Choosing the Right Chew
Consumers look for a lot in a natural dog chew, scrutinizing provenance and quality of ingredients to find the best product for their pet.
When it comes to dog chews, pet owners already have been seeking quality, convenience and value. But now they’re also paying closer attention to chew ingredients—not only what they are, but also where they are sourced.
“Consumers are looking not only for a long-lasting chew, but also one that the pet will take to,” said Travis Smith, vice president of Dallas-based QT Dog LLC, which is introducing Buffalo Hornz, a natural water buffalo dog chew. “Consumers are demanding unique, healthful, natural and durable chews. The more of these criteria are met by a chew, the higher the value will be to the consumer.”
Made in the USA
The word “natural” certainly is thrown around a lot. But calling something “natural” doesn’t automatically make it healthful.
“Natural is a broad term,” said Lorin Grow, owner of Furry Face Inc. in Redlands, Calif. “Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean we’d recommend it. Where it’s sourced from and how it’s made are two very important considerations for chews.”
Keep chews in attractive displays near the front of the store to boost sales.
And that’s probably what consumers are inquiring about when they ask for products that are natural. Glenda Bone, owner of Gallery of Pets in Austin, Texas, said that shoppers in her store are tired of seeing products that are made in China. When pet owners ask for a more natural product, they’re usually talking about U.S.-made products that are free of harmful chemicals, Bone said.
“Consumers are paying very close attention to the country of origin,” said Glenn A. Novotny, vice president of sales and marketing for Emerald Pet Products in Walnut Creek, Calif., which recently introduced Smart n’ Tasty Twizzies Bits, a smaller-sized version of its Twizzies chews. “Products that were sourced in the USA reassure the customer that the natural chew they are purchasing has been held to a very high standard.”
As consumers begin to care more about ingredients, sweeteners are getting a lot more attention, Novotny said.
“Many entry-level-priced treats use sugars to increase palatability,” Novotny said. “But consumers are increasingly reading ingredient panels and educating themselves on the purpose of each item listed. Customers look to avoid sugars since they are extra calories the dog does not need.”
Beth Courter, shift leader at Benson’s Pet Center, which has stores in New York and Massachusetts, said that customers can be very specific as to what they want in a dog chew. They not only want chews to be natural and made in the USA, but they also want them to be completely digestible.
“They want smoked bones and tendons, not just beef,” Courter said. “They also like bison, alligator, kangaroo, turkey, duck and rabbit, and they want chews that match their pet’s individual dietary needs. Raw bones and air-dried chews tend to be the most popular, not just because they are healthful, but because they are long lasting and beneficial. And natural enzymes that are released into a dog’s mouth while chewing on raw bones can break down tartar and help with bad breath.”
Whether chew or toy, pet owners increasingly want to know where and how each product was manufactured.
Sell More Chews
It’s important to know which kind of chew product is best for each type of dog, said Laura Jones, finance officer for Jones Natural Chews Co. in Rockford, Ill.
“For example, a dog that is a ‘gulper’ should only be given a tough beef bone, whereas a dainty chewer would enjoy a good pizzle chew,” Jones said. “Bones can provide a great chewing outlet and help clean teeth, but good education behind what works best for which dog is very effective.”
At The Blue Dog Pet Shop in Lemoyne, Pa., store manager Bethany Lontz said that having the family dog in the shop during business hours actually has been one of the best ways to sell chews. He’ll usually work on a chew during the day, and many customers will ask about his chew. “We also tell people that their dogs are encouraged to ‘shop’ for their own chews,” Lontz said. “We have some dogs that will come in and head directly to the rack of chews they like.”
Education is a valuable way to engage customers, said Bette Schubert, co-founder and senior vice president of sales, new product development and education for Bravo Pet Foods in Manchester, Conn. And it’s important that retailers understand how to choose the best chew for each pet.
“Merchandising is another key component,” Schubert said. “Endcap or near-register displays are a good setting to feature a ‘chew of the month.’ And simply asking customers if they’d like to add a chew to their sale gives retailers an opportunity to create a dialogue.”
|Toys: The way They're made|
When it comes to playtime, many pet owners are asking where pet toys are made and whether they feature eco-friendly components.
“More than ever, consumers have expectations that their pet products have eco-friendly benefits,” said Spencer Williams, owner and president of West Paw Design in Bozeman, Mont. “We think the main reason for concern is safety. Toys that are sustainability-produced and made with natural fabrics and fill tend to be safer.”
In August the company introduced a new line of recyclable, U.S.-made dog toys called Zogoflex Air, which consists of a ball and disk toy.
Consumers prefer to make choices that support the manufacturing of responsible products, said Dave Colella, founder of Earthdog in Brentwood, Tenn., which has been selling hemp toys since 1996.
Lanette Fidrych, president of Cycle Dog in Portland, Ore., agreed.
“A dog’s carbon footprint is quite large if you take into account waste removal products, toys, and food processing and packaging,” Fidrych said. “Our goal is to reduce this footprint in as many areas as possible.”
Cycle Dog’s new Fuzzies soft toys are made in the USA, are very durable and made with EcoFill recycled filling; available in elephant, duck and moose shapes, they don’t leave behind a significant carbon footprint, Fidrych said.—LG
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2015 issue of Natural Pet News.