Beagle puppy chewing on a dog snack

Though nutritional chews can be beneficial to pet health and wellness, not all products are created equal. Certain items might be created from ingredients that are lower in quality compared with their competitors, while others could simply serve as a typical chew. In order to serve their pet communities, retailers must become familiar with the characteristics that make a chew nutritional and the reasons their customers should invest in these products. 

However, convincing these pet parents that a nutritional chew is right for their animals is not an easy task. These consumers want more from these products than they do from a snack product or vitamin. Not quite a treat, but also not a supplement, nutritional chews are enjoyable for pets to eat while also fortifying their health by offering certain wholesome ingredients that can benefit animal wellness. 

“The term ‘chew’ can be confusing because many consider it a texture/palatability term typically associated with treats, which—let’s be honest—aren’t always the healthiest offerings,” says Min Lee, president of development and co-founder of Honest Paws. “That said, nutritional supplements typically emphasize active ingredients rather than palatability, but what good is a supplement if we can’t get the pet to consume it?” 

 

It’s What’s Inside That Counts

Within the pet nutrition segment, an authentic approach always begins with a formula centered on wholesome ingredients, many of which consumers would choose for themselves. When this cornerstone is coupled with transparent processing that doesn’t reduce potentially healthful benefits, manufacturers are able to offer a product that attracts today’s knowledgeable shoppers, explains Jon Neveloff, a partner at King Kanine.

“For me, it always comes back to ingredients and process,” he says. “I would rather have a natural product than something with preservatives so you just have to keep looking until you find the right mix for your pet. The organic ingredients in our chews have been carefully selected to provide pets with a potent dose of nutrients and essential fatty acids with every bite.”

For Charlie Bachkora, founder of JAC Pet Nutrition, nutritional chews should feature an ingredient list comprised of complementary elements that serve a purpose to promote optimum pet health.

“Ingredients with functional benefits are key to making a natural chew,” explains Bachkora. “They provide the right balance of antioxidants, proteins, fatty acids, balanced fiber and vitamins and minerals. Processing for natural chews is generally dehydrated, freeze-dried or lightly-cooked to preserve the nutrient values.”

In addition to nutrients, another component of the nutritional chew segment is domestic manufacturing, which includes U.S.-sourced ingredients. For Amy Carruth, product manager at Stashios, there is a noticeable increase in consumer interest in companies whose values they share.

“We have the same belief feeding our dogs as we do with our children: if you can’t pronounce it or your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize it, don’t eat it,” says Carruth. “People are now reading ingredient lists and looking to make sure that what they buy is made in the U.S.”

 

Regulation 

While pet parents study nutritional chew brands and want companies they can trust, there is no greater marker of quality than a certification from a government agency or an organization that sets industry standards. Noting that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn’t oversee a separate dietary supplement segment of the market as a method of its food and drug oversight, Jeff Lokken, vice president of research and development at CW Labs (an internal division of Charlotte’s Web), reminds retailers of the importance of researching manufacturer membership or certifications from different organizations that ensure quality. 

“Because there is no dietary-supplement pet category, certain industry organizations were formed to educate, recommend guidelines and promote good, stable, tested and safe pet products,” Lokken explains. “These organizations include the Pet Nutrition Alliance and National Animal Supplement Council (NASC).”

By adhering to the standards outlined by trusted organizations, manufacturers are able to provide proof of quality to retailers who, in turn, may share this information with consumers. David Martinelli, vice president of marketing for Pet Releaf, reveals that through working with industry organizations, the company is able to provide an additional level of transparency to consumers. 

“We are working closely with the NASC, USDA Organic Certification and USHA [the United States Hemp Authority] to ensure we are always providing customers with industry leading products,” Martinelli explains. “It is also important to understand the sourcing and development of our products, which is why we provide as much information as possible to confirm the quality efficacy from seed to sale, from plant to pet.

 

Chewing on Trends

The potential for nutritional chews to suit every pet palate and wellness need is seemingly limitless. With projected growth in the pet edibles category, the nutritional chew corner of the market will continue to enjoy a rise over the next five years, anticipates Lokken.

“Brightfield Group projects the pet edibles segment, within which the pet chews fall, will end 2020 at $158 million (+28.8 percent versus 2019), making it the No. 2 share of the pet CBD market at 37.1 percent just behind tinctures,” he explains. “From 2020-2025, they project the nutritional pet chew segment will have the highest CAGR of any CBD segment at 31 percent.”

CBD products have seen a great expansion within the pet goods market, often touted as offering therapeutic benefits for animals that experience issues, such as anxiety, joint pain and the need for an increased quality of life during illness. When treating a pet with CBD, Neveloff sees a trend toward ease of administration. 

“The rise of interest in CBD-infused chews comes down to ease of application,” he says. “It is very simple to give your pet one or two chews at a time as compared to using a dropper or syringe to measure out proper dosage. Store owners just need to show their customers the back of each package so they can make the decision based on ingredients.”

As trends in human wellness continue to set the tone for the direction of the pet market, some manufacturers see the growing plant-based demand extending into the pet goods segment as pet parents are desiring more meat-free options. While Lee sees this and other food-quality standards, such as USDA-certified organic products, being prioritized by consumers, COVID-19 has also influenced trends.

“COVID-19 will continue to pose challenges into 2021 on the supply-chain side,” Lee reveals. “Everything from packaging materials to quality ingredients will be stressed as activities begin to ramp up. Those that are fortunate enough to be in strong relationships will stand to benefit while others will be forced to scramble throughout the year to piece-meal finished, sellable products.”

 

Building Trust

COVID-19 will influence trends in nutritional chews in other ways, as well. Consumers want to ensure their purchases will yield a return by optimizing pet health and wellness, says Martinelli. 

“Given the challenges that many pet parents may have faced in 2020, along with the increase in adoptions from shelters, there has been a lot more attention given to the nutritional chew segment and heightened awareness,” he explains. “Customers want—and expect—the same high-quality healthy products for their pets that they do for themselves.”

Educated consumers are often more price-conscientious, meaning they compare different products before becoming loyal to a brand, says Bachkora. This desire to provide the most trustworthy option to animals, while remaining cognizant of economic challenges, will remain a large factor for pet parents in 2021.

“The consumer is looking to feel good about the nutrition they feed their pet, but at a price they can afford,” Bachkora explains. “Because treats and chews are an impulse item and not a planned purchase like food, I see the grocery channel adding more nutritional chews. This will put pressure on pet specialty retailers to compete but, more importantly, they must educate the consumers.”

In addition to focusing on the origins and quality of the products themselves, pet parents are going to remain mindful about the environmental and economic impacts of their choices. As Carruth explains, consumers are going to continue growing the trend of purchasing from companies that share their values to show support through their spending, such as a noticeable increase in interest of supporting women-owned and -operated businesses.

“We think people will be making more of a conscientious effort to support their communities and protect their environment by buying from small, family-owned businesses,” continues Carruth. “People see the importance of purchasing from companies with a mission to reduce their carbon footprint—sourcing local ingredients and utilizing other local businesses for goods and services.”  PB