It’s hard to say who enjoys treats more—the pet eating the treat or the owner who gets to give the pet the treat. Feeding pets treats is an owner’s way of rewarding, bonding with, and showing love to the pet. Pets, well, they simply love the taste. Because owners love giving treats and pets love receiving them, treats are a win-win for the human-animal bond. And because of the positivity surrounding treats, there are a lot of treat options out there. Pet stores have entire aisles dedicated to treats. Knowing this, it is of course imperative that a company makes itself stand out on the shelves.
“Each brand package only has three seconds to WOW a customer, and the power of design is what helps break through the clutter,” said Rebecca Tomala, vice president of Client & Creative Services at Matrix Partners, a full-service marketing firm for the pet industry that has been designing award-winning treat and pet food packaging for over 20 years.
A company can tell customers its message through its packaging—what it believes in, what sets it apart from other companies, why an owner should buy its treat. And each company chooses to do so in different ways, with different design elements.
“The brand’s message and unique selling proposition must make an instant connection with potential customers,” Tomala said. “A well-designed package can do this and actually enhance the message. High quality imagery and design can also enhance a brand’s overall perception.”
Along with imagery, photography, fonts and copy are ways manufacturers can tell the brand’s story in a way that is relevant to the consumer. This is what Matrix Partners keeps in mind when designing its clients’ treat packaging—like the Look Who’s Happy treat line, which won a Graphic Design USA Award. The firm has to deliver a brand’s message in a way that is relatable and memorable to both retailers and consumers, according to Tomala, and that’s something that all companies should strive for with their products’ package designs.
The jerky and burgers 4 Paws Butcher Shop makes are 100 percent sourced and made in the United States with USDA proteins and vegetables. To relay this natural, healthy message to retailers and consumers, 4 Paws Butcher Shop went with packaging with a muted tone, according to founder and CEO Len Horowitz.
“We wanted to get a true natural look in a package. Sometimes simple is more, and having [the package we created] we felt would be best to differentiate ourselves in the market,” Horowitz said. “There’s lots of manufacturers that put whole stories on the packaging, but too much overloads the customer when they have no more than a five-second glance at a package before they might decide to pick it up.”
4 Paws Butcher Shop packaging has keywords like “human grade,” “natural” and “made and sourced in the USA” on it, Horowitz said, words the company thought would be “best to bring that potential client to the packaging, pick it up, look at the back, see the ingredient panel and realize, ‘This is different.’”
According to Horowitz, the simple packaging has received “great accolades from retailers” and allows the jerky and burger treats to stand out on the shelf.
Besides being a reward or tasty snack, many treats can provide pets with added health benefits, and those are the keywords with which some treat companies choose to market their treats. For example, Royal Pet has treats in its Chewy’s Rawhide Shoppe that the company advertises as being able to reduce plaque and tartar buildup, and the line’s ice cream cone-shaped treat comes in an ice cream cone-shaped package.
Fluker’s Medley Treat for aquatic turtles is presented in a clear tub so owners can see everything inside. It is a “freeze-dried blend of river shrimp, mealworms and crickets” and “provides essential proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals” according to the company’s site.
Scratch and Peck Feeds offers a range of treats for chickens, each that boasts its added health benefits on the back of the packaging. The company’s Cluckin’ Good Grubs are dried black soldier fly larvae, according to the company site. Similar to Fluker’s treats, the entire package is clear so that owners can see the larvae inside.
According to its package, the Grub treat can especially be helpful when a chicken is molting and gives chickens the nutrition of free ranging even when they can’t. According to Tomala, today’s consumers are demanding that more of their pet treat manufacturers offer made-in-the-USA treats with a clean label, limited ingredients and locally sourced proteins. And if a treat has these qualities, companies must put that on the outside.
“Minimally processed, sustainably sourced, on-trend ingredients all contribute to a brand’s unique story,” she said. “If a brand has the opportunity to tout any of these features, it is a necessity to promote on the package.”
Tomala said that “clean label” and “non-GMO” are packaging keywords to which customers are especially drawn, becoming more important than “organic” and “all-natural” claims.
“Minimal processing, limited ingredient treats, sustainable and healthy are all really great benefits a brand should communicate if they can,” she added.
