The year 2022 started with consumers feeling the pain of rising prices among pet products. The January 2022 survey of pet owners by Packaged Facts reported that 20 percent of pet parents were facing “significant challenges” from the rising cost of pet food. In addition, a 2022 survey of over 1,000 U.S. dog parents by Rover, an online pet marketplace, noted that 71 percent of respondents claim they are spending more on dog food and treats this year, and 73 percent worry about prices continuing to grow.
However, despite the rising costs of dog food and treats, pet parents are making it a mission to provide high-grade nutrition for their dogs and spoiling them with treats, which often come in handy as training tools. It should come as no surprise that today’s consumers are more discerning than ever. They are taking an interest in the nutritional content, ingredient list, country of origin and protein sources of their dog’s food and treats.
Although the natural diet is appealing, it also is one that many consider to be unspecified in its definition. According to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), the term “natural” for feed products and ingredients is defined as one that is derived from plant, animal or mined sources, not produced by or subject to a chemically synthetic process, and not containing any additives or processing aids that are chemically synthetic except in amounts that might occur in good manufacturing processes. Therefore, with consumers typically seeking fewer, more recognizable ingredients, it makes sense that they’d seek out “natural” dog foods that contain no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives.
Innovation has been a driving force in dog food, and ZIWI has made an impact in this category thanks to its development of air-dried pet nutrition. The brand’s award-winning dog food recipes are handcrafted in small batches in its own New Zealand kitchens, using only high-quality ingredients. Each PeakPrey recipe is carefully crafted to match a dog’s biological needs from ethical and sustainable sourcing of meats from New Zealand.
Each ZIWI recipe includes industry leading and unmatched inclusions of 96 percent meat, organs, bones and seafood to reflect the whole-prey carnivore diet. They also feature up to a 40 percent superfood blend, which includes New Zealand green-lipped mussel that contains glucosamine and chondroitin for optimum joint mobility. The mussels also contain Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids which promote healthy skin and coat. The recipes also include cold-washed green tripe to help support healthy digestion and increase palatability for even the pickiest eaters.
Earlier this year, ZIWI opened a state-of-the-art kitchen in Napier, New Zealand, as part of the company’s plan for future expansion. In addition, with the manufacturing plant’s innovative technologies to streamline processes and improve sustainability, ZIWI is setting its future up for impactful product innovation with a minimal ecological footprint. This includes solar power, technology to clean the air from our dryers, the use of sustainable timber for a substantial portion of the wood paneling and furniture, as well as native plantings and water collection to promote the growth of the surrounding ecology.
A sign of ZIWI’s growth and success can be found in the brand’s recent purchase of New Zealand-based Freeze Dried Foods (FDF) and its subsidiary Kiwigarden LTD. According to ZIWI managing director Richard Lawrence, the investment builds on ZIWI’s successful brand strategy of owning and investing in processing technology to meet demand for its premium products. This can be achieved with access to FDF’s patented continuous freeze-drying process.
Annamaet has been producing holistic and natural pet foods for more than 30 years. Located in Hatfield, Pennsylvania, the company is built on optimum nutrition using real science. The company’s product line includes more than a dozen dog food formulas, a treat line and four supplements.
“Kibble has evolved from the cereal-based biscuit of the early years to the meat-based formulas with great life stage nutraceutical inclusions of today,” explained Annamaet founder Robert Downey. “Innovative, science-based companies like Annamaet are upping the game with new manufacturing processes that allow for a slower cook for better digestion and stability of nutrients. Kibble has stood the test of generations of successful feeding, and it has evolved thru the most science-based updates to meet the ever-evolving discoveries in pet nutrition and sustainable ingredients.”
In Pet Age’s 2022 Food & Treat Guide, manufacturers were asked what they viewed as the top priorities for consumers for food and treats. Downey’s response pointed to the growing trend of pet humanization playing a role in the higher standards among consumers when it comes to food and treats.
