Posted: July 19, 2013, 10:00 a.m. EDT
By Karen Shugart
Just as dog owners seek higher-quality pet food, they also seek greater options, quality and features in dog chews. Whether they are edible or nonedible, or are those that offer treats, the newest chews are intended to fill that bill.
One such desire, according to manufacturers and retailers, is for products that are made with natural ingredients.
Stephanie Dukes, store associate at Merlin’s Pet Shop in Lubbock, Texas, stated that customers choose her store for that very reason.
"All of our stuff is pesticide free, natural and—if possible—organic,” reported Dukes, whose store is located next to a natural food shop.
Across the pet products industry, natural is "certainly a growing trend,” said Ben Miller, chews and treats brand manager for United Pet Group.
The Cincinnati-based manufacturer’s new Dingo Naturals line features all-natural rawhide chews with chicken. The chews contain no preservatives or artificial colors or flavors, Miller added, and were created for a couple of reasons.
Providing quality, natural ingredients keep pet owners coming back. iStock/Thinkstock
One, he said, is that the line "highlights the already inherent natural positioning of rawhide compared to other types of chews.” And two, the line addresses "the consumer looking for chews with limited ingredients and no artificial ingredients,” he added.
Answering the call for natural chews, Superior Farms Pet Provisions in Dixon, Calif., recently released its Venison Busy Bones, Venison Scapulas, Venison Jerky packs and Venison Crepes with Liver Seasoning, as well as a line of organically-sourced, grass-fed raw-frozen beef bones, said Cathryn Cassinerio, animal nutrition specialist for the company. The beef bones line includes a three pack of beef marrow bones, a whole pipe bone and a knuckle end bone.
Sink Teeth Into Health
Edible chews also help clean teeth, which is an attractive feature that simplifies dental care, said Miller.
Dental care is an important yet often overlooked area of pet health, said Robin Hawn, senior brand manager for PetSafe, a manufacturer in Knoxville, Tenn.
"It’s estimated that 85 percent of pets have gum disease by the time they are 3 years old,” she said.
That’s one reason why the manufacturer recently introduced its Gnawbrush and Indigo Triple Chews.
"[Pet] parents need products that make the routine with their pet easier, while also giving their pet added health benefits and preventing disease,” Hawn said.
The Busy Buddy Gnawbrush, with rubber and bristly surfaces, is intended to help clean teeth and promote a healthy mouth, Hawn said, while mint-flavored Busy Sticks treats inside the toy also encourage better-smelling breath. Indigo Triple Chews are designed to boost immune and digestive systems while freshening breath.
"Dental care is critical to pet health, but it’s a challenge for pet owners to respond to it in a convenient way that works for their lifestyle,” Hawn said.
Health and safety are recurring themes among new chews. Petstages, for example, last year introduced its Dogwood line with the intent of providing a safe alternative to chewing sticks, said Jennifer Crotty, director of marketing for the Northbrook, Ill.-based manufacturer.
"Chasing, fetching and chewing on sticks is a natural, interactive outdoor behavior for most breeds,” Crotty said. "The problem is sticks pose a natural hazard to dogs given their likelihood to splinter or split. While the smell and texture of a stick is so appealing, the dangers they pose, such as digestive tract problems and piercings, result in many emergency room visits.”
The Dogwood line was launched in four stick sizes and has since grown to include a Pine Cone with rope, available in two sizes, and a Mini Acorn Chain for small breeds.
"The Dogwood items crumble very slowly over time versus splintering and leaving sharp, shredded pierces during play,” Crotty said.
Bionic Pet Products created its Urban Stick after having conversations with pet owners and veterinarians on safety. The stick can be stuffed at both ends with treats or peanut butter, said Steve Luhrs, founder of the Minneapolis-based company.
"We had heard numerous personal accounts of dogs being hurt by either ingesting parts of a stick or being hit with its sharp edges,” Luhrs said. "While we were discussing this we came up with the idea to develop an Urban Stick that would not only provide city dogs with the feeling of retrieving sticks in the country, but provide country dogs with a safer alternative to real sticks as well.”
Bravo! Bully Sticks also do not splinter, said Bette Schubert, co-founder and senior vice president of sales for the Manchester, Conn., manufacturer. Nor will the edible chews stain furniture or carpets. And, Schubert added, "They are made from hormone- and antibiotic-free bulls and contain no artificial flavorings, colorings or coatings.”
Chewing also can help soothe a teething dog’s gums, said Schubert.
Palatability remains an important driver behind the creation of many chews, manufacturers reported.
Martin J. Glinsky, chief science officer for PetMatrix in Saddle Brook, N.J., said the company’s new SmartFillets are designed to be extremely palatable and digestible while remaining flexible.
Offer Something to Chew On
Marketing dog chews can prove to be a hard sell, depending on geographic location and customer base, some retailers stated.
Paragon Pet Products recently rebranded its gluten-free, low-fat Whimzees chews with packaging that features large shapes of the chews on the bags, which have a Velcro closure, said Kat Reed, director of product development for the Veendam, Netherlands-based company. This has helped stores market the item, she reported.
Richard Simons, co-owner of Simon Sez Pets in Newington, Conn., reported that dog chews have been a hard sell for at least three years. Customers are holding fast to their wallets, he noted. Case in point: Even the Christmas season, which traditionally sees a spike in sales of accessories, didn’t yield much for the retailer.
"They buy dog food and they leave,” Simons said.
Marketing and education, then, can be even more vital, some retailers and manufacturers reported.
"Consumer education is very important, especially in a segment such as edible chews because there are so many options,” United Pet Group’s Miller said. "Merchandising dental products, rawhide and nonrawhide separately is one easy way to help the consumer differentiate the options.”
Schubert, on the other hand, suggested that grouping products together can help customers compare products.
"The key is grouping all of the similar products so that customers can compare across brands and choose the product or products that are right for their dog,” she said.
Superior Farms’ Cassinerio suggested that retailers get creative with their displays.
"So called ‘body-part’ or ‘functional chew’ tables with unique apothecary jar or basket displays help to draw customers to all-natural chews,” she said.
In-freezer chews can be a challenge to display so that consumers can read and understand them, she added.
"For the raw-frozen products, signage with an explanation of what type of bone chew is in the freezer is crucial to good sales,” Cassinerio said.
Hawn noted that offering samples is a great way to drive interest in chews.
"Once pet parents see how much their pets love them and know the health benefits [the chews] include, they’ll be buying a bag to take home,” PetSafe’s Hawn said.
Whatever their need, retailers reported that chew-buying customers are looking for quality.
"We found that pet parents who are seeking healthy, all-natural foods for their dogs are also going to want the same in their treats and chews,” said Schubert. <HOME>
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