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Give Them the Good Stuff

Pet owners have a long list of desirable attributes when it comes to treats and chews, and it’s up to retailers to curate a selection that is easy to navigate and meets these demands.


Trends in pet treats and chews often parallel what is trending in human food, such as limited ingredients, USA sourcing and clean eating. 

“People want to know where their food is coming from, and that is spilling over to their pets,” said Melissa Whitton, president of Most Valuable Pets in Lexington, K.Y.

Pet owners also want nutritious treats and chews, said Cynthia Dunston Quirk, founder of Anderson, Ind.-based Scout & Zoe’s. 

To meet this demand, Scout & Zoe’s recently introduced Carpius Maximus Carp Treats for dogs and cats, which are made with domestic Asian carp and contain little to no metals or mercury and a high concentration of omega-3 fatty acids, Dunston Quirk said.

Chews that provide health solutions are also popular. With that in mind, Veendam, Netherlands-based Paragon Pet Products, a brand of WellPet, debuted Whimzees Brushzees at SuperZoo in Las Vegas this summer. Brushzees were designed with more grooves and ridges to help clean the smaller spaces between a dog’s teeth, and the brand’s patented Pawfect Paw Pads were developed and designed to help dogs’ paws grip the chew more easily, said Jeff Camosci, vice president of sales and marketing, North America, for Whimzees. Brushzees contain no artificial colors or GMOs and are vegetarian. The chews are available in bulk display boxes, value bags, flow wraps and variety containers.

Whimzees also now offers value variety containers, which creatively combine Whimzees’ whimsical shapes into one larger package, Camosci said. The containers come in three sizes—one for small dogs, one for medium dogs and one for large dogs.

Other new choices in chews include products launched by Beverly, Mass.-based PetEdge, such as the Ranch Rewards DoubleHides Chews with Jerky and Ranch Rewards DoubleHides with Bully Sticks, available in bones and retriever rolls. The former is the first three-in-one beefhide chew on the market; the latter features a bully stick hidden inside the treat, providing two distinct chewing sensations, according to the company.

These types of long-lasting treats are popular as they help to combat boredom, said Jeff Manley, co-owner of TailsSpin Pet Stuff, a Bentley’s Pet Stuff company with stores in Georgia.

Healthful and wholesome treats and chews are important, but so is safety, said Timothy Fabits, vice president of sales for Barkworthies in Richmond, Va. The company’s philosophy is “simpler is better,” and it produces natural treats that are minimally processed, are highly digestible and contain no artificial ingredients, Fabits said. Some of the company’s dog chew introductions this year are Venison and Wild Boar Bones, which offer alternative proteins for pets with food sensitivities. Superfood Jerky treats, which are made with meat and ingredients such as blueberries, carrots and pumpkin, also were introduced this year. 

Dogs are not the only pets that love treats. This summer, The Hartz Mountain Corp. expanded its wet cat treat line, Delectables Lickable Treats, with five flavors including Bisque Kitten with Tuna, Bisque Kitten with Tuna & Chicken, Stew with Chicken & Veggies, Bisque with Tuna & Veggies and Chowder with Tuna & Veggies.

In addition to cat owners wanting to pamper their pets a bit, Lester Ding, brand manager of cat treats for the Secaucus, N.J.-based company, said, “There is also a trend toward treats that not only provide a tasty bite, but also provide interaction between cat and cat parent.”

Stocking the Shelves

Pet specialty retailers should be in regular communication with their customers to ascertain their wants and needs when it comes to stocking chews and treats, or even deciding which ones to discontinue, said Dunston Quirk. 

“As their clientele’s needs evolve, the retailer can pivot to ensure the products in their assortment are interesting and diverse and meet the customers’ needs,” she said. 

Manley agreed that understanding your customer base is key when it comes to stocking the shelves. 

“The popularity of and demand for various types of treats and chews differ among all of our stores, so we are mindful to transfer and adjust inventory between stores regularly,” he said.

