By Eric Stenson
Sugars, artificial colors and flavors—as people become more concerned about healthy ingredients when they’re looking for a snack, these tendencies are becoming more prevalent when consumers seek out treats and chews for their companion animals as well.
Patrick Caprez, president of Natural Cravings and Barking Buddha in Homestead, Florida, saw firsthand the difference natural treats can make when he visited a farmers market and picked up some all-natural treats for his elderly dog, according to his wife, Lucy Caprez, who serves as Natural Cravings and Barking Buddha’s marketing director.
“His dog went crazy for it,” Lucy Caprez said. “After research, he saw there was a huge market for this. Just from looking at his dog’s health and seeing how it improved by feeding him natural products.”
It wasn’t long before Patrick Caprez left the car business and founded Natural Cravings in 2014. He expanded into the Barking Buddha line in 2016. Natural Cravings features U.S.-sourced items, including pork femurs, beef rib bones, beef kneecap, beef trachea, beef liver jerky, Sizzle Stick treats and bully sticks. The Barking Buddha line features beef check slices, bully sticks, lamb tripe, goat ears and cow ears.
Barking Buddha products are sourced from South America from U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved facilities, according to Lucy Caprez.
“There are a lot of products which have ingredients that do not have a great reputation for quality,” she said. “If we deal with sources that have a great reputation, we will have great quality.”
The company has three new chews coming out in the next few months, but Caprez says she’s not prepared to discuss specifics yet.
“We are very excited about it,” she said. “We don’t launch just to launch; we introduce products we know can fill a niche. It’s not work. It shows through our product that we love what we’re doing.”
Health Extension Pet Care of Deer Park, New York, makes freeze-dried treats for dogs sourced from duck, bacon, lamb, chicken and bison, as well as dental bones, jerky treats, biscuits, and natural elk antlers.
“We are a family-owned, third-generation company that crafts natural food and treats pet parents can feel good about feeding their best friend,” said Brad Gruber, president. “Every Health Extension treat and chew is made in the U.S. using the finest natural ingredients to keep pets happy and healthy.”
An Educated Consumer
Gruber’s company closely watches trends in the human food industry to take direction regarding potential product development in the pet arena.
“The direction we take is totally mirrored by the humanization of pets that’s driving our industry today,” he said. “Once we’ve rounded all these factions out, our team of small animal nutritionists and veterinarians work to develop products for testing, trial and sampling both internally and externally to the organization.”
New products from Health Extension include a buffalo-style jerky treat and a pure freeze-dried chicken treat, both for cats. The company is also following up on its chicken tenders by releasing venison bites and buffalo jerky for dogs.
To Gruber, educated consumers and retailers are truly Health Extension’s best customers.
“When choosing a treat, it’s important to look for ones that are grain-, wheat-, corn- and soy-free since so many dogs have allergies or issues with yeast infections,” he said. “Always read the ingredients to make sure there are no chemicals and no ingredients you can’t pronounce yourself.”
Keeping it Simple
For Einstein Pets of Sarasota, Florida, the “super power” ingredient is chia seeds, which factors prominently in all the company’s treats. Kelly Ison, founder and CEO, started by looking for wholesome treats to give to her dog, Abbey.
“I started looking into canine nutrition and, after extensive research, we incorporated chia seeds into our recipe and our line of Einstein Pets chia treat was born,” she said. “I combined my love of cooking using natural organic ingredients with Abbey’s love of treats.”
Her company’s treats—with creative names such as Luau Time, Cha Cha Coconut and PB’n Jelly Time—feature peanut butter, blueberries, pumpkin, pineapple, pork, carob, honey, sweet potato, turkey, bananas, apples and cranberries as ingredients, all combined with chia seeds. The company also produces Smart Strips jerky.
To Ison, it’s all about the ingredients and sourcing, from a consumer and retailer perspective.
“Read labels; it is important to know what you are feeding your pup. Retailers truly have to know who is manufacturing an original product,” she continued. “At the end of the day, it is up to the retailer to know what works for their store.”
Bravo! Pet Foods of Vernon, Connecticut, provides a line of freeze-dried and dry-roasted treats for dogs made with duck feet, bison liver, chicken breast, turkey liver, salmon, and venison liver, as well as bully sticks, beef trachea, and pork roll.
“The basic philosophy for our treats and chews is the same as it is for our foods: start with good-quality proteins, keep it as simple as possible, and never include grains, fillers or anything artificial,” said Melinda Miller, CEO of Bravo. “The result is products made from muscle meats and organs, so the consumer can see exactly what they are feeding their pet.”
Regarding retailers looking to enhance their presence in the natural treat and chews market, Miller says it’s all about spreading the word.
“Many retailers will already have a ‘naturals’ section in-store,” she said. “If not, they should dedicate some space to building one that offers a good cross-section of products from several different manufacturers so consumers can compare across different brands. In-store signage, suggestive selling and social media are also effective tools.”
A Primary Meat
For Canine Caviar of Riverside, California, it’s largely about the buffalo: bully sticks, lollipops, lungs, bones and its Paddywack treats. The company also makes sweet potato-based treats.
“The buffalo is from India, where it’s used as milking cattle,” said Julie Campbell, sales and customer service manager. “It’s processed under consumer standards, then we take parts and make into treats. It’s halal and kosher, lower fat and sodium, and lower in calories than beef and pork counterparts. Jerky is lean muscle meat and is cuttable.”
The sourcing availability of buffalo is really high, Campbell said, enhancing sustainability. The sweet potato treats provide a non-meat alternative, she added.
“If there is too much protein the dog can’t use it, and that leads to loose stool,” she said. “It’s North and South Carolina sweet potato; soft and pliable. Peeled, cleaned and dehydrated. Nothing added, no color or preservatives. You could eat them; people in our warehouse eat them as a snack. It’s not dehydrated to a point of being hard and crunchy.”
Superior Farms Pet Provisions of Dixon, California, is rebranding as Bark and Harvest. Superior Farms, its parent company, makes lamb products for human consumption, so it was a natural step to take lamb parts not used for people to eat and produce pet products, according to Ken Wilks, vice president of sales.
“Superior Farms is the largest manufacturer of lamb in the U.S. for human consumption,” he said. “That is how our pet treats happened.”
Superior Farms pet products benefit directly from its in-house relationship, he said.
“We are in a unique position—we supply the freshest material to ourselves, so we have confidence in supplying,” he said. “Simple and natural, no preservatives. Very short ingredient panels; lots of meat, not much of anything else in there.”
Although lamb is a mainstay, the company also makes products with beef, turkey and venison. Vinegar and mixed tocopherols (rosemary extract) are the only preservatives. Sliders are among the newest products in the line, with about 80 percent meat content along with a superfood component (lamb and cranberry, turkey and pumpkin, beef and sweet potato, pork and apple). Coming soon is a training stick, about pencil size, with high meat content, including medium chain triglycerides, fatty acids absorbed by the brain better, Wilks says.
From a retailer perspective, Jason Ridings, a longtime associate at Bernal Beast in San Francisco, California, said that natural treats and chews are generating more awareness. Some of his favorites are No-Hide from Earth Animal and Smallbatch.
“It’s a word-of-mouth thing as well,” he said. “People have been picking it up like there’s no tomorrow. Smallbatch freeze-dried hearts and livers are great for sensitive stomachs. It’s all about the ones that are genuine; some people want the hot word on the bag, and there are others who really want what’s best for their critters.”