Solid Sourcing Required
In addition to ingredient lists, consumers are scrutinizing how and where dog treats and chews are sourced.
When it comes to dog treats and chews, owners these days value American-made, ethically sourced and sustainable products made by manufacturers that are transparent about their production processes, according to industry insiders.
“A smarter, more informed consumer demands that they know what they—or their pet—are consuming, where it comes from and how it is made,” said Joe McIver, brand manager for Whitebridge Pet Brands in St. Louis.
Art Nakagawa, president of Artvark Pet Products in Van Nuys, Calif., agreed. He said ethically sourced and sustainable ingredients are paramount for consumers.
In addition to the rising popularity of made in the USA products, pet specialty retailers reported increased sales of local offerings that are made in their own backyards.
“Made in USA products have been sought after by customers for years, and dog treats are no exception,” said Jeff Reibert, buyer for CountryMax Stores, which has multiple locations in New York state. “The trend for local products—in our case made in N.Y.—has increased as well.”
Keefer Dickerson, marketing andå outreach manager for Nashville Pet Products, which has stores in Tennessee, said, “Customers are very interested in unique proteins, sustainability and where ingredients are sourced.”
Retailers also reported that consumers favor treats containing wholesome ingredients, great flavor and appropriate sizes.
“The age and size of their pets are important factors in determining the products they purchase,” Reibert said. “The flavors and textures are more subjective to the pet’s preferences.”
In addition, cannabidiol (CBD)- infused treat sales are up, according to retailers.
As for the chew category, retailers said that customers are most interested in rawhide alternatives, size and durability.
“Alternatives to rawhide and body part chews has been a hot trend that continues to expand,” said Glenn A. Novotny, president and CEO of Emerald Pet Products in Walnut Creek, Calif. “The strong demand is coming from the soft treat category, which can be attributed to the popularity of smaller dogs as well as the ability for older dogs to easily chew.”
Sue Hepner, co-owner of Cool Dog Gear, which has stores in Pennsylvania, said her customers request long-lasting chews.
“They want more than chomp, chomp, swallow,” she said.
Manufacturers Extend and Relaunch Brands
Dog treat and chew manufacturers released a variety of products to the market during the second half of 2018.
In July, St. Louis-based Whitebridge Pet Brands relaunched its Dogswell treat brand with a meaty treat portfolio in new packaging. Three functional formulas, including Hip & Joint, Immunity & Defense and Skin & Coat, are available in a variety of forms, including jerky, mini jerky, grillers, soft strips and tenders. The U.S.-made products contain real meat as the first ingredient, said company officials.
The company also introduced Wag More Bark Less Meatballs and Wag More Bark Less Jerky in July. The soft meatball treats are made with home-style recipes, real vegetables and high-quality meat as the primary ingredient. They come in 14-ounce bags in Beef, Chicken and Lamb Recipes. The jerky contains real, high-quality meat and is available in 10-ounce bags in Chicken & Sweet Potato, Turkey & Cranberry or Duck & Apple varieties.
In response to consumer request for larger pack sizes, Emerald Pet Products in Walnut Creek, Calif., debuted its Twizzies multi packs in size 6 and size 9 in September.
Artvark Pet Products’ GoGo USA Wild Stressless Beef Jerky is an all-natural stress-free, predator-free beef treat. It is sourced and produced in the USA, and the lean protein contains less than 5 percent intra-muscular fat, according to officials for the Van Nuys, Calif.-based company.
Two Trends Pull Ahead in New Ingredients
Manufacturers are paying attention to what’s already popular on the human side as they develop new treats and chews, according to industry insiders.
“The same ingredients we see trending in the human side is trickling over to the pet category,” said Glenn A. Novotny, president and CEO of Emerald Pet Products in Walnut Creek, Calif. “Ingredients like chia seeds, quinoa and pumpkin continue to gain popularity. As pet owners experience benefits from specialty ingredients, they want their pets to be able to share the same experience.”
Peter Toolan, founder of Benebone in New York, agreed.
