The trend to integrate pets into the family is clearly here to stay. Consequently, we see that global dog and cat treat sales alone have increased by 39% in the last five years (according to Euromonitor Passport data), driven by the expanding pet humanization trend and the desire of pet parents to indulge their animal companions.
Although snacking is often seen as unhealthy, treating clearly brings pleasure to pets, supports the bonding process and is part of behavior in line with that of humans indulging their children or even themselves. Although we enjoy treating ourselves and our pets, consumption of such snacks is not without guilt. As awareness surrounding the area of nutrition, health and wellness grows, snack foods in the human nutrition arena have been identified by many leading global brands as a key category for expansion, not just offering taste and convenience but also addressing an overall nutritional or functional value. This same opportunity is being pursued in the pet treat market.
It is clear that the pet treat and supplement markets have seen rapid growth in recent years (See Figure 1), creating an increasingly more competitive environment given that treats and supplements deliver higher profitability compared to food. Even though this growing and dynamic market is a great opportunity for treat manufacturers, there are real challenges to consider. For example, the perceived value of a functional treat can be questioned when the pet consumes a commercially produced “nutritionally complete diet.”
So, the value proposition surrounding the functional treat must be clear to differentiate it from this complete food. That is, the functional treat should provide the extra nutrition that is known to address the needs of pets in an individual way, similar to the way we address our families or our own health concerns. Fortunately, as knowledge increases about the health benefits provided by specific nutrients or functional ingredients, pet owners are becoming more comfortable adapting a supportive and preventative approach to managing their pets' specific health issues.
In the human snack sector, there are many products that promote clear health messages. Some of these products address simpler concerns regarding ingredient provenance, such as natural, “free from” particular ingredients and allergens, or low in particular nutrients (salt or fat, for example). When surveyed by DSM (Market Tools, 2011), over 80% of people agreed that they are health conscious. So, with an increasingly health conscious and aging population, the desire to be healthy at all life stages drives the search for products containing functional ingredients to help maintain overall vitality and to address readily recognized health concerns, such as heart health, brain function support, bone health and joint mobility.
Another trend seen in the human health and wellness area is “beauty from within,” or nutri-cosmetics, a more popular concept seen in the Asia Pacific region. Human products addressing weight management, digestive health or immune support through functional foods and supplements are good role models for pet products. This type of modelling was demonstrated with the increased awareness surrounding the importance of good oral hygiene in the human sector, which provided the pet industry with another reason to believe in oral health products for pets.
Today, many pet treats on the market provide great taste, but are often of low total nutritional value. With the average overall mean age of dogs and cats increasing, there is a growing need for supplemental nutrition, especially in the senior life stage. This creates an exceptional opportunity for treat manufacturers to formulate products that deliver together guilt free functionality with great taste.
Popular products that are meeting this consumer need range from simple calorie control to offset the growing concern over pet obesity to products containing functional ingredients that are proven to support joint health. Based on human nutrition and health trends, indications are that pet owners will be seeking nutritional support for a variety of health concerns including cognitive decline in their pets, diabetes and even cancer.
Pet owners also have an opinion about how they want to deliver extra nutritional functionality to support their pets. A DSM Pet Owner Survey, carried out with Market Tools (2011), asked owners how strongly they would prefer various ways to give a dog or cat functional ingredients that support specific health benefits. From the results (shown in Figures 2 and 3), although complete food was the preferred method, special cookies/biscuits, chews or chewable tablets were identified as the preferred options over liquids/drinks, pastes, powders or pills. These results indicate that pet owners want to provide functional nutrients by a method that is convenient, in a way that allows them to interact in a positive way with their animal companion and in a form that the pet will readily accept.
Pet treats offer an ideal vehicle to provide the extra ingredient functionality being identified by a growing body of evidence from companion animal nutrition research, especially in the area of nutritional support related to certain health concerns. The ideal functional treat product is one that controls calorie intake by either using low caloric density or size, is palatable, contains functional ingredients known to deliver a specific benefit, and comes with clear feeding instructions. With this type of product, pet owners can feel positive about using functional treating as a strategy to manage their pet’s overall health and well-being.