A Healthier Chew

As Millennial shoppers increasingly drive pet product trends, the market is seeing a wider variety of simple, all-natural dog chews.


Millennials may be known as the generation of selfies and social media, but they’re also a generation of pet parents. Fifty-seven percent of the 75 million Millennials in the U.S. (age 18-34) own a pet according to New York-based market research firm GfK, making them the largest population of pet owners today.

That also makes them the drivers of many of the current trends in the pet industry, especially the increase in focus on health and nutrition across categories. 

“Consumers in general are starting to really pay attention to what is in their food and, in turn, to what is in their pet’s food,” says Stacy Milchman, operations manager for North Hollywood, Calif.-based Pet n’ Shape. “They want to feel good about what they are giving to their fur babies.”

In the dog chew category specifically, there’s a big uptick in demand for simple, natural chews. “The industry trend has been towards natural, limited-ingredient chews, as pet parents are really paying attention to what they feed their pets,” adds Milchman. “This is why natural chews like bones, tracheas, pizzles and even feet are a great choice.”

All of Pet n’ Shape’s snacks are high in protein, low in fat and made from all-natural ingredients. The company’s All-Natural Dog Chewz line, for example, includes beef trachea and lung, turkey, duck and chicken feet with no added preservatives or other additives. Plus, the treats are made and sourced in the USA, another major trend in the chew category according to industry experts.

Walnut Creek, Calif.-based Emerald Pet Products also caters to modern pet parents with its line of Little Chewsies dog chews. The treats contain no wheat, corn, soy or dairy, making them the perfect choice for dogs with common food allergies. They come in four different flavors—Chicken, Salmon, Turducky and Peanut Butter—and are less than five calories each.

Safety and digestibility of chews are also major concerns amongst dog owners today. “People are always seeking new and engaging ways to keep their pets happy, healthy and occupied. But now they’re becoming equally concerned about safety and digestibility,” says Bill Chilian, marketing vice president of Richmond, Va.-based Barkworthies. “These concerns resonate strongly among Millennials, who account for a significant number of new pet owners.”

Barkworthies’ natural dog chews are fully digestible and contain no artificial coloring or flavoring, making them safe for sensitive stomachs. The six-inch sticks come in a variety of tasty flavors including beef, pork and lamb, and are easy to cut into smaller pieces for smaller breeds or snack-sized training treats.

“In the past, when you needed a chew for your dog, you reached for rawhide,” says Glenn A. Novotny, vice president of sales and marketing at Emerald Pet Products. But since rawhide is now known for being a choking hazard and irritating dogs’ digestive systems, “consumers are looking for safer alternatives.”

Emerald Pet’s Fresh Smileezz dog chews are a great alternative to traditional rawhides, with the added benefit of promoting dental health. The chews are designed to surround the entire tooth and massage the surrounding gum for maximum cleaning action as dogs gnaw away. The unique grain-free formula uses real parsley, mint and dill to eliminate odor-causing bacteria and give pups minty-fresh breath.

While beef, poultry and pork continue to be the most popular sources of natural chews, other, less conventional proteins are gaining traction in the category.

“The hottest trends in the category are an ever-expanding range of natural alternatives,” says Chilian. “Two of the hottest emerging segments are naturally shed antlers and chews made from novel proteins like kangaroo, duck or crocodile.”

Barkworthies offers a number of treats made from free-range kangaroo. These chews aren’t just a novelty, though. They’re actually a perfect choice for health-conscious pet parents—they’re full of iron, zinc and vitamins B6 and B12, and they’re easy to digest and hypoallergenic. 

Antlers and horns are another great choice for consumers who want an out-of-the-box dog chew. Dallas-based QT Dog offers both naturally shed U.S. deer antlers and water buffalo horns. These chews are super long lasting, contain no plastic or chemicals, and are rich in minerals. Pet parents can also rest assured that these chews are safe for their furry friends and won’t splinter or stain.

And for those looking for a non-meat alternative, there’s the Himalayan Dog Chew by Mukilteo, Wash.-based Himalayan Corporation. This hard cheese chew is made with cow milk, yak milk, salt and lime juice to create a long-lasting gluten-free treat.

With so many different types of chews available today, it’s up to retailers to help consumers find the right chew for their canine. “Consumers have a lot of questions about the treats they are purchasing. The retailer should know the ingredients, the nutritional benefits and the product highlights,” says Milchman. “With some natural products which are newer to the market, such as items like chicken feet, the consumer may have questions regarding safety or may be hesitant to try something very different from their typical treat purchases.” 

It’s key, then, for retailers to thoroughly educate their salespeople about their product selection so that customers don’t hesitate to purchase due to lack of information.

Let It Be Known
Signage is another great way to keep customers informed about new chews, and to highlight key product features. Group chews together with similar features like all-natural and Made in the USA, or create special displays of non-traditional chews. Free samples of chews are also a great way to get customers to try something new, suggests Milchman.

And don’t forget to utilize space outside of the treat aisle to get the most out of the chew category. “Chews are fast-moving items with enticing price points, making them one of the most profitable aisles in many stores. But the key to spurring impulse purchases is thinking beyond the aisle,” says Chilian. “Savvy retailers are placing these products on endcaps, in clip strips or in bins near the register. In fact, well-packaged chews can be successfully merchandised in any high traffic area throughout the store.”

The internet is often an under-used space to educate customers. Many retailers have found success with online newsletters or blogs according to Zach Ortega, marketing manager at Himalayan Corporation. “Whether that be a brand new brand on the market or one of the most popular brands, retailers have developed new ways to help the consumer as much as possible,” says Ortega.

The biggest takeaway for driving dog chew sales, though, is finding a personalized solution. Pet parents don’t want a one-size-fits-all treat; they want something that’s the right size, flavor and ingredients for their dog. 

“Offering a wide variety based on varying chew styles helps provide a chew to satisfy all levels and sizes. Not all customers like the idea of giving their dog a body part to chew on and prefer chews that have a sanitary look and feel without oils or odors,” says Novotny. “Start the conversation by fitting a chew based on the chew style of their dog. Offering a solution to what they are seeking is the best way to build satisfaction and long-term loyalty.”


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