“There has been a growing trend for people-friendly flavors—blueberry, pumpkin, banana, sweet potato—because we’re making this connection between human and dog,” he said. “It seems that natural flavors are … appealing for dogs as well as humans.”
Ingredient combinations that resemble human dinner favorites are also catching on, said Joe McIver, brand manager for Whitebridge Pet Brands in St. Louis.
“Combining quality proteins—beef with bacon—or proteins and vegetables and fruit—turkey and cranberry—seems to be resonating with pet parents, and brands are catching on,” he said. “I see more innovation in treat flavors emulating popular human food meals, possibly with international twists or USA-focused flavors.”
The second major trend in treat and chew ingredients is cannabidiol (CBD) or hemp products. Art Nakagawa, president of Artvark Pet Products in Van Nuys, Calif., said he doesn’t see the trending slowing any time soon.
Jeff Reibert, buyer for CountryMax Stores, which has multiple locations in New York state, said he sees this segment of the category growing steadily as clients become increasingly knowledgeable about these ingredients.
“CBD and hemp-infused products are hitting the market hard as pet owners become more aware of the benefits and effectiveness of these treats,” he said. “These products are designed to aid conditions such as arthritis, anxiety, joint pain, seizures and a variety of other ailments that occur in our four-legged friends, especially as they age.”
Industry insiders recommend that pet specialty retailers use a combination of techniques to market dog treats and chews. Here are four strategies that retailers can employ:
4 Ways to Promote Dog Treats and Chews
1. Digital Marketing
“YouTube videos and social media are the two things we do to support retailers from an information standpoint,” said Art Nakagawa, president of Artvark Pet Products in Van Nuys, Calif.
Many companies spread the word through digital channels, such as e-newsletters, website banner ads, videos and social media.
“We send emails to our subscribers the day our new sales circular starts, and it links to our current ad on our website, where customers can view the complete ad,” said Jeff Reibert, buyer for CountryMax Stores, which has multiple locations in New York state. “We’ve improved efforts to reach our customers through social media.
“In particular, we’ve increased the number of posts and added a mix of fun, light-hearted posts with new product announcements and product knowledge posts,” he said. “Recently, we added sales videos highlighting several products in our current circular, and we’ve seen an increase in our reach and interactions.”
Connecting with consumers on platforms such as Instagram and Facebook is also effective, insiders said.
“Bundling products—buy food, get X-percent off treats—with a special code you promote on your social channels is a great way to entice pet parents to make a visit, and drive them to actively interact with your social channels,” said Joe McIver, brand manager for Whitebridge Pet Brands in St. Louis.
Because treats are an impulse buy for many shoppers, McIver said, “eye-catching, in-store signage highlighting the benefits of treats can help persuade a customer to make the purchase.”
The primary way staff members at CountryMax Stores inform customers is through colorful sales circulars and corresponding in-store signage.
“We select several treats and chews to focus on each sale, and we include eye-catching images and descriptions to educate and encourage customers to purchase products,” Reibert said. “We highlight new products and offer introductory savings to encourage customers to try.”
Placing treats near the registers or in secondary displays also effectively boosts sales, McIver added.
3. Special Promotions and Events
Nashville Pet Products, which has stores in Tennessee, has found success with Treat of the Month promotions.
“We always encourage our customers to bring their pup in for a treat, and the Treat of the Month is what we offer them,” said Keefer Dickerson, marketing and outreach manager. “This gives us a chance to talk about the same product over and over for 30 days to about half of our daily customers.”
Peter Toolan, founder of Benebone in New York, recommended adoption and holiday weekend sale events, which he said helps independents compete in a crowded market with big chains and e-commerce.
Making connections with the local rescue or shelter is another way to get the word out while also benefiting animals, Toolan said.
“It’s good to do, and it’s good for business,” he said. “[Rescues and shelters] always need things to keep dogs occupied while waiting for their new homes. You also can find the most committed and passionate pet parents at these places, and they look for quality and care for their animals.”