Many pet owners, as we know, like to pamper their pets by feeding dog or cat treats – and increasingly, as they are aware of health and wellness, with treats that offer health or functional benefits. A new study from Mintel reveals that for US consumers, these behaviors may mimic their own snacking habits.

The top reason these American consumers gave for snacking is to treat themselves; 50 percent said so. And while 28 percent ranked taste over health in choosing a snack, 32 percent claimed that most snacks they eat are healthy, and another 28 percent said their snacks now are healthier than what they ate in 2016. In addition, 37 percent said they snack as a way to take a break during the day, 24 percent to relieve stress and 17 percent to control their weight. (That latter reason has increased from 10 percent in 2015, when the study was last done.)

Other research shows that consumers worldwide are snacking more, with 72 percent noshing at least occasionally between meals, according to GlobalData. Interestingly, that behavior is higher among pet owners, at 82 percent.

Choosing pet treats with functional ingredients

Snacks with health-related claims are among the fastest growing new product launches in that category, Mintel says, and the same is likely true for pet treats thanks to consumer demand. “Dog and cat owners who prioritize food product benefit statements are significantly more likely to strongly enjoy purchasing products that pamper their pets, at 29 percent vs. 41 percent in the case of dog owners and 27 percent vs. 44 percent for cat owners,” wrote David Sprinkle, publisher and research director of Packaged Facts.

His firm’s research also showed rising percentages – most approaching or in double digits now – of dog and cat owners who purchase pet treats with functional claims such as immune system health, cognitive benefit, gut health or probiotics, heart health, skin and coat, joint health, calming or motion sickness and, of course, dental care or oral health. The latter is by far the most popular type of functional treat, 36 percent for dogs and 23 percent for cats.  

Pet treat sales growing worldwide

Not surprisingly, pet treats have been among the high-growth categories for the pet food market. As of 2015, global sales of dog treats had reached US$7 billion, Euromonitor said, thanks to 26 percent growth since 2010. More recently, Paula Flores, head of global pet care research for Euromonitor, presented data during Petfood Forum Europe 2017 showing that dog treat sales in Western Europe increased about 5 percent annually from 2012 to 2017, up to about US$2.25 billion this year. Cat treats, though at a smaller total of US$863 million, have risen even more, at 8.6 percent.

In the US, pet treats are also one of the fastest growing segments in pet specialty stores, the main channel driving growth in the US pet food market. In 2015, treats accounted for 40 percent of new SKUs and 23 percent of shelf space in pet specialty, with the average store carrying 27 percent more treats, according to GfK. Seasonal treats, such as for Christmas and Halloween, soared over 200 percent in pet specialty sales from 2014 to 2015. Overall, dog treats sales in the US are growing nearly 10 percent a year, though cat treat growth is smaller at about 3 percent.

Judging by the number of new functional pet treats, especially dog treats, debuting at the major pet trade shows each year, it’s clear that pet food companies are meeting consumer demand for healthier ways to indulge their pets, as they’re also pampering themselves.

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dphillips@wattglobal.com