Body Parts and Beyond
Natural dog chews are an expanding category, as consumers seek new and healthy items for their loved ones.
The natural dog chew category is changing. Consumers want their pups to enjoy the various rawhides and body-part chews, but they are more concerned than ever with safety, nutrition and other issues. They also want interesting, inventive chews that taste good and will entertain their dogs for a long time without unpleasant odors or other negative features. Further driving diversity within this product category, industry experts say, is the fact that more dog owners are seeking chews that do not contain artificial ingredients.
According to the America Pet Products Association’s 2015/2016 National Pet Owners Survey, 59 percent of dog owners buy some type of chew for their pet (averaging four chews per year), and 34 percent buy natural chews. Also according to the APPA survey, 13 percent of pet owners who buy natural parts chews prefer cow/beef, five percent prefer lamb, 16 percent prefer pig/pork, and 10 percent prefer another part.
The APPA survey also found that rawhide is still the most popular chew, with 80 percent of dog owners buying them. Among the rawhide shoppers, 64 percent purchase the natural/white flavor, 35 percent buy basted/smoked, and 22 percent buy rawhide wrapped with meat.
While chews play a utilitarian role in keeping dogs happy, healthy and out of trouble, Bill Chilian, marketing vice president for Barkworthies, based in Richmond, Va., says this product category is largely driven by innovation. Today the overriding trend is for simpler, less-processed, more natural items. “People are continuously seeking new ways to keep their pet happy, healthy and occupied,” he says. “Traditional segments like rawhide and bones are still in demand, but their dominance is being challenged by an ever-growing legion of newer, natural alternatives that are digestive friendly, like bully sticks, tendon twists, trachea and ears.”
Chilian adds that Barkworthies provides all these items. The company’s naturally shed deer and elk antlers are especially strong sellers, as consumers want durability in natural chews. Made in the USA is also important, and Barkworthies introduced more than 60 Made in the USA items in 2015.
“One way we’re staying ahead of the curve is by offering unique, alternative protein sources like kangaroo and crocodile, even cultured milk from yaks,” he says. Also new is the Australian Gourmet line that includes a beef trachea stuffed with kangaroo filling and lamb ears drizzled with pure liver “icing.”
Chilian is not alone in his assessment of what is going on within the category. Many manufacturers say dog owners expect much from natural dog chews.
“Consumers are looking for reassurance that they have chosen a safe, USA-made and -sourced natural chew with minimal ingredients and no sugars or sweeteners to trick their dog into liking the product,” says Glenn A. Novotny, vice president of sales and marketing for Walnut Creek, Calif.-based Emerald Pet Products. “We also hear from a lot of consumers that want a chew, but are looking for options they can give indoors without the nasty mess or smell that comes with many of the body parts.”
Among the company’s offerings are Twizzies, a line that Novotny says has been very popular because it is a lasting chew that is not made with grains or other fillers. The latter is an important feature, as shoppers increasingly want to know what is in the chews. “Ingredient clarity will become one of the most important areas for the category,” he says. “With the amount of information available today, many consumers spend time researching before they buy.”
Novotny adds that dog owners are looking beyond body parts to seek high-quality, high-protein, long-lasting chews that are easy on the digestive system. Emerald Pet’s newest product is Smart n’ Tasty Twizzies all-natural chews in Peanutty (peanut butter) flavor. The high-protein, premium chew is 48 percent protein.
“We also heard a lot of feedback from customers who wanted us to make a smaller version of our Twizzies in a bag for more frequent rewarding and for smaller dogs,” says Novotny. The company launched Twizzies Bits 10-ounce bags in Piggy, Chicky, Turducky and Peanutty.
Pet owners are looking for more innovative products and for combined products, such as pork skin wrapped around bone, says Laura Jones, co-owner of Jones Natural Chews in Rockford, Ill. “There seems to be a push for different protein sources in the chews as well as USA chews,” she says. “Stores are getting creative in their displays, such as organizing by protein source or by dog size recommendations.”
Jones adds that one challenge related to dog size is developing chews that are good for small dogs. This year, Jones Natural Chews introduced a three-inch Windee (trachea tube) and a half-size Curly Q (steer pizzle) for small dogs, and a soft sausage link product called Rocky’s Rollers in chicken, beef and lamb. “This segment is growing quickly, and more chews for this size dog are in demand,” she says.
Consumers are also seeking unusual chews. “More exotic proteins are coming into play,” says Mike Thomas, vice president of development for QT Dog, located in Dallas. The company recently introduced Water Buffalo Hornz in five sizes: small, medium, large, sections and flanks. The chews are 100-percent natural and long lasting.
The company also offers Core Chews, which are buffalo horns that are steamed to release the spongy bone core. The crunchy treats are available in two sizes, medium and large. Also new from QT Dog are Whole Dried Cow Tails.
“The sky is the limit,” says Thomas. “I would think that African biltong for dogs can’t be far away.”