Editor’s note: Have you seen the Dogster print magazine in stores? Or in the waiting room of your vet’s office? This article appeared in our February-March issue. Subscribe to Dogster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.
Have you ever opened a package of your dog’s treats and thought, “Wow, those smell amazing? I’ll bet they taste great!” I’ll admit that I have. The ones I find most tempting contain an alluring combination of cinnamon, oats, and honey, baked into a crunchy cookie that smells like breakfast at a country inn. Dog treats seem to have evolved over the past several years, becoming as appealing to people as they are to dogs — or perhaps even more so. Is there a dog treat revolution sweeping society, similar to the dog food revolution?
“There is absolutely an evolution taking place in the dog treat industry that has crossed over from the larger pet food industry,” said Shannon Brown, an analyst with Rockville, Maryland-based Packaged Facts, which conducts and publishes market research on the pet food industry. “As we increasingly embrace dogs as members of the family, we see more foods and treats that reflect trends in the human food industry,” she said.
A major parallel trend involves an increasing consciousness regarding the effects “indulgence” foods have on our health. As we pay greater attention to what goes into our own bodies between meals, we are doing the same for our canine family members. Gone are the days when treats are merely doggie junk food. “Today’s consumers want treats that enhance their dog’s nutrition and complement their overall health,” Shannon said.
Incorporating superfood ingredients that exert health benefits into treats is a popular trend borrowed from the human snack food industry. “Just as we may feel less guilty consuming a chocolate bar that contains antioxidant-rich goji berries, we can also feel better about giving our dog treats with superfood ingredients that promote health, such as acai, coconut oil, chia seeds, kefir, or spirulina,” Shannon said.
Functional food treats that address specific medical conditions, such as joint treats with glucosamine, skin treats with coconut oil, anxiety treats with chamomile, and dental chews for oral health, are particularly alluring for value-conscious consumers because they perform double duty, straddling the line between snack and supplement.
“If you have a pet that suffers from a health condition and you can buy a treat that helps with the condition and perhaps save money on medication or veterinary bills, that’s a very appealing concept,” Shannon said. Functional treats targeted at the exploding population of senior dogs are especially popular. Recognizing a booming market, pet treat manufacturers have introduced functional treats that prevent or manage the chronic conditions that senior pets tend to develop, such as joint, brain, oral health, and heart issues.
In 2015, one giant of the dental treat segment launched a chew treat that not only works to reduce dental plaque and tartar, but is also infused with ingredients supporting cognitive, immune, metabolic, and skin health.
So flavorful While the nutritional aspect of treats is important, so, of course, is the flavor. They are, after all, called “treats,” which implies something special. But who are pet treat companies trying to appeal to with flavors such as carob-dipped biscotti, vanilla pumpkin granola, and, my personal favorite, those crunchy cinnamon, oats, and honey delights? “The more we think of our dogs as four-legged kids, the more we equate their sense of taste with our own and drive the creation of treats we would want to eat,” Shannon said.
Take yogurt. With its dizzying array of varieties and flavors, Americans clearly have a national obsession with this cultured milk product. Pet food companies have jumped on the yogurt bandwagon with a variety of doggie yogurt products, including a line of Greek yogurt crunchers, Greek yogurt-filled dog bones, Greek yogurt chips, therapeutic yogurt-flavored dental sticks, frozen yogurt, and biscotti dipped in yogurt.
Tied into the dog humanization trend is the growing interest in “homemade” and “artisanal” treats. “This trend has evolved from the farm to table human food trend and people making their own fresh food for their dogs,” Shannon said. Products touted as “handcrafted,” “small batch,” and “thoughtfully sourced” are especially appealing, as they signify a greater care and attention to quality.
Shannon points out that attention to quality is especially important as it relates to product safety. Based on a Packaged Facts’ 2015 national survey, 61 percent of dog parents are concerned about the safety of the treats they purchase. This concern is likely prompted by the illnesses and deaths associated with foreign-made chicken jerky. “As a result, consumers have begun scrutinizing pet treat labels for assurances of product safety, and “USA Sourced” has become the gold standard label claim,” Shannon said.
We love our dogs, and we love to give them treats. According to Packaged Facts, 60.2 million dogs receive treats each year. “As long as doting dog parents continue to demand high-quality treats, we will continue to see new and innovative products that focus on safe, wholesome, nutritious ingredients,” Shannon said. After all, our beloved dogs deserve nothing less than the best.