Appealing Design Elements
The self-proclaimed hippie dog treat maker, Down Dog Snacks, has undergone several packaging redesigns over the three years it’s been in business, starting with its original craft bags with handmade labels that were printed out of a computer, to a white rice paper bag with a different circular color label for each flavor, to today’s vibrant, colorful packaging. Each of the five playfully-named flavors has a different colored packaging. For example, Peanut Buddha Bones is in a bright blue while Peas, Love and Carrots is in a bold green packaging. Put all five flavors together on a shelf, and a retailer can create a rainbow effect.
With its names, logo and new packaging, Down Dog Snack wants to show that you can be fun and healthy at the same time, according to its founder Jessie Fliss. All of the treats are grain-free and plant-based, made with recognizable ingredients, and Fliss is proud Down Dog Snacks offers “both great branding and quality ingredients.”
In the year or so the newest packaging has been out, Fliss said sales have increased by 40 percent and that the company is getting more recognition.
Zuke’s has also undergone a recent treat packaging redesign to better reflect its brand.
“At Zuke’s, we strongly identify with the spirit of outdoor adventure, and we wanted our packaging to better reflect this,” said David Rizzo, Zuke’s director of operations. “From photos featuring local pet lovers and their pups, to a topography map of the Durango mountain area which serves as the bags’ background, every detail of the new design is authentic and further reflects our outdoor lifestyle and ties to our headquarters in Durango, Colorado.”
Zuke’s also wanted to make customers’ shopping experience easier with the new packaging.
“We added design elements like a sourcing flag in the upper left corner and color-coded formulas and product families to make it easier for shoppers to recognize their favorite treat and flavors,” Rizzo said.
The changes have had positive reactions.
“Retailers really appreciate how engaging the new packaging is and how easy it is for customers to find their favorite treats,” Rizzo said. “The reduced packaging size also allows retailers to display more product without taking up additional shelf space.”
Another important design element for many companies is having a window. When Down Dog Snacks and Zuke’s were planning their redesigns, both felt it necessary to focus on the package’s window.
“A window is so important. People need to see the size, the shape,” Fliss said about Down Dog Snacks. “And also, because we bake all our treats, handmade in small batches, you can actually see the blueberries, the peas, the carrots, so you know it’s not processed. So [keeping the window] was super important to me.”
Zuke’s expanded its window size with its redesign in order “to enhance the transparency of what’s inside,” Rizzo said. “Below the window are highlighted product features and benefits so shoppers can quickly see what makes Zuke’s healthy and unique.”
Inaba Ciao has a window on its Grilled Fillet packages, as well, giving customers a peek at what’s inside the packaging, which has special oxygen-blocking properties to protect cats’ health, according to Diane Dale, who’s part of sales and marketing for Inaba Foods (USA), Inc. Inaba Ciao also utilizes a cartoon spokescat on its packaging as a fun and easy way for customers to remember the brand, she said.
The company’s other treat, Churu Purée, is packaged in a similar style to kids’ yogurt.
“It is a no-mess package that allows for the treat to be fed directly to the cat, and the cat can hold the package,” Dale said.
Instead of offering a window, Kennelmaster Foods uses an entirely clear package for its Doggie Chicken Chips. The 100 percent chicken tenderloin and chicken breast treats come in three package sizes, all of which feature a fun, tail-wagging cartoon dog to promote the “finger nippin’ good” treats.
Earth Animal also decided on a completely clear packaging for its No-Hide Chews, Brushed on Benefits and USA Chicken Strips lines.
“Transparency is very important to us. And using clear packaging shows true transparency of what we put into our treats,” Earth Animal Vice President of Brand and Communications Stephanie Volo said. “Pet parents today are savvy, smart and informed. They demand honesty and transparency, and they want to know exactly what is in the products that they are giving to their beloved animals for consumables, especially those that are supposed to off er nutrition and additional health benefits… And we want to show that our products are made with limited but important ingredients and that they truly are pure and natural.”
Earth Animal’s Oven Baked Cookies have a more playful feel than the other treat packaging. Though still nutritious, Volo said the company wanted to set these apart as a fun “treating” treat.
“We wanted to have some fun with them and show the ingredients in a less serious way… And, because these are also given more as gifts than our other treats, we wanted them to be bright, happy and colorful,” she said.
Earth Animal invites feedback on its packaging from its retail partners and customers and uses it when designing. The company has received positive reaction to both its clear and colorful styles of packaging.
“We want to make sure our packaging not only resonates with the pet parent, but first with our retailer selling that product,” Volo said. “Our retailers appreciate the clear packaging so much and know that this packaging helps sell the products more easily for them. And, in a sea of treats, we are told that it helps to have completely different packaging—clear bags and brightly colored boxes.”
