New formats and ingredients might get tails wagging, but pet owners
insist treats must be healthful and all natural.
BY KEITH LORIA
The natural treats category continues to evolve, driven by the rising popularity of new formats and novel proteins. One thing, however, remains the same: Pet owners are increasingly seeking high-quality and nutritious options.
“Our philosophy is and has always been about creating nutri-
ent-rich, slow-cooked pet foods that improve overall health and
longevity. Treats are no different, made with the same all-natural
ingredients as our life-stages foods,” said Jeff Bateman, regional
sales manager for Blackwood Pet Food in Lisbon, Ohio. “Ingredients
are sourced from suppliers whom we know and trust—everything
from duck, chickpea and sweet potato to chicken breast, blueberry
Lara Gusa, brand manager at Blue Dog Bakery in Seattle, said the
most significant trend she sees in natural treats and chews is the rapid
growth in sales for meat snacks and an increased commitment from
brands to provide high-quality, premium meat treats.
“Treats that are free from artificial flavors and colors, and free from
fillers such as wheat, grains or soy, are quickly gaining popularity,”
she said. “By supporting retailers that showcase their natural treats
and chews, we are able to simplify our connections with consumers
and make it easier for them to treat their pets better.”
Ann Hudson, vice president of Whitebridge Pet Brands in St. Lou-
is, said treats are among the fastest-growing segments in pet specialty,
with the two most increased formats in the natural treat category be-
ing jerkies and other meat-based treats. But no matter the format, pet
owners are demanding full disclosure from manufacturers about the
treats they purchase.
“Transparency is important to pet owners; they want to know
how the treats are made, where the ingredients come from and what
we are doing to ensure the health of their pets,” she said. “We try to
provide all the information a retailer needs to have those kinds of
Jim Castleberry, director of merchandising for Pet Food Express, a
chain of stores in California, said the dog treat category is very import-
ant for independent pet specialty retailers as these products provide
add-on sales and repeat store visits.
“Customers that shop at our stores are looking for the best treats
for their pets, not the grocery or mass brands with bad ingredients,”
he said. “They normally shop between types and brands of treats but
also focus on specific ones we have recommended in the past. This
makes it all the more important to carry the right ones—hopefully
those that sell well and, at the same time, are not heavily discount-
ed by all the predatory internet retailers.”
Cristina Kulkowsky, retail operations manager for Healthy Spot,
which has stores throughout California, said a rise in millennial cus-
tomers has led to a greater interest in natural treats and chews for
“Today’s pet parents are treating their pets better than ever before.
They are moving away from traditional brands and seeking out better-for-you products for their pets,” she said. “American-made jerky
is one of our best-sellers and is very popular with our customers.”
Pattie Boden, owner of Animal Connection in Charlottesville, Va.,
is seeing fewer boxed biscuits, and more jerky and freeze-dried training treats move off her shelves.
ON THE SHELVES
Carp-based treats are one of among the newest introductions on the market and are
trending, said Cynthia Dunston Quirk, owner of Scout & Zoe’s in Anderson, Ind.
“We are fortunate to be on the forefront of this trend with our newly released Carpius
Maximus Carp Spears and Planks for Dogs and Cats,” she said. “Carp is a novel protein
that is highly nutritious for our furry pals. High in omega- 3 fatty acids and without any of
the heavy metals or mercury that other fish species contain, carp is a great nutritional
choice for dogs and cats.”
St. Louis-based Whitebridge Pet Brands recently launched a selection of air-dried 100
percent meat treats in its Tiki Aloha Petites line. Each is sourced completely in the USA,
France or New Zealand, depending on the protein—chicken, beef, duck and lamb.
“These are specifically targeted towards small breed dogs—now around 60 percent
of the population and still growing,” said vice president Ann Hudson. “In addition, we are
preparing for a relaunch of our Dogswell line of functional meat treats. Formats include
Jerky, Strips, Griller and Biscuits.”
Blackwood Pet Food, based in Lisbon, Ohio, recently introduced treats that are available in 4-ounce, re-sealable bags, with recipes such as Duck, Chickpea and Sweet Potato,
Chicken Breast, Blueberry and Pumpkin, and Catfish, Chickpea and Kale.
“All Blackwood brand treats are made in an EU-certified facility using only fresh
ingredients that we source from vendors in the U.S.—another commitment of our brand
and company,” said Jeff Bateman, regional sales manager.