“Pet parents today are much more concerned with the health and well-being of their beloved pets, especially the quality of ingredients,” Downey noted.
Rick Ruffolo, CEO and president of Phelps Pet, a leading private label and branded manufacturer of dog treats, mirrored that sentiment.
“Consumers repeatedly have demonstrated they want to treat their dogs as a member of the family,” he explained. “That means they read labels and want treats with specialty premium ingredients. They know and trust the USDA Certified Organic seal. They are looking for key claims such as Marine Stewardship Council certified salmon, products with functional benefits, or recipes with recognizable “super food” ingredients such as blueberries, cranberries and flaxseed. Some are looking for other benefits such as “upcycled ingredients” or made in the U.S.A. Of course, in the end, the only thing that really matters is whether their dogs love the treats.”
Founded in 1966, Phelps Pet Products is an innovator in clean-label, organic and sustainable dog treat production. First-to-market with 100 percent plant-based, meatless jerky treats, as well as the first dog treat manufacturer awarded membership to the Upcycled Food Association, Phelps is the “behind-the-scenes” contract manufacturing partner to some of the biggest and most influential retailers and brands in the market. Headquartered in Rockford, Illinois, its diverse selection of “Made in the U.S.A.” customized jerky treats can be found in over 50,000 retail stores throughout North America and in dozens of other countries.
When it comes to pet specialty retailers looking to maximize dog treat sales, Ruffolo’s advice is to “make it simple.”
“Your shoppers already have chosen to come to your pet store; they are there to buy,” he added. “Make it easy with full, organized and well-merchandised shelves with easy navigation. For example, don’t spread dog products all over the store. Focus them in a section to make it easier/quicker to shop. Create “events” that capture shopper attention and imagination such as Disney’s 100th anniversary in 2023 with a Table Scraps Disney dog treats display featuring Mickey or celebrate the holidays with Disney Christmas Bark featuring Olaf and the characters from Frozen.”
As with dog food, innovation has played a role in the advancement of the dog treat sector. NPIC, which was the Pet Age Brand of the Month for January 2022, has made it a priority to focus on the nutritional needs of dogs – from puppies to seniors – when it comes to its line of Get Naked treats and N-Bone dental chews.
Sam Chen, sales director at NPIC, takes pride in Get Naked being an award-winning pioneer that is a leader in the functional treats category. The brand has identified several key areas, such as joint, digestion and weight management, that are critical to dog wellness. The company owns its state-of-the-art, 160,000-square-food facility, which is SQF Level 3 certified, which enables NPIC to launch such innovative products as the N-Bone Puppy Teething Ring.
“Innovation is the key to growth in almost every category,” Chen said in the January Brand of the Month profile. “And we at NPIC know it’s even more so in the pet treats category, based on many conversations we have had with our business partners. Our approach is three-fold: a focus on the customer needs, an understanding of the category dynamics, and the continuous improvement of our capabilities. We think of them together as a Venn diagram, and the intersection is where we want to dedicate our resources from every department so that we can quickly go from the concept phase to actual products on the shelves of our retailer partners.”
Get Naked formulas include antioxidant care, calming care, digestive care, fitness care, joint care, puppy care, senior care, and skin and coat care. Each option is formulated with wholesome ingredients and free from artificial preservatives or colors, grains and GMOs. They include ingredients that align with human food and wellness trends, contain higher nutritional values and improved palatability. Flavors of these treats include blueberry and chicken, maple and chicken, pineapple and chicken, pumpkin and chicken, salmon and chicken, apple and chicken, and coconut and chicken.
When it comes to dog treats, collagen might be the hottest trend of late, with several brands leading the way in this category. Collagen, a protein found in the skin’s inner layer called the corium, is one of the crucial components in an animal’s connective tissue.
TDBBS, makers of Barkworthies, is a company that sees the benefits of collagen in the dog chew market. The brand harvests the collagen directly from the corium layer, which is made almost entirely of collagen. The brand cuts the corium away and slow bakes to retain the nutrients. According to Barkworthies, the benefits of collagen in every dog’s diet are critical to them staying happy, healthy and living longer.
