Something to Chew On
by Pamela Mills-Senn
September 30, 2011
The natural products trend has had a significant impact in the dog chews category, and pet specialty stores stand to profit.



It was probably inevitable, given the family member-like status dogs have assumed. Just as people are struggling with their weight, dogs are gaining in girth as well. According to Steve King, vice president of sales and marketing for Globalinx Pet LLC, a Newport Beach, Calif.-based company that produces Benni & Penni brand premium dog treats and chews, data shows that 40 percent of dogs are overweight.

Just as people are paying more attention to the fats and calories in their diets, they’re starting to do the same for their canine companions, particularly when it comes to chews and treats. But for some dog owners, withholding these in an attempt to pare pounds from their pet can be unhappy prospect.

“Consumers can be torn between providing a delicious treat for their best friend and the worry that treats are contributing to their weight problem,” explains King. “The bottom line is dog owners want long and healthy lives for their pets.”

Increasingly, this translates to natural and simple, says Debbie Claypool, vice president of marketing for Free Range Eco Naturals Dog Treats, Inc. Located in Shelby Township, Mich., the company offers natural “body part” dog chews and treats with minimal ingredients.

“The real trend is going back to basics,” says Claypool. “Simple. Safe. No guesswork. Food the way nature intended is what the consumer wants for their family, in which their pets are included.” 

The fact that natural chews and treats are typically low in calories and fat makes them ideal for helping to maintain a healthy weight, while not depriving pets of something they enjoy. Although at one point natural meant pricier, that is changing as the movement toward more natural products with fewer ingredients picks up momentum, says Claypool. This trend is also proving healthy for pet specialty retailers.

“Natural, holistic pet treats are a growing sector within the pet industry,” says Darby Cunningham, director of marketing and development for Bingo Pet Treats. Located in Chatsworth, Calif., the company provides all-natural holistic treats for dogs, including deer and elk antlers and kangaroo treats. Dog owners are looking for single or reduced-ingredient treats, as well as those that take a while to consume, says Cunningham, explaining that in this anemic economy people are on the hunt for value.

 He thinks retailers can also help customers by educating them about other benefits that treats offer. “Most of us must spend 40 hours away from home to engage in our careers—that’s 50 percent of the 16 hours that humans and dogs are awake and active,” he explains. “Providing beneficial long-lasting treats that help with the time dogs spend alone can enrich their day.”

It’s not only natural that attracts. Several product contamination scares over the past few years have made domestically manufactured products more attractive to consumers, says John Bosserman, director of sales and marketing for Wholesome Hide, Inc.

“Interest in dog chews made in the U.S.A. from U.S.A. beef hide is growing significantly,” says Bosserman, whose company manufactures rawhide dog treats.

Savvy pet specialty retailers can capitalize on this interest by promoting USA-made products with special signage and dedicated displays, he suggests.

“This is an area that the big-box stores cannot compete in,” says Bosserman. “Many U.SA.-made brands are sold exclusively through specialty stores, making every brand virtually exclusive to independent stores.”

Creating a natural section in the store will attract more customers to the area and boost sales, says Ryan Wilson, product manager for Tyson Pet Products, Inc., a Springdale, Ariz.-based company that provides high-quality chews and treats for dogs.

“There is still very low-consumer awareness of natural part chews, such as bully sticks and pigs ears,” he explains. “Improved branding and signage can help educate shoppers on the benefits of natural chews.”

Increasing customer awareness of these products prove beneficial to retailers, since natural chews and treats often come with higher margins, Wilson explains. These kinds of items also help specialty retailers differentiate their businesses from mass retailers who typically don’t carry these products or offer a minimal selection.


Manufacturers Assist
Cunningham adds that ringing up a bag of dog food without encouraging an add-on treat sale is an opportunity lost.
“If a retailer can add on $15 of treats that they keystone or better to a $30 bag of dog food, margins can jump from 15 percent to 20 or 30 percent,” he says.

But first, says King, retailers need to get customers to try the products. Globalinx encourages trial and impulse purchases by offering sizes with retail price points as low as $1.99. Additionally, all Benni & Pennis treats/chews come in a shelf/counter display box and the company also offers endcap and variety pack special buys, so retailers can make an inviting visual statement without making a big inventory commitment.

Tyson offers branded display cases and merchandising kits with multiple sign options to promote awareness, says Wilson. They drive trial at the shelf via shelf-talkers with coupons to encourage initial purchase.

Wholesome Hide provides signage, shelf-talkers, advertising images and other tools, along with online training to help retailers more effectively display and promote their products, says Bosserman. “Our sales reps also provide ride alongs and market visits at the distributor level,” he adds.

“Treats make up the frosting on the cake for many retailers,” Bosserman continues. “They can also mean the difference between making a profit at the end of the year or just scraping by. By carrying [high-quality] dog treats that are not readily available at the big box competitors, retailers are reinforcing the notion that dog lovers can find products at their store they can’t find at the chain stores.”