Something Natural to Chew On
Pet parents are increasingly choosy when it comes to dog chews, so retailers should invest in a wider variety of natural and non-traditional treats.
Even the cutest canines are known to chew on things they shouldn’t, like shoes or furniture, which is why the dog chew has long been a staple of the treat aisle. However, for today’s pet parents, traditional chews just won’t cut it; they want something more natural and high quality to feed their precious pups.
“Pet parents are looking for treats that they can feel good about giving their pets,” explains Mike Pika, product manager at South Saint Paul, Minn.-based Royal Pet, Inc. “As pets are often viewed now as members of the family, pet owners are paying much closer attention to the ingredients in the treats they purchase for their dogs.”
This trend toward specialty and natural chews has been largely driven by a more informed group of consumers. Thanks to the internet, today’s pet owners are better armed with information about pet products, including chews, than ever before.
“I would say that most customers today are highly educated when it comes to picking out products for their pets,” says Glenn A. Novotny, CEO of Walnut Creek, Calif.-based Emerald Pet Products. “They read a lot before they ever make a purchasing decision. They get a lot of information from online sourcing and from other peer groups and blogs who recommend different products.”
Read the Label
To ensure dogs receive the very best chew products, it’s important for both pet parents and retailers to closely examine labels.
“Dog owners are very cognizant of the treats that they purchase for their dogs,” Pika says. “They want to know that what they are feeding their dogs is safe and not harmful to their well-being. Many owners want to know if the treats are made with natural ingredients.”
In this case, natural means free of artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. Pet parents should be on the lookout for products labeled “all-natural” and with short, easy to understand ingredient lists.
For example, Royal Pet’s newest line of dog chews, ZoomaChews, are all made with 100 percent real ingredients. These innovative play chews are designed to encourage play and come in shapes perfect for tossing, tugging and fetching. And once pups are tuckered out, they can gnaw down on a treat with zero artificial flavors, colors, preservatives, antibiotics, salt, corn or soy. Plus, most options are grain and gluten-free.
Another key factor to look for when shopping for chews is digestibility. Natural chews tend to be less likely to irritate dogs’ stomachs or cause issues with digestion.
“One of the most important things to also consider when you’re looking at treats and chews is that digestibility and safety factor,” says Novotny. “If you look at our Emerald Pet all-natural Twizzies, they are 100 percent digestible. That means if a dog was to swallow a piece of it, it will pass through and digest completely. If they’re chewing on something very hard, it makes it difficult for them to break it down and digest.”
Since Twizzies are gluten, soy, grain and dairy free, they are marketed as a great alternative for dogs with common food allergies. The all-natural treats also contain zero sugars, sweeteners and no by-products.
Industry experts recommend avoiding imported chews and instead looking for products manufactured stateside. This means that consumers (and retailers) can rest assured that products are held to high quality and safety standards.
“There is more and more demand for natural dog chew products made in the U.S.A.,” says John Bosserman, sales and marketing manager for Dolton, Ill.-based Wholesome Hide. “Pet parents are looking at labels much more carefully and paying more attention to ingredients and country of origin.”
This increase in domestically sourced products is partially due to the large number of news stories about rawhide recalls and pets getting sick from imported chews.
“Another round of major recalls for potential chemical contamination of imported rawhide treats has driven recent attitudes among consumers,” explains Bosserman. “Recalls don’t necessarily end importation of treats but it does heighten country of origin concerns with discriminating consumers.”
One of the best ways to guarantee the chews you choose are actually made in America is to look for a “Made in USA-Certified” seal. This means an outside party examined a brand’s raw material invoices and interviewed suppliers to confirm the chews were manufactured in the United States.
“The first question we hear is, ‘Where was it really made?’ Some manufacturers label import products as being domestically produced or do minimal production on import products,” says Bosserman. “Consumers are starting to catch on and ask us more about our supply chain and ingredients, which we welcome.”
All of Chicago-based Wholesome Hide’s rawhide dog chews are 100 percent made and sourced in the U.S.A. The bones are created using fresh U.S.A. beef hide and basted with natural flavors for hours of chewing pleasure.
Trying Something New
As consumers are becoming more mindful and shifting away from standard chews, there’s also been a swell of interest in more exotic or unusual treats.
“Pet parents are becoming more adventurous when they shop, adding more exotic protein options to add excitement to their dog’s weekly mix, says Timothy Fabits, vice president of sales at Richmond, Va.-based Barkworthies. “We have a full complement of products featuring unique proteins including crocodile and kangaroo. These exotic proteins are ideal for dogs with food sensitivities.”
Even though Barkworthies chews are made with non-traditional proteins, they’re still all natural, digestible and safe. The kangaroo treats, for example, are free of preservatives and additives, low in fat and rich in antioxidants—so owners can still feel good about stepping (or hopping) outside of the dog chew box.
Modern Chew Marketing
Pet parents today aren’t just more informed, they’re more scrupulous, too. They want to find the right chew for their dog and won’t settle for anything less. That’s why experts advise retailers to prioritize variety when stocking treats.
“For retailers to get the most out of the dog chew category, they should ensure that they have a good variety of different treats to fit the needs of as many dog owners as possible,” explains Pika.
Offering a wide variety of chews does come with its downsides, though. The sheer number of possibilities can easily overwhelm shoppers, which is why it’s also important to strategically organize and display chews.
Novotny recommends arranging chews by strength, from softest to hardest products. “Within the chew category itself, it’s important to remember that not all dogs chew at the same level of intensity,” he explains. “Some dogs like very soft products, while other dogs like very hard product. They need to be merchandised together so you’re addressing all levels of chewing aggressiveness.”
Another way to grab customers’ attention is by creating special displays to highlight a specific brand or type of chew, like exotic proteins or all-natural varieties. For American-made chews, Bosserman suggests creating a patriotic red, white and blue display.
“Promoting genuine USA-made products with American flags, bunting and sales flyers and POP materials can go a long way to bringing customers’ attention to specific lines,” he adds.
Overall, the best way for retailers to capitalize on the dog chew category is to remain flexible and adapt as consumer tastes continue to change.
“The only surefire prediction I can confidently make is that tomorrow won’t be the same as today,” says Fabits. “That being said, product innovation will continue to drive chew sales. Consumer interest in novel proteins, shapes and ingredients will continue to grow, just as it is rising for human food and snacks.” PB