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Choose Natural Pet Chews

Posted: Dec. 13, 2012, 4:15 p.m. EDT

Though all-natural rawhide and animal parts remain top sellers, today’s popular chew treats include those packed with supplemental nutrition.
By Wendy Bedwell-Wilson

They’re tasty, they’re entertaining and, in some cases, they’re nutritional. Natural chew treats remain a popular purchase for dog owners, and manufacturers continue to make them more palatable and healthful.

Traditionally, chew treats include natural and synthetic items that dogs gnaw, such as knotted rawhide bones and sticks, and natural cow, lamb or pig parts, such as ears and knuckles. They’re a staple in most pet stores and farm supply shops.

Though purchases in the chews category have experienced a “modest decline” since 2008, dog owners still purchase them. Nearly 60 percent of dog owners reported buying these boredom-busting products for their pets, according to the American Pet Product Association’s (APPA) 2011-2012 National Pet Owners Survey.

Dog chews
Displays that offer a range of chews can entice shoppers to purchase one—or more. Sherri L. Collins/BowTie Inc. at Safari Pet Centre in Montreal
The chews category, however, has expanded to include edible, nutritional chew treats designed to be savored slowly, said Scott Corsi, vice president of sales for Exclusively Pet in Milwaukee, Wis.

“Consumers are looking for something new,” he said. “Chews that are edible are new and exciting. They’re another type of treat that retailers can offer.”

A steady 89 percent of dog owners buy treats for their pets, with most of them choosing meat- and nonmeat-based treats, the APPA reported. A new category in the survey tracked the purchase of treats fortified with vitamins and supplements, and 11 percent of goodie-giving dog owners reported buying them.

This subcategory has taken a firm hold in veterinary clinics and at retail, said Carol Kisill, product manager for Tomlyn in Fort Worth, Texas.

“The consumer base likes the idea of giving their dogs a treat with nutritional value instead of a pill,” she said. “And the dogs love them.”

Nibbles with a Purpose
Among edible chews for dogs, the SKUs that combine nutritional supplementation with palatability represent a growing purchasing trend among dog owners, Kisill said. The company’s most popular sellers include an edible chew that is formulated to naturally calm anxious dogs and one that provides dense calories and nutrition for convalescing dogs that need them, she reported.

Tomlyn’s formulas originally appeared in gel form and were designed to be given straight out of the tube.

“But the trend is for dog owners to dispense these natural nutritional supplements as treats,” Kisill said, adding that the treats are much easier to give than pills or gel. “We just launched the chew forms this year and response has been great.”

Chewsy Display Tips

Offer free samples:“They’re often supplied by manufacturers,” said Scott Corsi, vice president of sales for Exclusively Pet in Milwaukee, Wis. “If not, crack open a package. Sampling goes a long way.”

Location, location, location:Chew treats that contain supplements should be stocked in the health and wellness section, said Carol Kisill, product manager for Tomlyn in Fort Worth, Texas. “Separate them out from the other chews,” she added.

Use a “farmer’s market” theme:Use wooden bins, baskets and other farmer’s market display pieces to highlight the farm-to-bowl features of natural chews and treats, said Sharon Jenks, vice president of marketing and sales for Superior Farms Pet Provisions in Dixon, Calif.

Location, location, location, take 2:All-natural chews should be stocked in the store’s natural section, said Debbie Claypool, president of Free Range Eco Natural Dog Treats in Township, Mich. “Customers will appreciate having natural products in its own section,” she said.

Bullet-point product features and benefits:Include products’ selling points on danglers or shelf talkers, Corsi said. “Short pieces of information are an easy way to educate customers,” he added.

Endcap promotions:Make the most of your displays, Kisill said. “If you’re doing an endcap in your health and wellness section, include some chews,” she added.

The most common maladies targeted by these soft, edible chews includes joint problems, skin and coat issues and anxiety outbreaks as well as vitamins and nutritional supplements, said Bill Bookout, founding member of the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC). The member-based organization strives to maintain standards in the animal supplement industry.

“This is one of the few industry segments that continue to grow, even during a depressed economy,” Bookout said, who is the chair of the NASC’s board of directors.

The animal supplement market represents more than $1.6 billion in sales, with a 7.4 percent compounded annual growth rate increase from 2010 to 2015, according to the Nutrition Business Journal. And the market research firm Packaged Facts noted that 21 percent of dogs and 15 percent of cats receive a supplement of some kind.

