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Brushing and Beyond in the Pet Dental Segment

Dental care product sales projections show upward momentum—particularly in the natural chew and treat segment.


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Smile! Retailers have good reason to grin, thanks to growing demand in the natural dental health product segment. Dog and cat owners, heeding sage advice from their veterinarians, understand the importance of oral hygiene, and they’re stocking up on healthful chews, treats and wipes to keep their pals’ pearly whites plaque-free between brushings.

“We carry several types of natural dental products, including water additives, raw bones, Greenies, Whimzees, Natural Balance dental, toothpaste and brushes and Nylabone dental chews,” said Marshall Grattan, co-owner of Pet Station, which has stores in the Lake Tahoe, Nev., area.

Susan Weiss, founder and CEO of Ark Naturals in Naples, Fla., said orders for her company’s oral care goods have enjoyed a boost, too.

“Sales of our dental care products are up significantly,” she noted. “Dental issues are a problem that the human easily can understand.”

Data from Packaged Facts’ Oct. 29, 2015, pet market report, Pet Oral Care Products and Services in the U.S., supports these on-the-ground reports. The Rockville, Md.-based research firm estimates the total U.S. retail sales of pet oral care products in 2015 to be $775 million, and it projects the market to grow to nearly $1 billion by 2020.

 

Treats with Purpose

Among those oral care products, dental chews and treats take the cake, said Shannon Landry Brown, Packaged Facts’ market research analyst and report author.

“Dental chews and treats are by far the most popular, accounting for 84 percent of the market by Packaged Facts estimates,” she said, adding that many dental chews now are being promoted as a substitute for brushing. “Although some veterinary specialists question the validity of this positioning, most admit that dental chews are a good option for between brushings.”

As with other product categories, the pet market has embraced “natural” dental care, Brown noted.

“Natural products have taken top billing in several categories, and oral care is no exception,” she said.

Grattan agreed.

“The biggest trend that I have noticed is customers looking for healthful versions of the products they use,” he said. “For instance, Whimzees markets as a grain-free product. Greenies has come out with the same. It’s really an extension of the same thing we see in food and treats: Customers are looking for better-made products.”

Manufacturers of all-natural oral health products have responded to the buying trend and upped their offerings of natural dental treats made from premium ingredients. Todd Wigert, vice president of independent sales for Natural Balance Pet Foods Inc. in Burbank, Calif., said pet owners want functional, grain-free goodies that freshen breath and support healthy teeth and gums while boosting dietary vitamin and antioxidant intake.

“Pet owners are buying products that are scientifically proven to support their pet’s teeth and gums, as well as products that fit into their pet’s diet—especially those on a limited-ingredient diet,” he said. “Pet owners also are looking for grain-free treats, as this category has grown exponentially in the past few years as more and more pets are moving to a grain-free diet.”

It is important to look at a dental product’s ingredient deck and protein levels, said Glenn A. Novotny, vice president of sales and marketing for Emerald Pet Products in Walnut Creek, Calif.

“At Emerald Pet Products we only call out ‘dental’ if the product does more than just scrape the teeth clean through chewing,” he said. “It has to meet the needs of the pet parent by eliminating bad breath while also benefitting the dog by surrounding the entire tooth to clean all sides while massaging the gum line.”

Palatability is another key factor, he added.

“The dog has to first love the product before any dental benefits are realized,” Novotny said.

 

Wipe Away Debris

Dental treats aren’t the only trend in all-natural dental health, said Gina Dial, vice president of sales and marketing for Las Vegas-based John Paul Products LLC.
She said that wipes infused with botanicals are another popular way to keep pets’ teeth clean between cleanings—particularly for those looking for the easiest solution.

“Without education about the importance of oral hygiene for pets, consumers naturally grav-
itate to the easiest way to keep pets’ teeth clean,” she said. “Moist wipes imbued with ingredients like baking soda and peppermint oil can be wrapped around a person’s finger and run along the pet’s upper and lower gum line, easily removing debris that ordinarily would turn into plaque.”

Though pet owners who brush their dog’s and cat’s teeth—20 percent and 11 percent, respectively—are outside the norm, according to Packaged Facts’ survey data, Brown noted that 43 percent agree that cleaning a pet’s teeth at home is as effective as a dental cleaning.

“Teeth cleaning aids are ideal for those pet owners,” she said.

 

Natural Dental: New Products

New products in the natural dental care category follow the popular chew, treat and ease-of-use trends. Camille Nerdrum, assistant manager at Theresa’s Country Feed and Pet in Simi Valley, Calif., said the latest wave of dental products to hit her shelves is designed for those looking for simple solutions.

“Our customers like the convenience of treats,” she said. “A new popular line that we’ve been selling a lot is from Indigenous Pet Products. It has an additive—natural kelp called Ascophyllum nodosum—that’s unique. Professional cleaning and brushing is best, but some dogs and cats just don’t like having their teeth brushed, so we recommend chews and treats.”

At Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Fla., Emerald Pet Products introduced Fresh Smileezz grain-free all-natural dental chews, which have a pleasant minty smell that works to eliminate bad breath, said Glenn A. Novotny, vice president of sales and marketing for the Walnut Creek, Calif., company.

