Pick and Chews
When shopping for dog chews, pet owners are looking for products that are long lasting and safe for their pets.
Most dogs love to chew, and many, out of boredom, will even turn to items they should not be chewing on. As a result, natural dog chews have long been a popular seller for retailers. But today, with everyone looking for products that are safer and contain natural ingredients, shoppers are becoming more selective about what they buy. Not only do they want a chew that has safe and healthful ingredients, they also want a product that will provide long-lasting enjoyment for their pet at an affordable price point.
“For more than 20 years, pet owners have been gravitating toward natural chews and treats out of a strong conviction that these products are healthier and safer for their pets,” said Tim Fabits, vice president of sales for Richmond, Va.-based Barkworthies. “However, now that ‘natural’ is becoming the norm, they’re also comparison shopping for other relevant features and claims such as added health benefits.”
Christina Walsh, owner and founder of The Village Pet Shoppe in Hanover, Pa., said that dog owners are also looking for products that are safe, and they’re paying closer attention to the ingredient label than before. And as a result of their concerns over safety, the store’s shoppers are specifically looking for products that are made in the USA.
Walsh has an entire wall of chews, and many of her customers head straight there. In addition to carrying various brands of chews, Walsh also offers a line that she gets from a local butcher, which has been tremendously popular with her customers.
“It’s something that really sets me apart from the big pet shops, and I get a lot of response from customers about it,” Walsh said. “When you’re an independent retailer, you always have to be looking for differentiators, and for me, that’s a big one.”
In an effort to keep consumers interested, manufacturers are introducing a variety of natural dog chew products. Jones Naturals Chews Co. LLC, based in Rockford, Ill., recently introduced two large flexible patty products in beef and chicken varieties. The patties are also available in a silver dollar size. In addition, the company has introduced a chicken foot and duck foot with the nails removed.
Redbarn Pet Products in Long Beach, Calif., now offers Redbarn Super Braids and Weaves for a shaped bully stick. These natural, single-ingredient chews are made from grass-fed cattle and are highly digestible, according to the company.
Richmond, Va.-based Barkworthies has also unveiled new chews, including 3-inch Bully Stick Rings, Odor-Free 12-inch Monster Bully Sticks and a Small Bully Stick Value Pack. In addition, according to the company, five on-trend items were recently introduced into the company’s Superfood Jerky line, including Rabbit with Apple & Kale, Turkey with Pumpkin, Sweet Potato & Carrot, Turkey with Cranberries & Blueberries, Chicken with Cranberries & Blueberries, and Chicken with Pumpkin, Sweet Potato & Carrot.
Matching Chew Personalities
Customer education is important when it comes to driving sales of natural chews, said Rashell Cooper, marketing director for Redbarn Pet Products in Long Beach, Calif. Redbarn provides educational and point-of-purchase materials to assist with this effort.
“Proper training of store associates on the benefits of natural chews and of specific active ingredients also helps better address the health needs and chew personalities of customers,” Cooper added. “Giving associates questions to ask, such as ‘How aggressive is your pet when they chew?’ or ‘Do you have a favorite protein?’ will also help retailers better tailor their suggestions to individual pets and provide a more personalized experience for the customer.”
For Carmen Alcalde, co-owner of Bad Dog Frida in Madison, Wis., conversations with customers go a long way in educating them. She said that it’s often “eye opening” for pet owners to learn about the dangers associated with some types of chews.
“Today’s consumers are more educated, and many of them are already aware of safety concerns, but those that aren’t may be shocked to learn about the danger of rawhides or about products that pose a digestion hazard,” Alcalde said. “We take our role in educating pet parents very seriously.”
“The more retailers educate the consumer, the better,” said Laura Jones Lang, COO of Jones Naturals Chews Co. LLC in Rockford, Ill. “From which chew is best for their dog to what ingredients are in the product, these are all important conversations. Fat and protein levels should also be a consideration for individual dogs’ needs.”
Tim Fabits, vice president of sales for Richmond, Va.-based Barkworthies, said that accelerating chew sales means “thinking outside of the chews aisle.” He suggested showcasing new lines on endcaps or utilizing prominent signage to draw attention.
Signage has definitely helped pique customer interest for Carmen Alcalde, co-owner of Bad Dog Frida in Madison, Wis. Chews at Bad Dog Frida are kept on three individual tables, with the longest-lasting chews placed the most prominently because they tend to be the most popular sellers.
“We put chews in buckets and have signs that we may include some helpful tips on, in addition to the price,” Alcalde said. “It might say ‘Not for gulpers’ or ‘A good source of calcium.’ It’s just a little bit of extra information that helps them make an informed choice.”
Patti Farrow, store manager for Mouthfuls Pet Supply in Denver, said that the store carries a lot of unique, all-natural body parts and stores them by the door. It’s not uncommon for the retailer to see customers stop in their tracks.
“They’re intrigued—they’ve never seen a turkey foot before, and they stop to check it out,” Farrow said. “When customers stop to look, we take the opportunity to educate them on the importance of chews that are completely digestible. We show them the natural chews we carry—like ears, tails and hooves—and they want to know more.”
Given the premium quality of natural chews, Rashell Cooper, marketing director for Redbarn Pet Products in Long Beach, Calif., also suggested that retailers use innovative displays made from natural materials like wood when possible.
“Using an endcap, featuring different products as a product of the month, and moving natural chews to the front of the store all work to aid pet specialty retailers,” Cooper said.