Companies also have to consider how retailers will present their treats to customers, something Innovation Pet did when designing its cat treat packaging. The company’s Kit Cat line offers two types of treats: fillets and purees. The fillets are 100 percent natural and are an actual piece of chicken or fish while the purees can be used as a stand-alone treat or a meal topper, and both cat-shaped packages were made so retailers could display them in any way they wish.
“Retailers merchandise cat treats in many different ways. We made the Kit Cat treat line packaging universal so that it would fit into the different retail sets,” said Innovation Pet Executive Vice President Tim Taft, whose goal it was to bring innovation and fun to the cat treat category with the Kit Cat line. “It can be pegged, and we have shelf display boxes as well. As every retailer knows, cat treats are a great impulse item so getting the treats off the shelf in front of the consumer will drive trial and get the consumer in the habit of supplementing their pet’s diet with healthy treats. We also offer a wide variety of promotional merchandising options as well, including clip strips, floor displays, counter displays and power wings.”
Tucker’s, maker of treats, chews and raw and frozen diets, has a Grab & Go display option for its Whole Chicken Breast treats. Available in chicken, chicken and bacon, and chicken and sweet potato, the boxes are available in 45- and 90-count, according to the company’s website.
“Treating your dog to a delicious treat should be easy. That’s why we created the Grab & Go treats. Individually vacuum sealed, in a portable format. Ready to go, when you need it most,” Tucker’s explained on its site.
These different types of displays can help in making up for the fact that the treat category is a crowded marketplace. Realizing this—and that retailers only have a limited amount of shelf space—4 Paws Butcher Shop offers retailers a POS display, a butcher block table, a display case, a blackboard-inspired sign and scales for those that want to do bulk. Horowitz suggests that retailers can even make a butcher shop within their store. Or, if room allows, retailers can make a special section for all-natural, high-end treats to further differentiate treats.
Vital Essentials has its Freeze-Dried VE RAW BAR, “a smorgasbord of premium freeze-dried snack selections,” the company said when it first announced the display back in 2016. The setup features a neon sign to draw attention to the more than 10 snack selections, branded containers, bags and tongs.
Vital Essentials states that more than 1,500 independent pet retailers have installed the VE RAW BAR in locations throughout the United States. And the company’s marketing director, Melissa Olson, says a frequent comment Vital Essentials hears from retailers is that the VE RAW BAR is the best investment the store has made.
According to Olson, store owners and managers report that they generate nearly 50 percent more in revenue, on average, from their eye-catching VE RAW BAR than they do from other treat lines in that same square footage.
Approximately 80 percent of Woof Gang Bakery’s franchise owners have the VE RAW BAR display in their stores, and the retailers’ treat sales have increased 10 percent monthly over the past two years at store locations that have the VE RAW BAR.
“The RAW BAR has added a whole new experience to shopping at our stores! Customers are accustomed to the typical chews, but the added feature of freeze drying those products allow our franchisees to tap into the growing freeze-dried market,” Woof Gang Bakery’s Samantha Cohen said. “In addition, the unique product offerings (duck heads, pig snouts, turkey wings) bring an element of surprise for customers!”
With a relatively small footprint, the display also gives retailers flexibility, allowing store owners to utilize spaces like a wall, corner or island area that would otherwise go unused, to generate incremental sales.
“We’ve seen some really unique displays of our VE RAW BAR. Retailers get super creative,” Olson said. “We receive photos weekly by email and social media from store owners proudly showcasing their VE RAW BAR displays.”
Some of the more interesting displays Vital Essentials has seen include custom built risers or shelves featuring the freeze-dried items in their canisters with the neon sign hung from the ceiling. Many stores will hang the neon sign in their front window to draw in pet parents and will place the VE RAW BAR toward the back of the store to bring shoppers through their aisles, according to Olson.
Packaging and in-store displays are crucial, but 4 Paws Butcher Shop also recognizes the importance of web display—the initial place many retailers will search for, see and learn about the treats. Interested retailers want to get a better look at what’s inside the packaging that they will potentially be displaying. The site has crisp, large images of the jerky and burgers users can zoom in on.
And while packaging and displays are solid ways to entice customers to buy treats, there’s nothing quite like giving them the ability to sample them.
“I think what’s really important is we always give samples with every single order for [retailers] to share, to sample not only for their dogs, but themselves,” Fliss said. “The more samples, the more you can really share what our product is and how it works out.”