Pet spending in the U.S. has risen every year since 1994, and treats are one of the largest spending categories. It’s well known that humanization and premiumization are both driving forces in pet spending. But there’s much more to it than that. Pet Age asked Dayna Bartoldson, co-founder and CEO of Nugget’s Healthy Eats, to share her insights on what consumers are seeking in their pet treats.
What do you consider the main consumer demands regarding pet treats?
Let’s think for a minute about how we pet parents eat. When we “treat” ourselves, we tend to indulge in foods that offer some sort of “guilty pleasure.” While that’s fun once in awhile, most of us try to “snack smart” which means being mindful of what we eat in between meals. Smart snacking means fresh, minimally processed, limited ingredient, whole foods that serve the purpose of enhancing our diets, rather than “treat” foods that add excessive calories, fat, sugar or salt to our diets. This is what consumers want for their pets – smart snacking, not just empty calories. We at Nugget’s Healthy Eats call it “Eats not Treats,” or we think of it as “Snacking with a Purpose.”
With every treat purchase, comes a golden opportunity to engage with consumers and educate. Consumers are thirsty for knowledge about gut/immune, digestive, joint, dental and skin/coat health, healthy hydration and more. This intense, pervasive demand for healthy alternatives creates unlimited demand for better treat/snack products.
What are the biggest trends in pet treat sector?
Treats/snacks offering versatility & convenience continue expanding across the marketplace. Served any number of ways and for various purposes, versatile treats can be used for meal enhancement, hydration, or serve a functional benefit, for example. Treats that can be broken up and added to one dog’s bowl as a healthy topper, while offering a nutritional boost for the active dog who is out hiking or playing frisbee are versatile and convenient, and they serve the consumer well.
Healthy high-value options. We well know that snacking provides tons of opportunity for bonding. During the cooler months, especially with Covid, we’re all indoors more and looking for ways to entertain ourselves and our dogs – recall, nosework, “find-it” interactive games using high-value snacks are great ways to not only bond with our dogs, have some fun, and mentally stimulate them, but also improve their diets.
Treats that diversify the diet. Most pets benefit from a variety of foods in their diets and smart snacking offers this in spades. A variety wholesome protein and plant-based ingredients not only nutritionally benefits most pets, but this also makes life more enjoyable for them.
How would you best describe the importance of transparency when it comes to ingredients?
We believe one of our strengths as a brand is sourcing, so we talk a lot about the importance of local sourcing with our retail partners. Retailers are well aware that consumers are becoming smarter by the minute and demanding increasingly more when it comes to sourcing and how foods can and should be minimally processed. By promoting treats by brands that embrace ingredient transparency and integrity, retailers will win increasingly more consumers, especially as younger generations become pet parents.
Consumers today are reaching beyond just knowing if a product is sourced and made in the USA. They want to understand what kinds of farms or facilities ingredients are coming from. They’re looking at farming practices, sustainability, community involvement and other factors when they consider treat options. And they increasingly support brands that want to be transparent because they practice ethical, thoughtful sourcing.
For example, we recently earned the Global Animal Partnership (GAP) humane certification for our Chicken Bone Brew & Chicken Bone Broth Jerkies. And I’m proud to say that we worked with the ASPCA to become the first U.S. pet food company to make the Better Chicken Commitment – a global movement improving the lives of meat chickens. As a brand, we know it’s easy for retailers to get behind these types of products because their customers will whole-heartedly support them.
Beyond the ingredient panel, packaging provides a perfect venue for transparency. Good packaging goes beyond marketing; it educates. Not only informing where ingredients come from, but I believe it’s incumbent upon manufacturers to share why ingredients are in the treats to begin with. For example, our new Bone Broth Jerky line. We call out right on the bags a handful of ingredients and why they were carefully and thoughtfully selected to promote gut and immune health. This makes it easier for retail associates to present the product and for consumers to understand and make informed purchasing decisions.
How can treats play a role in a pet’s healthy diet?
From our perspective, it all starts with a healthy gut. As Hippocrates said, “All disease begins in the gut.” The good news is that healing can also take place in the gut, and if you follow Hippocrate’s logic of “let thy food by thy medicine,” treats can play a key role in a healthy diet.
Gut support. Treats/snacks that help maintain a healthy balance and diversity of bacteria in the gut play an important role. Beyond maintaining a healthy flora, treats stocked full of amino acids such as bone broth, fermented foods, and those with plant-based ingredients (including some fruits) are great for gut support.
Immune support. An unfortunate reminder with COVID is that a weakened immune system means greater susceptibility to disease. As we – and our pets – age, our immune systems become less effective at fighting disease and even more so during colder months. Seniors, puppies and kittens, pets with chronic disease, newly adopted pets with previous diets that are unknown, are perfect candidates for treats that offer immune support.
Hydration. Pets simply need more moisture in their diets and treats/snacks that hydrate are vital to better health. Think about cats for a moment, especially fussy or pudgy eaters or those with skin/coat issues or prone to hairballs or digestive upset. A good quality bone broth for example, offers big bang for the buck. Real bone broth offers a powerhouse of gut, immune, skin/coat support, while enhancing the meal with savory hydration and adding very few calories or fat to their daily intake.
Variety, and not just proteins. Consider treats that offer healthy plant-based ingredients. A healthy savory treat can be a great way to get pets to eat more variety. Think about when you’re trying to get your human child to eat more variety. You “hide” the healthy ingredients in something like…maybe mac ‘n cheese. Pets too can be fooled! I’m not recommending feeding pets this cheesy/carb-rich culinary classic, but yogurt and bone, for example, serve as perfect carriers for healthy foods the fussier eater might otherwise turn down.
Increasing feeding frequency. Many aging pets or those with sensitive bellies and other health issues can benefit from eating smaller quantities more frequently. Smart snacking is a great way to address this! Sitting with a pet and hand feeding small bites several times a day helps the pet slow down and digest their food. We know that our pets’ mental health is critical to their well-being, so deep bonding exercises, such as sharing in the snacking experience, have the potential to enhance overall health in abundance!
What variety of treats does Nugget’s Healthy Eats specialize in and how do they benefit a pet’s well-being?
Our core mission is to promote gut and immune health by creating innovative, clean label, hand-crafted, minimally-processed products sold through independent retailers. 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.
We intend for our products to provide a platform retailers to discuss smart snacking with customers and present healthy alternatives to the more mass-produced products that aren’t meeting consumers’ increasing demands.
As such, our product line addresses gut health on multiple levels with Bone Broth & Artisan Yogurt. We pride ourselves on our gelatinous Bone Broths, which are cooked the old fashioned way and simmered with organ meat to enhance the nutritional value and savory flavor. They are frozen right from the kettle to keep the bio-available nutrients intact.
Launched last year, our new (non-frozen) Bone Broth Jerky treats for dogs contain that same Bone Broth as the No. 1 ingredient. There’s no meat in these Jerkies, so they are a soft, moist texture that is easy on older dogs’ teeth. The Jerkies also contain known immune builders, such as shiitake mushrooms, fresh beets and coconut.
Retailers and consumers appreciate our Artisan Yogurts because of what’s not in them, such as gums, artificial sweeteners and air, “filler” ingredients that are simply not needed in a yogurt…. so why would we put them in?
Having recently earned the GAP humane certification for our chicken products, next we’re working toward certification for our 100 percent grass-fed beef and free-range turkey offerings. Innovation and focusing on these types of initiatives that benefit animals and consumers is where we will continue to focus in the future.