The discovery of a shredded expensive shoe or chewed couch cushion can wreak havoc on the bond pet owners have with their pups. For years, pet owners have steered their pets clear of the closet or couch by providing alternative objects, like rawhides or chews, to satisfy a dog’s natural instinct to chew. And until recently, many may have just walked through the chew/treat aisle of their local pet store, purchased the first product that might help deter the behavior and tossed their dog a bone.
However, with some chews and treat products making recall headlines recently, pet parents are choosing chew products more judiciously—and many are turning to natural alternatives. Today’s discriminating customer is seeking products that are high in quality, says Tim Fabits, vice president of sales at Redbarn Pet Products.
“There are several compelling attributes that drives the purchasing decision at the retail level, making this the fastest growing segment in the treat category,” Fabits says. Purity and simplicity of ingredients are among those attributes, with many manufacturers touting products as free of artificial flavors, colors or preservatives.
Products that are made in the USA and sourced with high-quality and trusted ingredients are also highly sought by consumers. “The Made in the USA benefit has had a significant impact on our business as more and more retailers and consumers are seeking product not produced overseas,” Fabit says.
Retailers wanting to cash in on this fast-growing category or boost their existing selections need to deliver on these consumer demands, and they can start by stocking a variety of chews that meet the needs of different-sized dogs. Fortunately, the market is chock full of products that can satisfy the chewing needs of the smallest Chihuahua to the largest Great Dane.
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“There are a wide variety of natural chews on the market, specifically body-part chews. What seems to be of most interest are long-lasting, simple, healthful chews with functional or ‘body-part chews’ being of most interest,” says Cathryn Cassinerio, animal nutrition specialist at Superior Farms Pet Provisions.
Superior Farms offers a plethora of natural single-source body-part chews. The company recently added venison and beef chews to complement its full array of lamb treats, which are made from 100-percent lamb and venison sourced from the U.S. and New Zealand. The venison chew products include the Venison Busy Bones—which are available in full or half sizes—Venison Scapulas, Venison Jerky packs and Venison Crepes with Liver Seasoning. “Offering a dog an all-natural body-part chew is a way to ensure that a dog’s desire to chew is met while giving him a single-source protein chew,” Cassinerio says.
Single-source meat protein is not the only ingredient gaining traction in the category. Dean Triandafellos, president at Beefeaters Holding Company, has noticed that sweet potato is becoming a more popular ingredient. “Customers don’t want to be confused with complicated ingredients in the treats they are feeding their dogs,” he says. “We try to focus on low-count ingredient panels, and we see the trend toward pure treats like freeze dried and sweet potato.”
The company’s line of sweet potato-based products encompasses both treats and chews, available in a variety of shapes and sizes, including fries, chips, lollipops, discs, bone-shaped bites and compressed rawhide bones.
Front Porch Pets is another manufacturer offering up a sampling of sweet-potato chew products. David Baldus, founder and president of the company, explains that sweet potatoes are grown without the use of many chemicals or herbicides, making them a natural fit for dog chew products. “Natural, to us, means without chemicals or additives—just real food that you or I would eat,” he says. “We moved our company into the farm produce growing area of Wisconsin in order to have access to fresh products as they become ripe.”
The company incorporates fresh produce in all of its products, including its Sam’s Yams. “Sam’s Yams are slabs of dried sweet potato that have a rawhide consistency and have a patented grooved surface great for dog’s teeth and gums,” says Baldus.
Baldus believes promoting real-food options in the chew/treat category is the best strategy for retailers. “The best any retailer can do is give the option, and explain that a health approach to feeding will reduce vet bills and extend the healthy life of pets.”
While explaining the health benefits is an essential part of selling the category, many manufacturers advise that retailers take the time to explain to consumers that in this category, size does matter. “A pet parent has to be keenly aware of the size, type and durability of a bone with making a purchasing decision,” says Fabits, comparing consumer-purchasing decisions in the category to how consumers might purchase baby products. “Much like [childrenn], pets must also be closely supervised when giving a treat or toy.”
The general rule of thumb, says Fabits, is if the product fits into a pet’s mouth as a whole piece, it’s too small for that pet. Luckily, many manufacturers offer a variety of chew sizes to accommodate for different sized dogs. Beefeaters’ Sweet Potato Fries are fit for smaller breeds, while the company’s Sweet Potato Chips are intended for large breeds, Triandafellos says. Front Porch Pets’ Sweet Potato Bichon “Fries” can be offered to small breeds as a chew or as a treat for larger dogs, while the company’s “Big Boyz” Sweet Potato Chews are only meant for larger breeds.
“I would suggest different types of chews for different sizes of dogs, and also [consider] such things as age, health of teeth and gums, and how aggressive of a chewer the dog is,” adds Cassinerio.
“For example, if I had a Pit Bull and a Jack Russell Terrier, I would suggest our larger Venison Femur Bone for the Pit Bull and a smaller Lamb Ear chew for the Jack Russell Terrier. These two chews are appropriately sized for the average size of these two breeds,” she says. “However, if the Jack Russell Terrier was a particularly aggressive chewer, I may suggest a Venison Ear instead, which is slightly larger and will last the terrier longer.”
Even with suggestive selling, independent retailers may still find promoting the natural chew category a challenge, particularly when it comes to merchandising, says Triandafellos. “Merchandising and placement are very important,” he says. “Retailers have to make a statement that they are committed to offering a natural set for their customers.”
Retailers should have either a standalone or distinctly separate set within the store for natural dog chews, preferably with callouts across the store, says Triandafellos. However, regardless of where the product is placed, Cassinerio says retailers need to be original with their displays.
“So called ‘body-part’ or ‘functional chew’ tables with unique apothecary jar or basket displays help to draw customers to all-natural chews,” she says. “A nice display of natural chews draws customers to them and is an easy impulse buy for customers when they come to purchase their food and hard goods.”
CHEWS DOGS CAN'T REFUSE
Scout & Zoe’s (scoutandzoes.com) uses naturally shed, premium antlers from domestic wild elk to create antler chews in a variety of sizes for dogs. The company recently added Canine Cookies and Antler Splits to its line of chews. The cookies enable dogs to quickly and easily get to the marrow of the antler, and the antler splits have exposed marrow, making it easier for senior dogs that may not be able to chew through the exterior of the antler. Scout & Zoe’s chews are sourced and packaged in the USA.
Tropiclean’s Fresh Breath +Plus Dental Treats (tropiclean.net) are chews that help clean teeth and freshen breath. The company uses natural, wholesome ingredients with vitamins and minerals that not only support a pet’s oral health, but support overall pet wellness. The chews are available in four wellness varieties, including digestive support plus prebiotics, skin and coat plus omegas-3 and -6, advanced cleaning system with flax seed, and hip and joint plus glucosamine. Tropiclean’s Fresh Breath +Plus Dental Treats are gluten, grain, wheat and corn free.
Wholesome Hide (wholesomehide.com) offers rawhide chews that are made with 100-percent USA ingredients. The company’s products are Made in the USA-certified, an independent auditing company. The rawhide is naturally processed and contains no potentially harmful chemicals. The company recently introduced Chunkee chews with veggies, and Yum-Chux, a rope toy and rawhide treat rolled into one. Wholesome Hide offers rawhide treats in a variety of shapes and sizes.