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Dog Marketplace: Give the Dog a Bone

Posted: Jan. 1, 2012, 12:10 p.m. EST

Consumers favor durable, ingredient-diverse canine chews that are all-natural.
By Angela Pham

Rawhide, cow hooves and pig ears are still a shelf staple at many stores, yet dog owners these days seem to have their minds set on longer-lasting quality. Numerous retailers reported that while those classic chews may have their place, customers are requesting locally made, naturally produced and high-quality chews more than ever.

As they turn away from cheaper materials and foreign-made products, shoppers are seeking exotic alternatives such as antlers and bison tendons. Naturally focused stores, such as The Hip Hound in Portland, Ore., benefit from a bigger sale, as antlers can retail for anywhere from $30 to $45, but customers also get a good buy—the naturally shed racks are said to last for months, compared to the shorter life span of a rawhide chew that might not make it even 30 minutes.

Dog chews
Dog owners are drawn to antlers because they’re durable and a renewable resource. Katie Ingmire/Bowtie Inc. at Yorba Linda Feed Store.

“Antlers are our most popular for really big chewers,” said Cait Scherr, The Hip Hound’s store manager. “After that, the next popular is the Planet Dog line, with a great line of USA-made, BPA- and lead-free rubber that’s very tough.”

She also cited West Paw Design products with recycled materials as a top choice for consumers.

“A lot of people are going for durability,” she added. “With antlers, they’re more likely to get more bang for their buck, even though it’s more expensive initially.”

JW Pet, a manufacturer based in Teterboro, N.J., has seen a similar trend in the marketplace for chew toys.

“Durability is a driving factor here, and pet parents know that the lowest-priced toy is usually not the one that will hold up to longtime chewing and rough play,” said Carli Bushoven, JW Pet’s sales and marketing coordinator. She added that the company recently addressed this preference by introducing the Hol-ee Cuz, a sturdy toy that combines a plush ball with a tougher cut-out exterior, as well as adding two squeaking toys to its U.S.-made Megalast line: the Long Dog and the MegaBear.

Get Them to Bite

Retailers and manufacturers alike have a variety of tactics for stoking customer interest in chews.

At Ren’s Pets Depot, chew treats are stocked up front because “those are the items we find most customers have questions about, and we can then easily direct them to the correct one depending on the type of dog they have,” said Terina Lemon, special projects coordinator at the Guelph, Ontario, Canada, retailer. “We also find when we do our fliers that having a great photo and cute caption really helps things move.”

Displaying chew toys alongside other desirable products works well, too.

“[Put] the chew toys on peg boards or slat walls or a grid board, something near the food or toys, because it’s going to do really well together,” advised Alan Ronay, owner of St. Pete Beach, Fla.-based Tastybone.

Having printed materials handy is essential for Clear Conscience Pet in Wilton, Conn.

“Pick companies with good literature you can hand out,” recommended company founder and president Anthony Bennie. “Do your own newsletters so your customers have their own education in front of them. Try social media, and email marketing, too.”

The Hip Hound in Portland, Ore., starts at the beginning, with a puppy packet.
“It’s an informational package about nutrition, treats, chews, basics for new dog owners. We include our Staff Picks, with what we think is the longest-lasting stuff or best for puppies,” said Cait Scherr, the store’s manager.

A lot of chews and chew toys are impulse buys for shoppers at All Paws Pet Centers.

“We have a lot of it right near the cash register, in really attractive wicker baskets and then also have a couple extra right at the counter in a display,” said David Lebus, co-owner of the Wichita, Kan., stores.

Place chew toys in an aisle that’s in a direct pathway to the consumables, suggested Carli Bushoven, sales and marketing coordinator at JW Pet in Teterboro, N.J.

“Store events are another great way to promote products,” she said. “The holidays provide ample opportunities for events like costume contest or holiday pictures with a pet, and you can offer dog toy prizes for the winners.”

Stores selling puppies also have an advantage, she said, to use chew toys in their kennels.