“When we introduced the product at the show, we received very positive feedback on our ingredients and product attributes,” he said. “Our new mini size was inspired by pet owners that asked us to make a dental treat that is safe for little dogs that weigh between one and 15 pounds.”

Todd Wigert, vice president of independent sales for Natural Balance Pet Foods Inc. in Burbank, Calif., said that many of the latest introductions are focused on new sizes and flavor varieties of edible dental chew products.

“The [smaller] sizes really have taken off in popularity, and we are starting to see ingredients like pumpkin and papaya being included for both flavor and nutritional benefits,” he said. “Additionally, grain-free and meat-based dental products are increasing in popularity.”

What is the reasoning behind these products?

“As this category continues to grow, food and treat manufacturers are diversifying their offerings to better meet the needs of the consumers and their pets,” Wigert said.

In other words, manufacturers are multiplying products in existing subsets, said Marshall Grattan, co-owner of Pet Station, which has stores in the Lake Tahoe, Nev., area. “There’s no shortage of different products, but most are in the same categories as what we carry, like something to drink or something to chew,” he said.

Lorin Grow, owner of Furry Face in Redlands,
Calif., agreed.

“I haven’t seen much new,” she said. “It’s just a rehashing of similarly existing products.”

 

Natural Dental: Educating Customers

Oral hygiene affects a pet’s overall well-being, and communicating that fact to customers will lead to healthier pets as well as a boost in dental health product sales.

“Knowledge is power,” said Marshall Grattan, co-owner of Pet Station, which has stores in the Lake Tahoe, Nev., area. “Educating customers allows them to make better choices for themselves, choices that fit their needs. One of the things that customers need to know is that none of these products is a substitute for a veterinary checkup and cleaning. They are all really just to help out.”

Maintaining clean smiles helps keep pets healthy, said Gina Dial, vice president of sales and marketing for Las Vegas-based John Paul Products LLC.

“When teeth are not cared for, it creates other issues throughout the body,” she said. “Besides tooth decay and gum inflammation, it can cause issues in the liver, kidneys, heart and lungs. Retailers can help educate the consumer at store level by sampling pet dental products and talking about it. Making the consumer aware is key to their understanding why keeping teeth clean is necessary for a pet’s overall health.”

How can retailers build awareness? By educating customers with signage, shelf talkers and face-to-face chats with sales staff, said Todd Wigert, vice president of independent sales for Natural Balance Pet Foods Inc. in Burbank, Calif.

“As with any newer category, the biggest challenge is building consumer awareness,” he said. “Oral health in pets can be a serious problem, but many pet parents don’t understand what they can do to help prevent these issues. Informational signage about oral care can help, but the most successful method of overcoming this challenge is a well-trained staff interacting with customers about their pets’ oral health routine.”

Understanding the products and being able to educate customers about their ingredients and function is key, said Susan Weiss, founder and CEO of Ark Naturals in Naples, Fla.

“If a consumer truly believes the retailer knows what he [is] selling, the consumer is more willing to accept their advice,” she said.

In fact, a dental chew sale can be the determining factor that keeps a customer coming back.

“A positive consumer experience with dental chews is key to building a long-lasting relationship of trust for your store to become the place for solutions to their pet problems,” said Glenn A. Novotny, vice president of sales and marketing for Walnut Creek, Calif.-based Emerald Pet Products.

Dental treats should include ingredients to eliminate bad breath coming from the stomach, not just scrape tartar and plaque from teeth.

“Open the bags of dental treats on your shelf and see what your customer is experiencing firsthand,” he said. “You want them to experience a treat with an appealing fresh breath smell that will last long after the pet has finished eating the treat.”

 

Merchandising and Display

In February, the retail team at Theresa’s Country Feed and Pet in Simi Valley, Calif., set up displays filled with dental care products. Toothbrushes, toothpaste, water additives, wipes, chews, treats and more lined the shelves, along with educational materials and signage touting buy-one-get-one deals.

The occasion? National Pet Dental Health Month.

“We had endcaps dedicated to dental,” said assistant manager Camille Nerdrum. “We put up big signs and shelf talkers and made it look nice. When displays look good, people buy [products]!”

National Pet Dental Health Month has passed this year, but retailers still can advertise the importance of oral hygiene through merchandising and displays, said Gina Dial, vice president of sales and marketing for Las Vegas-based John Paul Products LLC.

“Combining multiple oral care items on an endcap and promoting during National Pet Dental Month, or any time of year, is an easy way to increase awareness,” she said. “And samples, lots of samples. Many manufacturers can offer samples to the retailer to help build this business.”

Down the aisle, natural dental care products can be merchandised as a standalone section or mingled with traditional products, said Todd Wigert, vice president of independent sales for Natural Balance Pet Foods Inc. in Burbank, Calif.

“This sets the area up as a solution center that provides pet parents with multiple options as well as inducing additional purchases from within the category,” he said, adding that dental chews can be displayed throughout the store, “including with the treat section and in the food sets to allow for cross-promoting.”

Glenn A. Novotny, vice president of sales and marketing for Walnut Creek, Calif.-based Emerald Pet Products, recommends using manufacturer displays, such as his company’s Fresh Smileezz dental chew display, creating an endcap to draw attention to the natural dental category, or sampling products at the counter.

 

This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of Pet Product News.

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