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Consumers Seek Solution-Focused Pet Snacks With Functional Ingredients

Glenn Polyn//March 1, 2023//

Consumers Seek Solution-Focused Pet Snacks With Functional Ingredients

Glenn Polyn //March 1, 2023//

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In today’s world, pet parents have a wide array of treat options to choose from, as natural chews and yak cheese are in the same segment as biscuits and jerky treats. With pet parents spending more one-on-one time with their companion animals, people are spoiling their them with snacks for just being their beloved fur babies. At the same time, consumers are gaining better insight into their specific needs and health issues.

That increased knowledge in their pet’s needs also has resulted in educated consumers becoming more aware and sophisticated in addressing snacks, especially when it comes to higher-quality ingredients in their treats and chews. While many pet foods have made functional ingredients the cornerstone of their diets, the same can be said for the functional pet treat market. As with the trend of solution-based diets, there’s been a growing interest in solution-focused formats in the treat sector. Thus, treats with functional benefits have gained a steady following and slowly become a popular trend, that started with dental chews and recently expanded to include immune support, hip and joint as well as skin and coat.

Functional treats are not in their early stages of popularity, as Greenies is believed to have started the category when it added charcoal to biscuits for dental health. More than a decadent snack but not quite a daily supplement, these functional treats are enjoyable for a pet to eat while also fortifying its health by off ering certain wholesome ingredients that can benefit animal wellness.

For functional treats, the ingredients that encompass the snack are just as important as the benefits they provide. Solution-based treats feature an ingredient list comprised of complementary elements that serve a purpose to promote optimum pet health. It’s the ingredients, which offer functional benefits, that are key to making a functional chew. They provide the right balance of antioxidants, proteins, fatty acids, balanced fiber as well as vitamins and minerals.

Brian Harchar, a sales and marketing specialist at Tickner’s Distribution located in Hackettstown, New Jersey, says his company has several brands with functional treat in its portfolio. Among those brands is Dilly’s Poochie Butter, which makes a Calm variety that is designed for anxious dogs. Calm Peanut Butter has all-natural peanut butter and four additional ingredients: pumpkin, valerian root, L-tryptophan and sensoril ashwagandha. Tickner’s also works with Stashios, which has a product that crosses multiple health issues with its Dental+ dental sticks with added health benefits. Designed to remove tartar and plaque as they chew, the two recipes — Hip & Joint Support and Skin & Coat Support — include added ingredients for additional health benefits.

Harchar notes one of the distributor’s more popular products are Pet Eyez Vitamin Treats, which were created for pets by optometrist Adam Cherry, O.D. Designed to improve total ocular health by offering natural ingredients that have science-backed studies, Pet Eyez bridges the nutritional gap by providing delicious treats packed with 18 vitamins and minerals for pet’s eye health.

“Pet Eyez came out with a new niche,” Harchar said. “Ocular health was not a large selling point in the industry. There are products for tear stains, not so much for what Pet Eyez can do. It does clear tear staining and more in dogs.”

Long-lasting chews, like those from Vital Essentials, that provide extra engagement are also a popular option among pet parents. A pioneer in the raw pet food market, the Wisconsin-based brand can be found in more than 5,000 specialty pet retailers in the United States. Vital Essentials has become known for its raw frozen and freeze-dried treats that offer an added boost of vitamins, protein and stimulation, while helping keep a pet’s teeth strong and healthy.

However, the VE Raw Bar is something that enables Vital Essentials to stand out among pet store customers. The VE Raw Bar retail display, which was awarded the Best Point of Purchase Display by World Pet Association during SuperZoo 2019, allows pet store owners to showcase a combination of freeze-dried treats.

“The Vital Essentials Raw Bar provides award-winning and satisfying freeze-dried snacks that pets will love,” explained Nick Ebert, vice president of sales at Vital Essentials. “These healthy snacks are great for on-the-go pet parents looking to provide a delightful, in-between meals snack, packed with the vital nutrients our pets need to thrive, which contributes to oral health, boosts the overall immune system and promotes healthy skin and coat.”

Collagen chews have been in the spotlight of late, as they tend to be odor-free and the peptides in collagen are known to provide support for healthy skin and coat, joints and more. Collagen chews are a popular alternative to bully sticks as they’re an equally challenging chew that are long-lasting while being effective for tartar and plaque control while offering digestive, joint, mobility and bone health benefits.

By offering solution-focused treats, brands can not only help pet parents reward and interact with their companion animals in a positive way, but they can also aid in improving and enriching the lives of pets with functional ingredients that address common concerns like digestion, immune health, joint support and more. Solution-targeted ingredients commonly include glucosamine, cranberry extract and probiotics.

