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The Trend of No

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With nearly 80 million dogs in the United States, the dog treat segment is an important one for retailers to maximize.

According to the 2011-2012 American Pet Products Association’s National Pet Owners Survey, dog owners surveyed said they spend about $70 annually on food treats, and trends in the dog treat segment follow trends in consumer preferences for their own snack and packaged foods.

As consumers become more aware of the ingredients stocked on the supermarket shelves, that knowledge affects how consumers shop for their dogs. The concern for better nutrition combined with a consumer’s desire to spoil their dogs has resulted in a growing segment: gourmet dog treats.

Historically, the gourmet dog treat market was comprised of small and locally-owned manufacturers. Dog bakeries dot the urban landscape. And while it’s been a niche business, it’s expanding rapidly along with consumer demand for healthy, high-quality treats.

Driven by consumer demand, large-scale pet food companies have recently entered the gourmet treat segment.

For example, Hill’s launched their Ideal Balance line, which is their natural product line and includes chicken and beef jerky strips.

Simultaneously, some smaller producers have gained widespread distribution. Brands like American Jerky, Cloud Star and Dogswell started small, but now have widely-available products.

However, it’s important to consider, and leverage, the mom-and-pop roots of gourmet dog treat production.

According to an August 2011 Small Business Saturday Consumer Pulse from American Express OPEN, spending is increasing at locally-owned small business. Retailers can take advantage of that spending trend by stocking locally-sourced gourmet dog treats.

For example, in Indiana, Mister Buck’s Genuinely Good Pet Food Company produces a line of gourmet dog treats that are becoming available in pet stores and grocery stores across the state. Consumers interested in supporting a local business are drawn to the brand because they are based in Indiana. Likewise, California-based Grandma Lucy’s is a popular brand available through nearly 20 different pet retailers.

There are several factors propelling the gourmet treat segment forward. Consumers are becoming savvy about the role nutrition plays in overall health, and that translates into their pet food purchases. Trends in gourmet dog treats are following trends in consumer grocery purchases.

A Driving Force

For example, one of the biggest trends driving the gourmet dog treat segment is grain free.

“Almost every brand that had a re-launch in the past year is releasing grain-free versions,” Wag.com said. “They are replacing oats and wheat with chickpeas or sweet potato. You’ll hear this wave of products referred to as the ‘no’s’: no corn, no wheat, no soy, no artificial preservatives.”

The grain-free trend emerged alongside an increased awareness of food sensitivities and allergies – in both people and pets. Experts predict the demand for grain-free gourmet dog treat options to increase.

Cloud Star offers two grain-free versions of their popular Buddy Biscuits. The crunchy version is available in three flavors: Smooth Aged Cheddar, Rotisserie Chicken and Homestyle Peanut Butter. The chewy version is available in four flavors: Slow Roasted Beef, Smooth Aged Cheddar, Rotisserie Chicken and Homestyle Peanut Butter. In both options, Cloud Star offers retailers a discount for purchasing in bulk.

Other pet food brands are introducing grain-free gourmet treat options, as well. For example, Innova produces two grain-free treats as part of their PRIME line. One is a chicken formula, and the other is beef and lamb.

Another ingredient-driven trend in gourmet dog treats is an increase in products containing antioxidants. Antioxidants have become popular for their ability to help the body fight disease and prevent infection.

Treats that incorporate fruits and vegetables that are known antioxidants are becoming increasingly more popular. BLUE launched a product line called Super Bars that contains ingredients like blueberries, pomegranates, cranberry, and pumpkin – all popular antioxidants in human food.

The brand Get Naked, owned by Natural Polymer International Corp., also offers antioxidant-rich treats. Their treats are dental chews, combining functionality with nutrition, a mix that appeals to health-conscious consumers.

Already, brands are capitalizing on this shift in consumer preference.

In addition to the Hill’s Ideal Balance line, there are other large companies entering this arena or expanding upon existing offerings. Companies like Merrick that have always produced natural food options are expanding their treat options to accommodate consumer demand. While these bigger brands are expanding their offerings, this is one area in which smaller companies shine.

For example, the Barker Street Bakery in Houston, Texas, offers all-natural treats that are handmade and decorated on site. Available nationally, Pink Dog Bakery makes a line of natural cupcakes and biscuits, and according to the company, they have grown to be one of the largest providers of gourmet dog treats in the country.

As the demand for gourmet dog treats grows, manufacturers are answering that demand with increased offerings.

- Maggie Marton

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