“From Moo to Chew” is a marketing campaign for Barkworthies, which was created to deliver premium products free from artificial preservatives, additives and ingredients. The brand offers several varieties of collagen chews, including Daily Health Boost and Collagen Plus, which are designed to support dental health, reduce stress and anxiety and provide a positive outlet for mental stimulation while reducing destructive chewing. In addition, the brand’s Chicken Snapsticks are another Barkworthies treat that contains collagen-rich proteins. According to the brand, the treats were “devoured by 100 percent of dogs in an independent palatability test.”
Barking Buddha Pet is another brand that has collagen products among its line of dog treats. Most recently, the brand released its Longlastics Collagen Chews, which – as the name implies – are long-lasting dental chews that are rich in collagen. With 99.4 percent digestibility, 94.8 percent protein and 100 percent beef collagen, Longlastics have such benefits as promoting healthy teeth, skin and coat in addition to improved joint health.
Frankly Pet has also been launching a variety of collagen chews to join the company’s exiting line of rawhide-free and U.S.-made treats. Formulated with 98 percent collagen from U.S. cattle, the dog chews are highly digestible and serve as an alternative to traditional rawhide.
Most recently, Franky Pet launched Cheddar Cheeze Beefy Puffs, which are light and crisp snacks with a cheddar cheese flavor. They’re made with 100 percent traceable U.S. cattle and packed with collagen. According to Alan Snyder, chief operating officer at Frankly Pet, the brand is confident that dogs will love its chews, which can be fed as a training treat or on-the-go snack. In addition, he sees consumers aligning with Frankly Pet’s mission, which is to create fun and unique treats and chews that offer puppies and dogs mental and physical stimulation.
“Frankly Pet was created as America’s alternative to traditional rawhide,” he added. “We believe in providing the highest quality products that are made in the U.S.A. with full traceability. We also strive to be eco-friendly and have made it a priority to employ sustainable practices throughout our operation to help protect the planet. We believe our mission has allowed us to establish trust and a deeper connection with our customers.”
It’s that connection with customers – in this case, dog parents – that is important, not only for manufacturers but retailers as well. That’s why pet store owners need to provide the dog food and treats that will turn new customers into return customers.
In the dog food and treat segments, variety is essential, especially considering the different forms that exist. It’s crucial to stock food in raw, frozen, freeze-dried, canned and kibble.
Without question, the same goes for treats. Both in the treat aisle and at the register, dog treats are the “impulse” item, and not many consumers can pass up a chance to spoil their pup with such decadent treats as Cloud Star’s Wag More Bark Less Sandwich Cookies or K-9 Granola Factory Long Johns. It’s treats like those that tap into the pet humanization trend where pet product mimic those that are popular with their pet parents.
Cloud Star offers its Birthday Bites, Meatballs and Jerky, which comes in such recipes as Philly Cheese Steak, K.C. Style BBQ and Texas Style BBQ. In addition, the brand has two varieties of Iced Treats, one with natural banana and another with natural peanut butter. The human-grade, dairy-free iced treats are packed with probiotics and gently churned to create an irresistible snack.
Meanwhile, K9 Granola Factory has made a name for itself from drool-worthy dog treats, which are baked fresh daily, hand decorated and resemble donuts and donut holes. A sampling of donut names includes S’mores, Ice Cream Sundae, Cotton Candy, Jelly Filled and Peanut Butter Cup Blizzard.
When it comes to advice for retailers, education is at the top of the list, according to industry insiders. And, as Annamaet’s Downey says, the source of the information is as important as the facts, themselves.
“Seek out nutrition information that is as non-biased as possible,” he noted. “APPA [American Pet Products Association] offers continuing education to retailers on a large variety of topics, including nutrition. Make sure the information that is shared at shelf is not opinion, but factual. Always keep the well-being of the pet in mind and ask tons of questions when asked for a recommendation.”