Dogswell was founded in 2004 by Marco Giannini, who grew up with a German shepherd named Emily. Emily developed hip dysplasia, and the unpleasant experience of giving her pills helped Marco realize the idea to add functional benefits right into pet treats—to make treats that both taste good and do good. And thus, Dogswell was born. The brand was then acquired by Whitebridge Pet Brands in 2017.

With real meat as the No. 1 ingredient, Dogswell Soft & Chewy functional treats were developed to deliver supplemental benefits in a soft-textured treat that is easy to chew, which makes it a great snack choice for senior dogs. The product range includes Immune System, Hip & Joint (in two flavor options) and Skin & Coat. The brand also offers Dogswell Grillers (in chicken and duck), Meatballs (in duck and beef), Soft Strips (in chicken and duck) and Tenders (in chicken).

Dogswell has seen great demand for its range of U.S.A.-made functional jerky treats. Formulated for dogs with sensitive stomachs, the line offers a Dental Jerky, Hip & Joint Jerky and Gut Health Jerky, which is made with high-quality lamb sourced in New Zealand and contains fiber-rich pumpkin, ginger and probiotics to aid in digestion, as well as immunity and other health functions. The functional treats also come in a mini jerky variety.

Co-founded by Dayna Bartoldson, Nugget’s Healthy Eats is all about gut-healthy snacking, so the brand has combined proven immune builders with nutrient-dense whole foods for a power-packed, savory treat in Bone Broth Jerky. The number one ingredient is actual bone broth. It simmers for days, is humanely sourced and is cooked with organ meat and purified with reverse osmosis water. The result is a line of savory, handcrafted snacks that offer a daily nutritional boost to the immune system and gut in support of whole-body health.

“Our core mission is to promote gut and immune health by creating innovative, clean label, hand-crafted, minimally processed products sold through independent retailers,” Bartoldson noted in a March 2021 Back Story profile. “We’ve been touting gut healthy snacking since we first started dabbling in our home kitchen more than six years ago. It was this start – creating snacks for Nugget, our senior liver cancer survivor lab – that set forth our aspiration to become a purpose driven brand.”

Following the brand’s motto of “Snacking with a Purpose,” Nugget’s Bone Broth Jerky is a savory jerky treat that combines immune builders with nutrient-dense whole foods. Containing bone broth, shiitake mushrooms, coconut, beets and whole leaf kelp, the treats became an instant hit the moment they hit the shelves.

Another functional treat among the brand’s lineup, Gut Goodies Training Treats for dogs resemble Trail Mix. Each piece is double coated in savory bone broth, and the brand boasts that its Chicken & Turkey Broth is Global Animal Partnership Humane Certified. Featuring more than 200 treats per bag, Gut Goodies consist of finely diced bananas, mangos, cranberries, apples, beets and carrots. The fruit is naturally sun-dried, with no sulfur dioxide added.

Like Nugget’s, Primal is a brand that knows the value of functional ingredients, especially when it comes to gut health. Primal Freeze-Dried Crunchy Treats for dogs and cats feature real food inclusions such as banana, pumpkin and peanut butter, and are made with goat milk and probiotics for gut health. The assortment, which was launched last year, includes four recipes for dogs – Pumpkin For My Pumpkin Pumpkin Treat; Peelin’ Fantastic Banana Treat; You Maple My Day Maple Treat; and You’re My Butter Half Peanut Butter Treat – and one recipe for cats – The G.O.A.T. Goat Milk Treat. As with all Primal products, the treats are made in the U.S.A. and free from corn, wheat, soy, legumes, lentils, grains or gluten. Additionally, the treats offerings are made with responsible, ethically sourced proteins, raised without antibiotics, steroids or added hormones.

Founded in 1934, Meyenberg is the No. 1 selling goat milk brand in America. Tailspring, a pet brand with a passion for fresh goat milk, comes from Meyenberg, and it partners with expert pet nutritionists to create pet products that nurture and help pets thrive. The brand’s Functional Chews offer the benefit of a supplement that’s wrapped in a goat milk treat to ensure pets will love eating it. Tailspring designed the different recipes to target the most common dog issues, resulting in Skin, Calm and Hip & Joint Functional Chews. According to Tailspring, the treats not only smell and taste delicious, but they also provide the perfect vehicle to deliver active ingredients that even food-sensitive dogs will enjoy. The brand tested the chews with an independent lab and scored a perfect 100 percent in a taste test with dogs.

Purebites is a brand that’s coined the phrase, “Go ahead, turn the bag around and look at our ingredients.” Last year the Canada-based food and treat company launched Purebites+ Squeezables that it describes as the ideal treat for pets with health issues, are overweight, diabetic, have allergies, gastrointestinal disorders or are on a restricted diet.

