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Pet retailers and manufacturers say the dog treats and chews category is thriving, with consumers paying attention to a few key factors.

Long-lasting, single-ingredient, natural chews are driving sales, according to Mike Thomas, vice president of development at QT Dog, a Dallas-based manufacturer of natural dog chews.

Tony March, marketing manager for Pet Factory, a Mundelein, Ill.-based manufacturer of domestically sourced and made beefhide products, added that chews that are highly digestible and are USA made are also important to customers.

“Consumers are demanding more made-in-USA products for their pets,” he said. “They are willing to pay extra for products that are meeting higher standards in safety, quality and best practices in manufacturing.”

Sourcing and producing treats and chews in the U.S. has benefits for customers, said manufacturers and retailers alike.

“Our quality standards with USDA [U.S. Department of Agriculture]-certified ingredients allow you to treat and feed your pet with confidence,” said Alison Cremeans, director of marketing for Dayton, Ohio-based MiracleCorp, the maker of Stewart treats. “Our ingredients are locally sourced and manufactured in the heart of the Midwest under our own roof. Being sourced and made in the USA allows us to produce premium-quality food and treats at competitive and affordable price points.”

The Quirky Pet store in Montpelier, Vt., exclusively carries products made in the U.S. Owner Cindra Conison said she carries Vital Essentials but really values the relationships she has built with smaller manufacturers.

“I’m on a first-name basis when I call them,” she said. “It continues to support small business, and it’s also knowing if I have a problem with a product, I can call BarknBig in Colorado and say, ‘Here’s what’s going on.’”

Kim McCohan, chief happiness officer of Bend Pet Express, which has stores in Bend, Ore., said customers get excited about local treats and chews.

“When we brought in a new cookie called Pawkets, our customers jumped onboard quickly, as they are a local company and they use eco-friendly paper wrapping as opposed to plastic,” McCohan said. “Anything local is a hit, including the Pacific Northwest region.”

When it comes to chews, dog owners are excited to venture beyond “old reliables” like pig ears and bully sticks in favor of more novel chews, retailers said.

“People who are into various treats and chews for their dogs love seeing new chews at our Body-Parts Bar,” said Jason Ast, owner of Just Dog People, a pet store in Garner, N.C. “When we brought in duck heads, people loved commenting on them, even if they didn’t purchase them.”

The Quirky Pet offers a little of everything.

“I have a really huge selection,” Conison said. “I have a lot of chews that people just have never seen before. I sell duck heads from Vital Essentials, from their Raw Bar. I’ve got smoked pig tails, I have cow tails, I have jerky pretzels, I have bison scapula, I have twisted sheep pizzles. I have smoked cow ears, I have sheep ears, I have lamb ears. … I just brought in beef spleen, and that seems to be selling well, too.”

Based on the store’s selection, Conison’s customers would never suspect that she is a vegetarian.

Product Development

Limited, Single and Ready to Mingle

Demand is higher than ever before for single-ingredient treats, said Vicki Wagner, owner of Kennelmaster Foods, a manufacturer in New Smyrna Beach, Fla.

“Above all else, pet owners are demanding American-made, single- or low-ingredient, and low-calorie treats,” she said.

Kennelmaster Foods’ single-ingredient offerings include Chip’s Naturals Doggie Chicken Chips, Beefy Bites and Liver Slivers.

“Single-ingredient pet treats have become a necessary component in pet nutrition that retailers cannot deny,” Wagner said. “Pet owners demonstrate this every day in their efforts to avoid artificial, potentially harmful and unnecessary ingredients.”

Consumers are paying close attention to ingredients, said Rod Herrenbruck, chief imagineer of treats for Tuffy’s Pet Products, a brand of Perham, Minn.-based KLN Family Brands.

“Made in the USA and grain free are big with the consumer today,” Herrenbruck said. “However, ingredients are very important not only in type, but also in the order on ingredient deck and number of ingredients.”

Customers turn to limited-ingredient treats to avoid artificial preservatives, flavorings and additives, but also when they are looking to avoid allergens, said Eric Abbey, president and founder of Loving Pets, a Cranbury, N.J.-based manufacturer of pet treats and feeding supplies. To help shoppers easily find what they’re looking for, Loving Pets has added icons for distinctions like Grain Free and Gluten Free to its packaging.

