A Natural Approach to the New Wholesome Chew
Demand for dog chews made using natural ingredients creates greater retail opportunities to help consumers optimize pet wellness.
For many pet parents, shopping for chews requires examining not only how these products can make dogs happy, but also how they benefit animal health through the use of natural ingredients. While consumers are choosing to invest more time into finding the best natural chews for their dogs, retailers must recognize the benefits of adding these products to their inventory.
Bringing home the bacon—or beef, chicken and vegetable chews—was one of the easiest and most basic shopping decisions consumers would make for their dogs. But, once used as a method of curbing destructive chewing behavior or to simply cure boredom, choosing the appropriate dog chew has now become a practice in finding premium products that could improve the animal’s quality of life.
“Growth in our industry is not driven by people having more pets or buying more pet treats. The growth has been driven by premiumization because there is a continuous striving among consumers who ask ‘How can we do better for our pets?’” explains David Yaskulka, CEO of Nature’s Logic, headquartered in Lincoln, Neb. “More and more people don’t want to do just okay by their pets, they want to do the best that they can.”
At Rockford, Ill.-based Jones Natural Chews, marketing manager Heather Huftalin believes the chew segment of the pet-goods industry will grow at a fast pace. As manufacturers explore ways to pare down their ingredient lists, trends will continue toward more healthful options in chews for dogs in an industry that is already thriving.
“Demographics support growth for at least 10 more years based on dog ownership trends by both millennials and baby boomers,” she says. “They read product labels and look for simple or limited ingredients and naturally-made treats and chews. Also, consumers want to offer their dogs different types of proteins and flavor choices.”
Chews have evolved from items that weren’t intended to be healthful, but rather as rewards or solutions to combat boredom in dogs. As consumer demand for less-harmful—or even beneficial—products grew, expanding the chew category to offer high-quality goods became a standard rather than a trend.
“The chew category was originally started as a way to occupy dogs at a very low cost,” explains Glenn Novotny, president and CEO of Walnut Creek, Calif.-based Emerald Pet Products. “That low cost is how all of the fillers were originally introduced. With the premiumization of the food segment, it has also lifted the expectation of the pet parents within the chews and treats category.”
As manufacturers of premium products replace fillers with more wholesome ingredients in dog chews, retailers are afforded greater opportunities to aid pet parents in maintaining animal health. For example, an undesirable by-product of pet humanization is the rise in dog obesity, due to owners who show their love for their animals through overfeeding.
“Rates of pet obesity are rising like never before because many treat and food companies pack their products with ingredients and fillers that are high in fat and calories,” says Loving Pets’ president and founder Eric Abbey, whose company is based in Cranbury, N.J. “This factor, combined with pet parents giving their pets too many treats or too much food too often, contribute to pets being overfed and therefore gaining weight.”
To help customers choose wholesome chew options, Abbey recommends stocking products that are made without by-products and use only pure-meat proteins, such as chicken, duck or beef.
A Human Approach to Chews
While pet parents want to provide premium-quality chews to their dogs, they also want products that work efficiently by offering multiple benefits. From fulfilling daily nutritional requirements to relying on limited-ingredient recipes, dog chews have experienced a makeover to become an integral part of wellness.
“If you think about the rawhide alternative category, it was started as a more digestible way to satisfy a dog’s natural chewing urge,” explains Novotny. “As that awareness continues to expand, digestion will be the main focus.”
Manufacturers have long recognized this growing awareness that pet parents have when shopping for products to meet the needs of their animals. The pool of educated pet parents will continue to grow as these consumers demand greater transparency regarding chew products.
“We see a long healthy future with simplicity and ingredient transparency being the core of our brand and value proposition,” says Len Horowitz, founder and CEO of Port Washington, N.Y.-based 4 Paws Butcher Shop.
When researching chews for dogs, pet parents will search for products that move closer to trends in the market for human food and snack goods. As pet goods industry insiders examine human trends, they will see greater emphasis on products that are made with healthful ingredients that reduce harmful health effects.
“The best crystal ball in our industry is to look over to the human side. For example, what are the fast growing and sustained-growth areas on the human side that are increasingly backed by important and knowledgeable influencers?” asks Yaskulka. He advises his peers to look to whole-food ingredients and sources of clean meats.
By continuing to look toward areas within human food and self-care trends, the pet-chew industry can identify the direction of the market. During 2019, retailers can meet consumer demand by offering chews made from wholesome ingredients and unique approaches to reinvent this longtime dog favorite. PB