Available for both dogs and cats, Purebites+ Squeezables is a new line of treats with functional benefits. Available in three health support formulas – Heart & Eyes (with taurine and carrots), Gut & Digestion (with pumpkin and inulin) and Skin & Coat (with Omega-3 and Omega-6) – the creamy treats are made with five high-quality ingredients, and the squeezable pouch can be pegged or merchandised in a tray, driving creased sales and impulse purchasing. High in protein and 93 calories per pouch, Squeezables are made fresh and have a creamy texture that pets love.

Last year Zesty Paws entered the functional treat category with its All-In-One Functional Dental Bones, which deliver important health benefits to support everyday canine wellness. These uniquely shaped bones get in between teeth for a deep cleaning that prevents tartar buildup, while also supporting oral health and fresh breath.

Made with wholesome ingredients like sweet potato flour, turmeric, and cinnamon, as well as EpiCor Pets, the All-In-One Functional Dental Bones deliver eight key benefits to support oral health, gum health, skin and coat, joint, and gut health, as well as immune support. The treats feature ridges to fight tartar and plaque, while also supporting oral health and fresh breath, and are offered in a dog-approved flavor in small, medium, and large sizes to provide head-to-tail support for breeds of all sizes.

“Consumer research validated that 91 percent of pet parents agree that healthy teeth and gums are essential to their dog’s overall good health and wellness, and 67 percent believe current dental bones in the market are good for dog’s teeth, but they wished they had other health benefits,” said Yvethe Tyszka, vice president of marketing for Zesty Paws. “Our easy-to-chew and flavorful All-In-One Functional Dental Bones support oral health, fresh breath and provide broader functional benefits for dogs to holistically address a pup’s gum health.”

NPIC makes premium, natural treats that are meant to enrich the lives of pets, their owners the bond between them. The brand is the maker of Get Naked, an award-winning pioneer that leads in the functional pet treats category. Through extensive research in the products, the market and the consumers, the brand has identified several key areas that are critical to the wellness of pets. Get Naked is known for its Functional Dental Sticks, which come in with best-selling Chicken flavor and focus on six essential functional areas – Joint, Skin & Coat, Immunity, Digestion, Weight Management and the Puppy life stage. While delivering the dental benefits of reducing the build-up of plaque and tartar through abrasion, these treats feature active functional ingredients such as glucosamine, chondroitin and probiotics to support the health needs of the dogs.

Get Naked Biteables Functional Soft Treats focuses on such areas as puppy health, kitten health, senior dog health, digestive health and joint health, to name a few. The treats are fortified with functional ingredients that include probiotics, glucosamine, taurine and lysine, depending on the health issue.

Scott and Bri Bradley started Smart Cookie Barkery in 2012 when their Aussie was diagnosed with lymphoma, and Bri at 24, learned she had breast cancer. Fueled by a newfound obsession for nutrition and functional ingredients, they took their treats, hit the streets and sold them out of a wooden tricycle, fondly known as the Smart Cookie Cart.

Smart Cookie’s functional treats are snacks with a purpose. Each treat variety contains ingredients that specifically serve a nutritional function and can help play a role in a dog’s overall well-being. The three recipes are Skin + Coat (wild Alaskan salmon, flax seed, cranberries and carrots), Endurance (beef, quinoa, carrots and cranberries) and Hip + Joint (chicken, oats and glucosamine). In addition to the treats being healthy and functional, pet parents can actually see the ingredients in each treat; real shredded carrots, rolled oats, chopped green beans, highlighting the nutritional goodness in each biscuit. According to Bri Bradley, Smart Cookie is rooted in using pure, simple and wholesome ingredients to treat smarter.

“These treats aren’t supplements” she said. “But they do serve a functional purpose and are more than just any other run-of-the-mill treat, which is why dog owners feel good about giving them to their pups and what ultimately has contributed to their success on the shelves.”

The abundance of treats certainly adds to the list of functional treat options for pet parents, who can become overwhelmed by the number of choices available to them. While today’s consumers have more access to information and data than ever before, having input from a retailer who is well versed on the benefits of treats remains vitally important. The knowledge that retailers gain from working closely with their distributors and brand partners is beneficial for customers.

As consumers look for treats with nutritional benefits, retailers can help their customers find the appropriate treats by listening to the questions and the needs of the companion animal. In the end, retailers want to match the specific functional treat to the individual companion animal based on the pet’s breed, size and, especially for dogs, their chewing style. For both dogs and cats, the pet’s age also is a major factor, as senior companion animals may benefit from the joint-boosting ingredient glucosamine.

In a world of ever-evolving pet products, functional treats don’t only appeal to a pet’s taste buds, but they also contain vitamins, minerals, probiotics and other beneficial ingredients. Available in a wide variety of forms and flavors from bites and biscuits to chews and jerky, functional treats are expected to grow in popularity as pet parents seek alternatives to traditional medicine, with a focus on natural remedies that are designed to be enjoyable to the companion animal. From dental health to joint function, there are treats to help boost all areas of a pet’s body, both inside and out.