Cindra Conison, owner of The Quirky Pet in Montpelier, Vt., only stocks made-in-the-USA products. She carries a considerable assortment of products for both dogs and cats, such as turkey testicles and lamb lung. Consequently, The Quirky Pet is the go-to place when customers want something a little different that they can’t get at the big-box stores, she said.

At Most Valuable Pets, it’s about ingredients, packaging and price, Whitton said.

“I want a competitive price on merchandise not easily found elsewhere with attention-grabbing packaging, American made, with excellent ingredients,” she said.

Overall industry trends can also offer guidance for stocking shelves. For example, wet cat treats are growing faster than dry treats, Ding said. 

“In addition, items that are focused on specific life stages are critical for category growth, and products for kittens are very unique in the cat treat category and, therefore, contribute high incrementality for retailers,” Ding said.

A store’s geographic area also might play a part in the types of treats needed on the shelf. For example, said Fabits, “A retailer in a market like Seattle might cater to customers with a more active lifestyle by stocking up on more protein-packed treats. New York City retailers with customers who live the city life might consider a product line directed at owners of smaller dogs.”

Put Goodies on Display

Treats and chews are an essential component of any pet supply store, but, due to their seemingly endless variety, shopping for them can be overwhelming.

Grouping by subcategories can be helpful, Fabits said. He recommended using subcategories such as “all natural, longer-lasting chews, breed size, single ingredient or dental care.”  

To help customers home in on the right product, Barkworthies offers pegboard planograms that separate products by popular categories. 

“Products featured in pouches or cases are organized to increase conversion,” Fabits said. “Items can be arranged by size, chewability and category to further stand out to the consumer.”

Earlier this year, Whimzees unveiled two permanent displays on wheels that provide space-efficient ways to promote bulk product, value bags and variety containers, Camosci said. The company also offers countertop displays and dump bins, which can be placed in high-traffic areas, to promote impulse buys and help retailers increase their units per transaction, Camosci said.

Treats and chews are important to boost consumers’ basket value, Manley agreed.

“Because of their higher margins, for both manufacturers and retailers, keeping, developing, and expanding the stock on chews and treats can augment lower-margin pet food sales,” Manley said. “They also make for essential add-on sales, especially for independent retailers who maintain great customer relationships and can recommend the chew or treat that meets a specified need.”

Staying true to the name and theme of her store, Conison incorporates a little bit of quirkiness in her displays of treats and chews. 

“My shop is like a Vermont country store, and treats and chews are found in baskets attached to a floor-to-ceiling tree, kind of like maple tap buckets,” she said. “As a person enters The Quirky Pet, they see the tree. Across the long counter, under the shelves, is a wide array of chews in a variety of different types of repurposed containers. This allows people to casually purchase products they have never even heard of before. It’s good marketing that has served me well.”

Last year, TailsSpin Pet Stuff merged with Bentley’s Pet Stuff; as a result of the partnership, TailsSpin Pet stuff now utilizes a fun “chew wagon” to display some of its new treat and chew offerings.

Treats are partitioned by type and size, and the wagon is the first thing customers see when they enter the stores, leading to increased sales, Manley said.

At Most Valuable Pets, Whitton displays treats in multiple locations, with high-priced or high-margin treats close to the counter for impulse purchases. She also suggested cross-merchandising treats next to food. 

“For example, put limited-ingredient treats next to food that has the same limited ingredients so customers know that there are still treat options even for restricted diets,” she said.

Another way to display chews and treats is by protein rather than stocking them by brand, Dunston Quirk said. 

“Or merchandise by type of treat … all jerkies together, all biscuits together, etc.,” she said.

When it comes to cat treats, merchandising wet treats by the wet foods rather than by the dry treats can lead to incremental sales. 

“This is because wet food consumers and wet treat consumers are both similar in their willingness to pamper their cats with products with higher quality and, thus, a higher price per ounce,” Ding said.

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