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A New Chew Focus

From functional chews to body parts, these products no longer are simply designed to please the pet—they must deliver meaningful nutrition, too.


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For many pet owners, the days of tossing a box of dog biscuits into the grocery cart are a distant memory as goodies for canine family members have transcended the ingredient-heavy crunchy, bone-shaped treat. The popularity of body parts, chews with functional ingredients and those that act as dental preventives is on the rise.

“While the terms ‘treat’ and ‘chew’ are often used interchangeably, they are different and speak to the high demand created for dog chews in the last few decades,” said Rashell Cooper, marketing director for Redbarn Pet Products in Long Beach, Calif.

This call includes chews that address dental health.

A good dental and oral regimen is essential for the health and quality of life of dogs, whose lives can be shortened due to dental disease and its direct tie to heart health, said Eric Abbey, president and founder of Loving Pets in Cranbury, N.J.

Jeff Camosci, vice president of marketing and sales in North America, for Veendam, Netherlands-based Paragon Pet Products, a WellPet brand, said “80 percent of all dogs will have some type of periodontal disease by the time they are 3 years old.”

Dogs seek natural methods to clean their own teeth, such as chewing on bones, for example. However, these methods can be problematic due to small-bone choking hazards, splintering and pathogens, said Scott Reinhardt, vice president of sales and marketing for SwedencareUSA in Poulsbo, Wash.

Molded dental chews represent a modern, safe, cleaner and more-wholesome means of maintaining good oral health in a dog, Reinhardt added.

Brushing is the best method to keep pets’ teeth clean, but it can be a daunting task that many pet owners avoid, Abbey noted.

While many dental treats effectively reduce plaque and tartar, until recently, limited options have been available to also freshen breath, said Pete Brace, vice president of communications and pet parent relations for Merrick Pet Care in Amarillo, Texas.

However, Lorin Grow, owner of Furry Face in Redlands, Calif., said that, as she owns a natural and holistic store, functional treats are not in her product mix. She said that many might be grain or sugar based to enable the form, or can contain synthetic ingredients.

“We are full of body parts, however, and consider it a much more natural route, as it utilizes all parts of a slaughtered animal,” Grow said. “We carry a wide variety to fit all types and sizes of chewers.”

Many of these parts offer a variety of natural sources of supplementation, such as glucosamine, Grow said.

At The Quirky Pet, body parts often are a focus of conversation, said Cindra Conison, owner of the Montpelier, Vt., store.

“People are already hooked on what we call our ‘dead animal parts’ and often ask for advice to expand their dogs into other parts, all sourced in the USA,” she said. “Some of the more obscure items we highlight include bison testicle, freeze-dried turkey testicle, lamb lung, bison tendons and maple-smoked bones.”

At Mutts & Co., which has stores in the Columbus, Ohio, area, the selection of chews includes natural body parts, antlers, bones and dental chews. Tug toys with an edible chew attached are another popular offering, said co-owner Mark Vitt.

Vitt also noted an increase in consumer demand for these items.

“Consumers are looking for something that is safe, edible, digestible and durable enough to keep their pets occupied for an extended period of time,” Vitt said.

Introductions in Chews

Redbarn Pet Products recently introduced Bully Weaves and Super Braids. These woven shapes create a compelling chew-time puzzle for dogs while supporting dental health, said Rashell Cooper, marketing director for the Long Beach, Calif.-based company. The single-ingredient beef chews are naturally rich in protein, highly digestible, appropriate for all breeds and life stages, and free from common allergens such as soy, grain and wheat, she added.

“Canine customers who love to chew will savor this durable, long-lasting, single-ingredient option,” Cooper said.

Supporting the expanding growth in the canine dental health category, Loving Pets now offers the USA-made Ora-Bone, a tool designed to help prevent oral disease, said Eric Abbey, president and founder of the Cranbury, N.J.-based company.

The patent-pending design of the Ora-Bone promotes better movement in the mouth, plus improved interaction with the gums, teeth and tongue, Abbey said. Varied surface textures remove tartar and prevent buildup for improved oral and dental health, and three breath-freshening ingredients freshen both the mouth and gut, he added.

Brushzees, a recent addition to the Whimzees family, offers a new cleaning shape for small, medium-sized and large dogs, said Jeff Camosci, vice president of marketing and sales for Veendam, Netherlands-based Paragon Pet Products, a WellPet brand. The unique texture and knobby shapes of the chew help to ensure proper blood flow through the gums and prevent the buildup of tartar and bad breath, he said.