“Offering coupons or a free toy to anyone who signs up for a [behavioral or training] class gives the consumer a tool they will need while training their pet,” Bushoven added. —AP

To go along with its new products, JW Pet initiated a branding campaign that showcases the company’s design achievements in the chew toy category, said Emilye Schmale, director of marketing for the company.

Still, Schmale added, rubber remains the “gold standard” for dog toys, as it is natural, durable and ideal for tough chewing.

Rubber loyalty rings true at Tastybone, a new toy and chew manufacturer. The St. Pete Beach, Fla., company is working on a new combo pack that includes a rubber bone, a rubber ball and a nylon ring that works well for winter holiday gifting.

“People are not looking for something they have to go out and buy every day; not just a one-minute toy,” said Alan Ronay, the company’s owner.

He cited his most popular toy as a knobby ball designed especially for tough chewers. As for colors, between the pastel shades and earthtones he has available, “the beef and chicken—the yellow and terracotta-looking color—feels more natural, so people are going toward more natural colors,” Ronay noted, adding that customers also want products that are free of artificial ingredients and are not heavily manufactured or gimmicky—in other words, natural products.

With the natural sector a wide-open door, manufacturers have a variety of ingredients and materials to work with. At Redbarn Pet Products, a company based in Long Beach, Calif., consumers expressed a “keen interest” in the use of sweet potato as an ingredient in Redbarn’s chews, so the manufacturer brought the item into the market with its new all-natural treats, including a popular filled bone line, said Tim Fabits, vice president of sales.

“Many of these new SKUs fit into our all-natural assortment, which continues to offer the strongest growth in the category,” Fabits said. “The pig ear category continues to suffer the most within the treat category, with retailers reporting sales decreases in excess of 40 percent over the previous year. The pricing on raw materials has risen dramatically, which has forced pet owners to look for treat alternatives.”

Natural chews such as the increasingly popular antlers are now the go-to choice at retailer Ren’s Pets Depot of Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

“People are moving away from synthetic and chemical ingredients and preservatives and picking healthier, more natural alternatives for their pets,” said Terina Lemon, special projects coordinator at Ren’s Pets Depot.

With no odor, residue or splintering, antlers fit the bill.

Beyond antlers, other chewable, natural animal parts have gained traction recently. Clear Conscience Pet reported it has seen success with its Scappy Chewz, which are made of pure bison cartilage with naturally occurring glucosamine and chondroitin. The chew is digestible and less bulky, yet it offers full nutritional benefits, said Anthony Bennie, founder and president of the Wilton, Conn., manufacturer.

“We’re looking at also getting novel proteins in a chew format—that’s in the development stage now,” Bennie said. “We’re also looking at the tender treat category, and we’ve been working on this for a while, for people out there who need something softer [for their dog].”

The company’s chew lineup also includes lamb lungs, lamb heart strips, lamb trachea and bison Achilles tendons, all of which are superior to synthetic ingredients, according to Bennie. He estimates that about 80 percent of new pet store openings he hears about are in the holistic niche, so stocking natural items like these may be a savvy move.

At All Paws Pet Center’s three locations in Wichita, Kan., bully sticks are a top seller along with deer antlers, but frozen bison and beef marrow bones also rank high, said David Lebus, co-owner of the stores. And he’s started carrying a new product he found out about at a trade show: the Himalayan Dog Chew, which is made of yak and cow milk.

“There’s no odor to it or any kind of mess, so you feel comfortable letting the dog chew on that in the house,” he said. “It’s caught on really, really well, with very limited ingredients. It’s kind of a pricey chew, but it also lasts a long time. That’s what people are interested in, I think—something that lasts a lot time, is a good value and doesn’t stink.”

Customers still come in and request rawhide bones, which Lebus stocks, but he is happy to introduce them to alternatives.

“A lot of times they say, ‘Well, my dog just won’t chew on anything else,’ but in a lot of cases it’s because they haven’t tried a lot of different things,” he noted.




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