What’s In A Name?
Marketing some chews more like treats instead of durable toys might help increase sales in the small animal department.
The main difference between a treat and a toy in the mind of the customer is that treats are meant to be gobbled up, while a toy should be durable and last a long time. With that in mind, I have a theory that marketing chews as “chew toys” can cause subconscious dissonance in the minds of shoppers and might reduce the sales of chews. After all, it doesn’t make good economic sense to buy a toy that is designed to be destroyed. I wonder if it might help to rebrand chew toys as just chews.
It’s important to keep in mind that chews do come in two categories: those that are meant to be consumed quickly and those meant to last a while longer. How long a chew is meant to last depends on the size of the product and what it is made of. A heavy cardboard tube designed for pets to run through or sleep in until it is chewed apart will usually last a while and can be considered a toy. A large wooden chew, or one made from many interlocking pieces of wood, is also meant to last a while. Others, such as small twigs, or small pieces made into a twig shape, are intended to be quickly chewed up by the pets.
While most chews are not meant to actually be eaten by rodents, it is safe for them to eat small quantities of wood, cardboard, grass and other natural fibers. Normally, they won’t swallow an unsafe amount, but if the chew contains a sweetener like honey, it can pose a danger to omnivorous rodents. On the other hand, herbivorous pets like rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas can eat larger quantities of wood products safely. In fact, bark and small amounts of wood are a natural food for rabbits. In the same way, chews made from grass and other natural fibers are completely safe for herbivores to eat.
While the most basic chew toy is still a block of wood, manufacturers offer products made from a wide variety of materials, including cardboard and paperboard, grain products, minerals and natural substances such as sisal, loofah and cactus skeletons, which can be combined with nuts, wood and twigs. Grasses, cornhusks and other natural fiber materials are often braided or woven to make shapes like houses, nests or tunnels, which makes these products multi-use. Many rodents like to chew and shred toys made from grass or cornhusks. Smaller rodents, in particular, like to build nests from the pieces they tear off of toys made from grass or cardboard. Rats tend to peel strips off of cardboard chews.
Many chews are made bright and colorful with the addition of non-toxic, vegetable-based food colors. They can come shaped like fruits and vegetables, houses, ladders, teeter-totters, jungle-gyms, baskets, tubes and even Christmas ornaments. Attractive colors and shapes appeal to many pet owners, especially children, while others prefer products with a more natural appearance.
Retailers might consider displaying larger, longer-lasting chews in the section with durable toys and short-term chew products alongside treats. Displaying smaller chews in the treat section would encourage shoppers to think of them as consumables rather than durable toys and perhaps increase sales. Each retailer might need to experiment with different displays to see what works best with their customers. PB
Debbie Ducommun has a B.A. in animal behavior and has worked in the animal field since 1982. She is the author of three books about rat care, health, and training, and was a consultant on the movie Ratatouille.