Chewing the Natural Way
Treating pets doesn’t have to be an indulgence. Today’s pet parents want all-natural snacks and chews that support pet health—and they’re willing to pay for it.
Pets love to chew. They chew on sticks. They chew on furniture. They chew on shoes, toys and bones—but that doesn’t mean everything they sink their teeth into is good for them. Luckily, there are plenty of natural treats and chews available today to keep pets healthy and satisfied.
“There’s a movement toward ‘better-for-you’ products—in human health and in pet health. We have a better understanding of how natural foods can help us look and feel our best, and we want the same thing for our pets,” says Lauren Brecher, brand manager for Netherlands-based WHIMZEES, a WellPet company. “Our dogs don’t choose their own food, so it’s our responsibility to make sure that what we give them will help them live longer, happier lives.”
While all pet food categories have seen a major trend toward natural ingredients in recent years thanks to improved consumer awareness, natural chews and treats have dramatically increased in popularity. Pet treats are expected to see dollar growth rates of 5 percent through 2021 according to Joe Wallington, president and CEO of Rockford, Ill.-based Jones Natural Chews.
With this kind of rapid progress, it’s not only a smart move for retailers to invest in the category, but also to stay on top of product innovations in order to properly educate consumers.
“Retailers need to understand that there is still huge potential to grow the chew category by increasing dog owning household penetration. Surprisingly, only about 35 percent of dog owning household purchase chews and jerkies for their dogs. Much of this is lack of awareness or knowledge,” says Wallington.
What’s Trending in the Category?
One of the biggest drivers in growth is an increase in demand for premium-quality natural treats with a higher price tag. “Super-premium treats have seen recent growth rates of 20 percent year-over-year,” explains Wallington. “It is very exhilarating to see the growth in super-premium. Dog owners clearly love their pets and they are showing it with their wallets.”
To capitalize on this growth, Jones Natural Chews recently launched its new line of super-premium treats called Jones Select at Global Pet Expo. The line features treats made with all-natural, limited ingredients, ranging from nutritional blends of chicken, beef, duck and salmon to exotic proteins like boar and alligator. All of the treats are 100 percent grain-free and contain zero artificial flavors, colors or preservatives.
Plus, like all Jones Natural Chews products, the Jones Select treats are raised, sourced and manufactured in the USA. “The U.S. Pet Market Outlook, 2017-2018 showed that consumers rank USA-sourced and -made as a top consideration in their decision criteria for treat purchases,” says Wallington.
Another major focus of today’s consumers is functionality. Pet parents want treats and chews that are more than just tasty—they want something that actively supports a long and healthy life for their cat or dog.
“When you’re giving a piece of chicken to your pet, isn’t it nice to have some additives like joint glucosamine that can help an older golden retriever?” says Chris Moore, president and COO of Earth Animal. “You’re treating a function and also giving them a treat. We see that trend continuing.”
The Connecticut-based company just released its new Daily Health Nuggets, a delicious treat packed with vitamins, minerals, enzymes, essential fatty acids, fiber and antioxidants for a strong immune system and shiny coat. Unlike traditionally processed foods, the nuggets are air-dried, so the nutrients are completely raw and not degraded by exposure to high temperatures.
Owners’ concerns about pet wellness also extend to their animals’ smiles. Manufacturers like WHIMZEES are helping keep pets’ teeth and gums healthy with all-natural chews in a wide variety of fun shapes and sizes.
“It’s not just about freshening stinky breath anymore, it’s about utilizing ingredients to help effectively reduce plaque and tartar to help keep mouths healthy—although fresh breath is a great added benefit,” says Brecher. “Natural ingredients affect the bigger picture of pet health and pet parents understand that now better than ever.”
One of the newest additions to the WHIMZEES lineup is the Brushzees chew. The daily dental treat is engineered to remove plaque and tartar as dogs naturally grip, gnaw and chew. Made with all-natural ingredients, Brushzees are also totally gluten-free and vegetarian.
As consumers have become more educated about pet health, they’ve also become more aware of pet allergies. California-based manufacturer Emerald Pet Products specializes in creating treats for cats and dogs with sensitivities to ingredients like wheat, corn and soy. The company’s signature Twizzies chews, for instance, are grain-, gluten-, soy- and dairy-free. Like all Emerald Pet Products treats, the chews are made in the USA with limited ingredients—another major category trend.
“People are realizing that it makes sense to really look at limited-ingredient diets. They ask themselves, why is that ingredient in that product? What is the purpose of that ingredient?” says Glenn A. Novotny, vice president of sales and marketing at Emerald Pet Products.
Choosing the Right Chew
Of course, with so many options, it can be overwhelming for pet parents to find the right treat for their four-legged friends. With the right training, salespeople can play a crucial role in helping shoppers navigate the treat and chew aisle—and help keep pets happy and healthy at the same time.
First, retailers should ensure pet parents understand the difference between the digesting and swallowing of treats. Oftentimes, consumers assume that easily digestible chews are also easy to swallow. That’s simply not true, says Moore.
“What happens in the gut of an animal and what can potentially happen in the throat of an animal are two different things,” he says. “Anything you put into a dog’s mouth could potentially be a choking hazard.”
Next, retailers should help owners determine their pet’s chewing style. “We ask retailers and we ask pet parents, please understand your pet’s chew IQ. Some dogs are gulpers, some dogs are very aggressive and they’ll tear and swallow very quickly, and some dogs are careful,” explains Moore. The more aggressive the chewer, the tougher the chew should be.
Size also matters, says Moore. “Don’t give a small animal a large chew. Just like you wouldn’t give an infant a grape and walk out of the room.”
Luckily, many manufacturers have support materials to aid retailers in understanding which natural treat is best for which pets. Jones Naturals puts a lot of effort towards training their customers.
“Our website does an excellent job teaching our customers and consumers alike. The site is full of information on feeding tips,” says Wallington. “We also have a Q&A section in the resources tab that addresses these kinds of questions.”
What the Future Holds
While the natural treat and chew category has seen enormous expansion in the last few years, experts believe it is only in its infancy and the best is yet to come.
“The category is poised for tremendous growth. Millennials have been a driving force in the pet industry overall, and the tastes and habits of that group in particular will help determine how the natural chew category continues to grow and evolve,” says Brecher. “Expect to see more emphasis on ingredients and effectiveness as these consumers continue to demand more and more from what they feed their pets.”