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Dog Treats and Chews Take a Functional Approach

Trends in the treat and chew category reflect pet owners’ demand for healthful, functional consumables.


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For many dogs, just uttering the word “treat” perks the ears and gets a tail wagging. Treats and chews are, of course, a tasty canine snack, but they can also serve other functions, such as being a reward for good behavior or a motivation for training, and they can keep dogs busy and alleviate boredom. The market is filled with treats and chews to please even the pickiest pup’s palette.

These days, more pet owners are feeding their pets foods and treats that closely mirror what they eat themselves, and because consumers are more health-focused, these trends are being reflected in dog food and treat purchases, industry insiders report.

Heather Blum, co-owner of Petagogy in Pittsburgh, links health-conscious consumers to the limited-ingredient trend, and added that freeze-dried treats and specific animal proteins are also popular.

“These treats are great for all dogs, but especially those with allergies or that need to avoid certain proteins, as these treats tend to be single source,” she said.

Regarding chews, she said that consumers want natural, long-lasting products, such as bully sticks. Many consumers are seeking alternatives to rawhide, while demand for raw bones, such as beef marrowbones, has grown exponentially, Blum added.

Treats that are fully digestible and relatively odorless also resonate with consumers, said Lisa Rousseau, owner of Lisa’s Doghouse in North Bay, Ontario, Canada.

Joey Herrick, president of Westlake Village, Calif.-based Lucy Pet Products, added that consumers read labels more than ever and are seeking products that are made in the USA without artificial ingredients.

Chews and treats are selling well for retailers and manufacturers alike.

“The chew segment is seeing modest growth, while treats are seeing a faster trend as consumers trade up to more expensive super-premium options,” said Joe Wallington, president and CEO of Jones Natural Chews in Rockford, Ill.

At Petagogy, Blum said that chews are some of the best-selling dog treats in the store, especially Vital Essentials Raw Bar chews, natural bully sticks and Earth Animal No-Hides.

“Dogs have a natural instinct to chew, and consumers see high-quality chews as a good boredom buster and natural teeth cleaner for their animals,” she said.

Sales of treats and chews are also up at The Doggie Bag in Lakeland, Fla.

“Our best chew sellers are No-Hides by Earth Animal,” said owner Heather Moran. “They are long lasting, meat based (absolutely no hide) and completely digestible. Our top-selling treats are Doggie Chicken Chips. We sell the heck out of them because we offer them to every dog that walks in, and they never turn up their noses to a Chicken Chip.”

Best-sellers at Lisa’s Doghouse include bully sticks, tendons, ears and bones.

“Sales can generally be attributed to the fact that they are natural, contain [very few] ingredients, and are fully digestible,” Rousseau said.

Consumer Education

How to Reach Savvy Pet Owners

Most industry insiders agree that educating the consumer begins with educating the retail staff about the products on the shelves, their ingredients and purposes.

“Retailers really need to educate their associates on how to read ingredient statements,” said Joe Wallington, president and CEO of Jones Natural Chews in Rockford, Ill. “They need to know what is considered healthy and what is not. Many consumers are very savvy when it comes to pet nutrition. Retailers won’t be successful with these buyers unless their associates are properly educated in the area of pet nutrition and ingredients labels.”

To help customers with selections when it comes to the wide array of treats and chews on the market, Heather Blum, co-owner of Petagogy in Pittsburgh, will ask them a variety of questions about their pet to ascertain the pet’s needs, including chewing habits, allergies or digestive issues and the owner’s goal for the treat or chew.

Often, retail staff also can speak with customers based on their own personal experience.

“As pet owners, we have a lot of experience with the products we carry, and can often provide anecdotal evidence to attest the quality or features of those products,” said Lisa Rousseau, owner of Lisa’s Doghouse in North Bay, Ontario, Canada.

Merchandising

Seeing Is Believing

Accessibility to treats, at least for canine customers, is one surefire way to make sales, which is why Petagogy in Pittsburgh has a “raw bar” made up of raw treats from Vital Essentials, said co-owner Heather Blum.

“It mimics a ‘candy’ store for dogs where owners can choose animal parts from individual buckets and fill their ‘goody bags’ with unique chews like pig snouts, duck heads and Moo Sticks,” Blum said.

The Doggie Bag in Lakeland, Fla., does something similar with its Buy the Bistro section of the shop. 

“Treats and chews can be purchased by the piece, making sure a dog likes them before investing in a bag of treats,” said owner Heather Moran.

Similarly, the philosophy at Lisa’s Doghouse in North Bay, Ontario, Canada, is to allow the customers, and their dogs, to handle the products firsthand, said owner Lisa Rousseau.

Treats are often an impulse purchase, said Joey Herrick, president of Lucy Pet Products in Westlake Village, Calif., which is why it makes sense to feature treats and chews near the checkout counter.

“We have also partnered with retailers to feature our treats in digital marketing as well as email offers,” he said. “This is especially important because it is how consumers are learning about new products today. The digital space helps drive awareness so when they come into the store, they are already familiar with what is new, [making] the conversion to a sale much easier.”

Joe Wallington, president and CEO of Jones Natural Chews in Rockford, Ill., agreed that this category is impulse driven and suggested that retailers tie treats and chews into dry dog food displays.

“Since only about 35-40 percent of dog-owning households buy chews and/or jerky treats for their dogs, a big consumer awareness opportunity exists by displaying these items outside the dedicated shelf space,” he said.

New Products

Meaty Matters

In line with the growth of the chew market, and the consumer demand for limited ingredients, Jones Natural Chews in Rockford, Ill., will launch two additional super-premium single-ingredient treats under its relatively new Jones Select label.

“We will be one of the first to offer 100 percent single-ingredient meat treats,” said Joe Wallington, president and CEO. “One hundred percent chicken and 100 percent turkey single-ingredient Jones Select treats will be launched prior to Global Pet Expo.”

Wallington added that the company is continuing to expand the jerky and sausage side of its business with items such as its new Beef Liver Logs. Other recent introductions include stuffed bones, hooves and tracheas.

Last summer, Presidio Natural Pet Co. launched its Off Leash Soft Bakes line in four flavors, including the popular Peanut Butter Bacon, said Andrew Morrison, co-founder and CEO of the San Francisco-based company. In 2019, the company will be expanding its single-ingredient crunchy line of treats to include a Beef flavor and a Pork flavor, Morrison added.

Lucy Pet Products recently introduced its line of Hip to Be Square meaty treats in three flavors: Duck & Pumpkin, Salmon & Pumpkin and Chicken & Pumpkin. They are sized for both training and reward purposes, said Joey Herrick, president of the Westlake Village, Calif.-based company.

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