Building a Better Dog Chew

Manufacturers are answering consumer demands for natural chews that are not only healthful, but also entertaining.




Dogs generally do not savor their food. While they probably appreciate a nice bowl of kibble and are always happy to wolf down one more snack, most dogs eat quickly. They usually do not save anything for later—unless, of course, they are given a long-lasting chew. These chews, which can include rawhide, jerky, antlers and other animal parts, entertain dogs for much more than a few seconds. They can also boost impulse sales in pet stores.


Consumers like buying their dogs tasty chews, especially the natural ones. According to Packaged Facts’ National Pet Owner Survey from June/July 2017, 72 percent of U.S. dog owners have purchased dog treats or chews in the past 30 days. Packaged Facts includes in this category soft/indulgent treats, functional treats, edible/rawhide chews, dental chews and jerky. Only dry food was purchased more—by 81 percent of consumers.


Also according to Packaged Facts’ survey, 52 percent of dog owners purchase dental treats/chews and 49 percent buy entertainment chews. Chews made from whole animal parts were popular, with 23 percent of dog owners buying these, and 26 percent of dog owners purchase grain-free treats/chews. The most commonly purchased free-from treat/chew is the segment that uses no artificial ingredients and no artificial preservatives, with 31 percent of dog owners buying these.


Calling Out the Benefits

Consumers look for a variety of features when shopping for dog chews. Durability is at the top of that list, says Rashell Cooper, marketing director for Long Beach, Calif.-based Redbarn. The company recently launched Bully Super Braids and Weaves, which Cooper says are among the most durable bully sticks on the market.


“Canine customers who love to chew will have a new single-ingredient and long-lasting option,” she says.


New Bully Weaves feature seven sticks, and Super Braids feature four sticks, woven and twisted into a small and large option for different sized dogs. The chews are designed to be fun and compelling shapes that dogs will puzzle over during chew time. Bully Sticks are single-ingredient beef chews that are naturally rich in protein and highly digestible. The chews are also designed to help reduce stress and boredom for the dog, are free from common canine allergens like soy, grains and wheat, and help support dental health.


Another feature that dog owners want in natural chews is protein and other healthful ingredients. “They are looking for something more natural, treats that actually have nutrients in them,” says Thomas Darmstandler, owner of Modesto, Calif.-based Kona’s Chips. “People are looking for something more nutritious for their dogs.”


As humans eat more healthfully, they want their dogs to eat nutritious foods too, says Darmstandler. People are reading labels, and they can see that other chews have carbohydrates, fillers, and preservatives.


“Our chicken jerky is 100 percent chicken,” he says, noting that Kona’s Chips manufactures its products in the USA, another feature that pet parents are seeking.  “It’s very healthy for your dog.”


The challenge in the natural chews category is that high-quality products have higher price points. Retailers might hesitate to carry the products, thinking that consumers are shopping for price. In reality, Darmstandler says, Kona’s Chips can provide opportunities for impulse sales. The bags of Kona Chips are small, so they take up less room than a bag of dry food, and a dog owner will buy a 16-ounce bag of chicken jerky every week or two, while the 50-pound bag of dry food shopper comes in once a month.


“It’s a delicious treat, so they come back in store and buy other products,” he says.


Treats with a Purpose

Pet owners’ health-first approach to shopping for dog chews has not only driven demand for items with simple, high-quality ingredients, it has also given rise to a new class of products within the category—functional chews that actively support a pet’s health.


For example, Missing Link, a brand of East Longmeadow, Mass.-based W.F. Young Inc., recently launched a combination treat, supplement and chew—Once Daily Superfood Dental Chews. The company’s Hips, Joints and Teeth formula contains omega-3, -6 and -9 fatty acids, dietary fiber, phytonutrients and glucosamine, while its Skin, Coat and Teeth formula contains essential fatty acids, dietary fiber, phytonutrients and Stay-C 50 (a patented form of vitamin C). Both of the formulas feature ridges and abrasive action to help reduce the plaque on a dog’s teeth.


“We wanted to design an easier way to feed a daily dose of Missing Link supplement,” says marketing manager Jessica Young. “We wanted to make sure we were creating a natural chew. And we are purists, so we didn’t want to cook out all the nutrients.”


Young says the chews are a big hit, especially among the younger demographic. “For Millennials, everything is about convenience,” she says. “And there is the emotional aspect of it, when people feed their dog a treat there is that emotional bonding.”


The new chews answer the desire to give dogs a healthful chew, and one that lasts a long time. In fact, some dogs will work on the Superfood Dental Chew for an hour, as if it were a toy.


Of course, even chews with the best ingredients and biggest potential to impact a pet’s health in a positive way will be a waste if a dog simply does not want to eat them. That is why the most important feature of natural chews is palatability, says Mike Thomas, vice president of development for QT Dog, LLC in Dallas.


“Does it taste good? Second is longevity, will it last?” he says.


Branding is also important, and QT Dog recently announced it has entered into a licensing agreement with Mossy Oak, the outdoor brand known for its camouflage patterns, to distribute water buffalo horn, antler chews and other items under the Mossy Oak Label.


“Image branding in pet products has been concentrating on the great outdoors for some time now,” he says. “Mossy Oak is a trending leading brand in the outdoor category. It seemed like a natural fit to us.”  PB


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