Merrick Pet Care’s new all-natural, grain-free dental dog chews, Fresh Kisses, are designed to clean teeth and freshen breath. A double-brush design removes plaque and tartar during chewing action, and the treats are made with natural ingredients specifically formulated to freshen breath, said Pete Brace, vice president of communications and pet parent relations at the Amarillo, Texas-based company.

Fresh Kisses are available in two recipes. The Mint-Flavored Breath Strips formula is infused with natural mint breath strip pieces. The Coconut and Botanical Oils formula offers coconut oil, plus a combination of three botanical oils—peppermint, lemongrass and rosemary—included to clean teeth and naturally freshen breath.

Zuke’s has reformulated its Z-Bone Dental Chews lineup to improve digestibility and lower the chews’ calorie count, said David Rizzo, director of operations for Zuke’s in Durango, Colo.

“We love getting close with our dogs and sharing adventures, so improving our treat lineup to offer a natural way to fight bad doggy breath is important to us,” Rizzo said.

Available in apple and carrot varieties, the grain-free dental chew is crafted in the USA using ingredients that naturally support clean teeth and freshen breath. The chew’s texture polishes teeth and maintains healthy gums, while pea- and potato-based proteins are easy to digest. Alfalfa, parsley and fennel provide additional antioxidant support to naturally freshen breath while supporting digestion, Rizzo said.

SwedencareUSA’s new PlaqueOff System Dental Care Bones offer a natural oral care solution and include Vegetable Fusion, a meat-free, vegan offering. Turkey and Cranberry, Chicken and Pumpkin, and Bacon flavors round out the selections, said Scott Reinhardt, vice president of sales and marketing for the Poulsbo, Wash.-based company.

The unique shape of the injection-molded chews helps clean plaque and tartar through abrasive action, said Reinhardt, adding that the USA-made chew bones are free of grain, gluten and soy.

Chews 101

Consumer education is vital to promoting the growing category of functional treats and supplements, said David Rizzo, director of operations for Zuke’s in Durango, Colo.

“As more and more choices hit the shelves, retailers and their staff are in a unique position to educate customers about product attributes and the value they bring, and to clarify the differences between treats, supplements and chews,” Rizzo said.

To offer support, Zuke’s utilizes an online training and incentive program to help educate sales representatives and retail sales associates in a fun and engaging way, Rizzo added.

Displaying educational materials at the point of purchase is a key to increasing sales, said Rashell Cooper, marketing director for Redbarn Pet Products in Long Beach, Calif.

“Redbarn provides independent retail partners with a wide variety of materials to assist store associates in educating the consumer,” Cooper said.

In-store educational opportunities capitalize on the immediate bond shared by the pet and owner when treating, Cooper added.

“Dog chew shopping is personal and tactile, and store associates inquiring about the chew personality of each dog will individualize the experience for the pet owner and help in the selection of an appropriate chew,” Cooper said.

Knowledgeable recommendation is the key to stronger sales in dental chews, said Scott Reinhardt, vice president of sales and marketing for SwedencareUSA in Poulsbo, Wash.

“It might be as simple as the in-store staff asking the question ‘How do you presently care for your dog or cat’s teeth?’” he added.

Put Chews Front and Center

At The Quirky Pet in Montpelier, Vt., body parts play a strong role in differentiation from big-box stores. The store’s philosophy is to present these items in a unique shopping environment, said owner Cindra Conison.

“Prosperity as a small, independent shop is largely dependent on the experience,” she said. “The first thing seen when walking into The Quirky Pet is a floor-to-ceiling wooden tree with stainless steel buckets of dead animal parts, similar to maple sap-tap buckets—we are in Vermont, after all.”

Recently, small sample bags have joined the mix, allowing customers to check out a product without monetary risk.

“Every day, customers tell me how cool my shop is as they carry out animal parts they never knew existed,” Conison said.

At Mutts & Co., which has stores in the Columbus, Ohio, area, bundling is an important merchandising tool for bulk chews.

“Even if a product isn’t featured in a prepackaged bundle, we place them in packages of six or 12,” said co-owner Mark Vitt. “This increases the likelihood of purchases beyond one or two items, and even a customer who might have potentially purchased one or two chews will buy a bag of six bully sticks.”

The Mutts & Co.-branded Brown Label offerings are merchandised on an endcap for maximum visibility.

“The natural-looking label is in line with the appearance of our store,” Vitt said. “This promotes an upsell mentality, and customers take home a reusable bag.”   

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