Supplements in chew-treat forms are one of the most convenient and trendy ways to give them to pets, Kisill said.

Because these edible chews fortified with nutritional supplements can cost two to three times more than a traditional chew- or biscuit-type treat, retailers should explain the distinct differences—and point them to the NASC label, which is an industry-accepted indicator of quality, Kisill said.

“Retailers and their customers can feel confident in companies that have the NASC label,” she said. “It shows that they’ve done their due diligence.”

Tasty—and Natural—Treats
Ranging from rawhide and animal parts to molded bones and whimsical designs, edible chews for dogs remain a pet store standard. Of the 58 percent of chew-purchasing dog owners, 89 percent chose “rawhide” chews, 28 percent bought “natural parts” and 25 percent picked “synthetic” chews, according to the APPA survey.

In addition, “An average of 4.5 rawhide chews, 3.7 natural parts chews and 4.4 synthetic chews were bought in 12 months,” the survey reported. Rawhide chips, donuts, sticks, strips, twists and small and large bones top the charts, with small knotted bones leading the pack. All-natural cow, pig and lamb body parts, such as bully sticks, ears, snouts, tripe and tendons, also are popular sellers—particularly the basted and smoked varieties, the survey indicated.

“The trend in chews is still all about being natural,” said Debbie Claypool, president of Free Range Eco Natural Dog Treats in Township, Mich. “The word ‘natural’ seems to have been over-used, and even abused, but the trend continues for products that have the least number of ingredients and are the least processed. We now know that it is healthier to go back to basics, to a time when life moved slower and was simpler.”

Consumers appreciate—and seek out—products that track their farm-to-bowl history, said Sharon Jenks, vice president of marketing and sales for Superior Farms Pet Provisions in Dixon, Calif. The company grows, processes, manufactures and distributes its lamb and venison baked and raw-frozen treats and chews, maintaining control of the byproduct-free snacks from start to finish.

“People love shopping at the farmer’s market for themselves because they know the products are fresh from the farm,” Jenks added. “These natural chews provide the same thing for pets.”

Besides using the traditional protein sources, chew treat manufacturers have introduced alternative protein sources to the mix. Claypool encourages retailers to stock a sampling for dog owners with pets that are sensitive to chicken or beef.

How Many Licks Does It Take?
Pet professionals often are asked, “How long does it take for a dog to finish eating one of these chews?”

Sharon Jenks, vice president of marketing and sales for Superior Farms Pet Provisions in Dixon, Calif., has a response retailers can use—and one that many dog owners can relate to. She calls it “bonetail hour.”

“Chew treats are designed to give dogs something to do for a certain amount of time,” she said. “It’s like a time-out for the owner. So I equate the different chews to how long it takes to enjoy an after-work cocktail.”

A baked lamb’s ear? That’s half a glass of wine. A raw frozen bone? That’s an entire glass of wine, she said, adding that “some of the bigger bones could be two glasses of wine.” —WBW

“Many dogs are sensitive to beef dog food,” she said. “Because their owners are shopping for a different meat-based food, it is beneficial to have other meat-based chews displayed nearby. For example, we have ears and meat rolls from non-domesticated wild hare, which could increase sales for the retailer if placed with the dog chews and with the other meat-based foods.”

Dogs (and their owners) like to have fun, too, so molded chew treats in whimsical shapes and designs remain popular sellers, comprising one-quarter of the market, according to the APPA.  Corsi of Exclusively Pet said ingredients are essential selling points for these types of products.

“Wheat-, corn- and soy-free, made from 100 percent natural ingredients, with no added sugar, made in the USA, that’s what consumers want,” he said. “They’re looking at the ingredient deck like never before.”

Exclusively Pet’s line of extruded chews mimics tasty human treats in look, feel and smell, like jerky and licorice, Corsi said.

“They smell good, just like human food,” he said, adding that chicken is the products’ No. 1 ingredient. “And they’re perforated, so it’s easy to tear off portions if you’re using them for training.”

Whether the chew treats feature added supplementation or are intended for pets to pass the time, the trend in chew treats, industry sources say, centers on a dog’s taste and the owner’s intent.

“Consumers are looking for unique products that are palatable, address the allergen issue and have added benefits,” Corsi said. “They want something that’s fun and has functional benefits.”


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