duck Jerky Tenders, Big Blast, Western Grill and Yam Good-Chicken Wrap products.

With their high margins, trials and sell-through, manufacturers see pet treats as a bright spot for the beleaguered supermarket industry.

“Dog treats are growing in the double-digits, so there’s a lot of opportunity there,” says Tina Le Lay, senior director of marketing, dog/cat chews and treats, at The Hartz Mountain Corp., based in Secaucus, N.J. “What is helping to drive the category is that people are always looking for something new.”

Hartz Moun­tain recently conducted a focus group and asked participants to bring in everything they are giving their dogs as treats. “The table was filled with products,” Le Lay says. “They are using different kinds of treats for different uses, and a lot of different occasions for use, whether it is training, rewarding at certain times of the day, or keeping the dog busy while company is over.

“Grocers have to be really cognizant that it is really im­portant to offer that variety and make sure that your set has a nice balance of different kinds of treats,” she says.

To their health
“While many dog treats are very focused on fun and indulgence, treats for cats and dogs with added health benefits are increasing in popularity,” says Melissa Martellotti, public relations manager at Mars Petcare US, the Franklin, Tenn.-based manufacturer of Pedigree, Cesar and Temp­tations brands.

“Treats that are specialized and provide added vitamins, minerals and functional ingredients are also in­creasing in popularity,” she says, citing the Temptations line, which has formulas for hairballs, skin and coat care, indoor cats, kittens, and tartar control. Its newest offerings are Temptations Blissful Catnip, which brings the catnip flavor to the Temptations family, and Temptations MixUps, featuring three varieties in each bag.

San Francisco-based Del Monte Foods’ Milk-Bone brand is also beefing up its product offerings, with items like Milk-Bone Essen­tials Plus Optimal Health Biscuits that are designed to aid digestion, hips and joints and the immune system.

“As the category leader in pet treats we are constantly seeing growth and we are building on our heritage,” says Jason Wehner, senior brand manager, Milk-Bone.

Simple ingredients
When it comes to pet treats, Wehner sees he is noticing two major trends converging. “There is a move to more real and simpler ingredients, just like there is in human food,” he says.

To address that need, Del Monte recently redesigned its Milk-Bone Soft & Chewy Treats line. “We’ve gotten rid of the silly analogue shapes, like a chicken drumstick, and replaced it with our traditional Milk-Bone shape. We’ve also improved our recipes, using real chicken, beef and filet mignon. And we’ve redesigned the packaging, getting rid of the cartoon characters and adding a see-through window,” Wehner says.

Thin is in
Like their owners, dogs are also getting a little pudgier in the middle, with 37% of dogs being overweight, and consumers are expressing concern, Wehner says.  “Consumers like giving treats, but now they want to do that in more responsible ways,” he says.

“Many consumers and pet owners are taking steps to stay healthy and fit, and our pets can benefit from proper nutrition and staying active,” says Nestlé Purina’s Salzman.

To address weight concerns, Hampshire, Ill.-based PetAg, Inc., has introduced a line of functional treats that officials say deliver nutrients naturally and ef­fectively that are being marketed under the DogSlim, CatSlim and Rawhide Brand brands.

“The functional treat market has just exploded,” says Darlene Frudakis, president and COO of PetAg. “There are treats for hip and joint health, calming, vitamin delivery systems and many others,” she says.

Officials at TropiClean are trying to do something about dog breath. Noting that only 10% of pet owners actually do anything for their pet’s teeth, in March 2010 the Wentzville, Mo.-based company launched the TropiClean Fresh Breath line of products, which includes an easy-to-apply gel, a foam breath freshener, a water additive that kills odor causing bacteria in the dog’s stomach, and treats.

“As the dog eats these treats it helps scale off the plaque and tartar on the dog’s teeth, and since it has dill and parsley in it, it gives the dog fresh breath,” says Darin Kassebaum, vice president of marketing.

Martellotti says Mars’ Pedigree Dentastix Daily Oral Care Treats for Dogs are aimed at helping the four out of five dogs over age three that suffer from some level of gum disease.

Hartz Mountain is also targeting dental health with its Crunch ‘n Clean dog biscuits. They contain DentaShield, a patented ingredient which blocks the formation of tartar. “Consumers are aware that there is that relationship between dental health and overall health, yet they are not brushing their dog’s teeth,” Le Lay says.

Back to nature
Increasingly pet snacks appear to be going back to nature, with “all-natural” the latest buzz phrase. Cranbury, N.J.-based Loving Pets, for example, manufactures a line of treats made with 100% natural ingredients that would be a “slam dunk in grocery,” according to Erin Terjesen, public relations manager. “There are no fillers, additives, preservatives or anything of that nature,” she says, “but what really sets us apart is our quality and affordability. We are much less expensive than almost every line of natural treats that I have seen out there. This is really a great opportunity for people that are looking for the natural holistic products to give to their pets.”

Loving Pets’ products include Vegitopia, a line of 100% fruit and vegetable treats that Terjesen says lend themselves nicely to clip strips, and Vita-Hide, a 100% rawhide wrapped in chicken breast or another protein.

Since it’s owned by American Food Group, the fifth largest meat processor in the U.S., it’s only natural that Mitchell, S.D.-based Performance Pet Products would market a line of all-natural bones, including knuckle bones and femurs.

“Our line has done very well because everybody is looking for that natural, wholesome-type product to give their pets,” says Rob Cadenhead, vice president of sales and marketing.

“The bones are eye-catching, but a lot of times grocery stores will put them on the bottom shelf, but, like everything, if you can put it higher up and catch the consumer’s eye with it, the tendency is they will grab it and put it in their cart,” Cadenhead says.

Shoppers are definitely grabbing Fitness First, the latest line of edible bone treats from St. Marys, Ont.-based Omega Paw Inc. Ac­cording to CEO Terry Hanna­ford, Fitness First is the only long-lasting edible bone on the market that is not made with starches, glycerin or inert ingredients, such as plastics. “Omega Paw has a patented and proprietary system that allows us to make bones with no fillers at all,” he says.

For the birds
While concentrating on dogs and cats, most supermarkets overlook the small animal market—birds, fish, small mammals and reptiles. That’s a mistake, according to Adam Coacher, senior director of marketing at Hartz Mountain.

“Most owners like to treat their animals in some way, whether it is because they are trying to add variety to their diet or they just feel like treating their animal. It’s no different than a dog or cat own­er,” he says.

In supermarkets, the space devoted to small animals has been de­clining, but Coacher says retailers should still devote space in the set to the top six key breeds: cockatiel, parakeet and parrot for birds, and hamster, ]\ pig and rabbit.

He suggests retailers carry Krill and Tube Effects Worms for fish, seed sticks for small animals and millet for birds.

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