Chews with a Bite
The market offers a wide array of chew treats and toys, and retailers need only to take the time to properly stock and merchandise the category to generate excitement and sales.

For dog owners and their pets, nothing says delight and indulgence quite like chew treats and toys—yet, they can offer so much more. They satisfy and nourish, calm and reassure. They are great for dental hygiene and serve as playthings, all at the same time—and on top of that, they are generally affordable compared with other dog accessories.

For pet stores, chews and treats are must-haves, as any retailer knows. They make for great impulse buys, and the repeat business they generate packs plenty of power to a retailer’s bottom line. The sheer variety of dog chews also suggests an almost unlimited range of in-store merchandising and display opportunities. Chew treats and toy manufacturers use eye-catching packaging to help differentiate their products, and retailers can harness that marketing creativity to help customers select what’s right for their dogs.

As basic as it may seem, the chew treats and toys category is as much about health and nutrition as it is about play. This is good news for retailers, since many chew suppliers say consumers tend to be less price-sensitive when what they’re buying affects the health and well-being of their pet.

That said, many companies that offer chew treats and chew toys clearly understand the importance of the growing demand among pet owners for natural products—the popularity of which correlates closely with people’s concern for the health of their pets. The natural-products trend has helped fuel the growth of one of the fastest-growing chews for dogs: deer antlers. Many dog owners have never heard of antler chews, and many stores don’t offer them yet, but that’s likely to change, says Bart Zandstra, sales and marketing manager for Indiana-based American Antler Dog Chews.

“Recent endorsements by Cesar Millan [known for his Nat Geo show Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan] and [celebrity dog trainer] Tamar Gellar have raised the profile of antler dog chews,” he says. “Several manufacturers are currently competing for a share of this market. Our parent company has been building antler furniture for decades, and we acquire antlers by the ton, enabling us to sell larger, higher-quality antlers for less.”

Zandstra also points out that the antlers are naturally shed, meaning animals aren’t subject to traditional food-processing methods, which many pet owners appreciate. Antlers are packed with calcium and other nutrients, they don’t require chemical processing, they don’t stain or stink, “and dogs absolutely love antlers,” he says.

QT Dog introduced Antlerz, its line of shed deer antlers dog chews, six years
ago, and it has become a phenomenon, says Mike Thomas, vice president of development at QT Dog. “The product has become a category in itself, just like bully sticks and pigs ears,” he says. “The big difference is that it is the longest-lasting, all-natural chew on the market that does not come out of a slaughter house.”

The company also offers Churpi Chews, a unique chew treat made from yak milk, salt and lime juice.

Seeking High Quality
Alan Ronay, owner of Tastybone USA, which produces lines of nylon, rubber and edible bones, says that consumers’ demand for higher-quality products is driving the company to offer more choices, even if the product isn’t, by definition, natural. When it comes to chew toys, consumers respond well when assured that the treat is safe and high quality.

“The dog chew category has lacked a quality product that lasts and keeps dogs interested for a long time,” Ronay says. “Tastybone is changing that by offering higher-quality products at competitive prices. We are continuously offering new designs and new flavors to keep dogs happy and healthy.

An increased awareness of pet health issues and a desire to minimize the need for veterinary visits, he says, has driven customers to be proactive about preventing health issues. One of the best ways to maintain dog health, he adds, is to promote good dental hygiene.

“Not all nylon bones are the same,” he says. “Chew toys should be chosen with the same care as a human choosing a quality toothbrush. For this reason, we recommend customers read up on ingredients, quality and nutrition.”

Ronay also reports that Tastybone projects increased sales of chew toys as a direct result of this growing consumer focus on health.

Mark Stern, president of Petmatrix, agrees that consumer demand for healthy chew treats and toys is a force the market will be dealing with for some time to come. He says that retailers must also be sensitive to the fact that not all chew treats and chew toys are equal, and they must ensure that their customers have choices.

Pet owners have become more discerning, manufacturers concur, and they are not only scrutinizing the safety and benefits of the foods they buy. The attitude extends to the chew treats and toys they purchase.
 Andy Holt, president of Todd’s BBI,  says, “Consumer demand will continue to grow for safe, dependable products that the pet can enjoy.”  

He adds that consumers today are sensitive to processing standards and is quick to point out that Todd’s BBI sources its ingredients from USDA processors for its beef, pork, lamb and chicken.

Presentation is Everything

Considering the wide range of products retailers can stock in this category, strong merchandising can be key to a retailer’s success selling these items. It can be advantageous, for example, to place certain products in juxtaposition to each other to demonstrate to customers the range of choice. For example, SmartBones, Stern says, is positioning itself against premium rawhide chews. The customer needs to see the differences in the products side-by-side.

“SmartBones is a non-rawhide chew that provides all of the positive attributes of rawhide,” says Stern.  “SmartBones is 99-percent digestible and extremely palatable.”

He adds that signage and samples are a great way to introduce the product to customers.
“The consumer needs a viable and safe alternative,” Stern says. “Dogs will always have the instinctive desire to chew and an improved option like SmartBones is a very viable alternative.”

Retailers certainly have a great deal to consider when it comes to merchandising and signage, but manufacturers play a major role by shrewdly packaging products to appeal dog owners and offering dynamic merchandising fixtures.

“Tastybone has striking packaging that will attract customers right away,” says Ronay. “We suggest pegging the product on a wall with the different sizes on each row, some placed near other toys and near the food. The decidedly black, modern packaging is instantly eye-catching and will drive customers to the product.”

American Antler Dog Chews offers stained-birch “canoe” store fixtures that can be used to display its products. “Stores that have our fixtures are reordering in almost amazing quantities,” says Zandstra.  The company also offers a money-back guarantee to retailers and their customers.

Dog chew treats and toys play across almost every product category a store owner can think of: nutrition, behavior, dental health and play. This category can be positioned between food and toys, health and entertainment. Many retailers consciously train their staff to be able to cross sell dog chews with other health products, including dental products, dietary supplements, treats and even food.

The category is a strong one for retailers,  since consumers see chew treats and toys as an important element of a dog’s overall health and well-being. It is an expenditure they are more than willing to make. 

Dan Headrick is a freelance writer who lives and works in Raleigh, NC. Dan and his wife Pam Guthrie opened Wag Pet Boutique in 2003. The store received numerous community and industry awards.