“Creating eye-catching packaging that clearly calls out what’s ‘in,’ and sometimes what’s ‘out,’ and where the product is made has been a direct response to what pet parents are looking for,” Abbey said.

Stewart, a brand by MiracleCorp Products in Dayton, Ohio, offers 10 single-ingredient, freeze-dried treats in its Pro-Treat line.

“Beef liver has always been and continues to be our best-selling protein variety,” said Alison Cremeans, MiracleCorp’s director of marketing. “However, chicken liver and chicken breast are also popular options. Our collection also includes lamb liver, duck liver, bison liver, wild salmon and even cheddar cheese to give dogs a tasty array of options, particularly those with sensitivities and allergies.”

New Products

Give a Dog a Bone

Innovations abound in the dog chews and treats category. This year, manufacturers have debuted a variety of products to meet the needs of dogs and their owners.

QT Dog introduced its Water Buffalo Cheek Rolls earlier this year. The chews are a great alternative to rawhide, according officials of the Dallas-based company.

“[They are] super hard and long lasting,” said Mike Thomas, vice president of development at QT Dog. “They do not absorb moisture and get soft. Dogs have to wear them down.

“With a terrific price point, the Cheek Rolls have really taken off,” he added.

Pet Factory, a manufacturer based in Mundelein, Ill., launched its CareChewz line this year. The chews are sourced and made in the USA with 100 percent collagen from beefhide.

“Collagen from beefhide is really the best choice for a naturally safe, fun and durable chew,” said Tony March, Pet Factory’s marketing manager. “Giving CareChewz as a healthy daily dental care [solution] rewards dogs with cleaner teeth, fresher breath and stronger gums.”

During manufacturing, CareChewz receive an application of Digest-A-Boost, a compound that increases digestibility by conditioning and softening collagen, March said. The chews are available in four shapes in their natural flavor as well as chicken marinade.

Loving Pets in Cranbury, N.J., released several new treat lines in the spring. Among the new additions are Deli-Licious Deli Style Dog Treats, U.S.-made soft chews that feature beef as their lead ingredient and are available in New York deli flavors like Pastrami, Roast Beef with Cheddar and Corned Beef, said Loving Pets president and founder Eric Abbey. The treats are wheat, corn, and soy free and contain no artificial colors or preservatives.

In July, Tuffy’s Pet Products partnered with the Girl Scouts of America to create Girl Scouts Soft & Chewy Treats. Meat is the first ingredient in the heart-shaped, semi-moist treats. Flavors include Chicken, Bacon and Lamb.

“We are very excited about this partnership and plan on expanding the line to include some familiar Girl Scout varieties,” said Rod Herrenbruck, chief imagineer of treats at Tuffy’s Pet Products, a brand of Perham, Minn.-based KLN Family Brands.

Stewart, a pet food brand by MiracleCorp in Dayton, Ohio, released its new Pro-Treat Bacon Pop-Its over the summer.

“We are proud to be the first treat manufacturer to give pets and pet parents a wholesome bacon treat with real, uncured bacon as the first ingredient,” said Alison Cremeans, MiracleCorp’s director of marketing.

The freeze-dried Bacon Pop-Its are sourced and made in the U.S. in flavors like Bacon & Cheese; Bacon, Cheese & Egg; and Bacon Cheeseburger. Cremeans said the limited-ingredient, low-calorie treats do not have artificial flavors, colors or preservatives, and they are free of corn, wheat or soy.

Jinx—a relatively new, Los Angeles-based dog superfood manufacturer—launched its Pumpkin & Apple Biscuits in September.

The heart-shaped biscuits are made with eight ingredients, including real pumpkin and apple. The low-calorie treats also feature vitamins A and C to support the immune system, digestion and heart health, company officials said. They do not contain any artificial ingredients, chemicals or preservatives.

Merchandising

Sprinkle Treats Throughout the Store

Manufacturers and retailers suggest displaying treats and chews in multiple sections of the store for maximum visibility.

Alison Cremeans, director of marketing for MiracleCorp in Dayton, Ohio, said this helps retailers educate customers on the versatility of MiracleCorp’s freeze-dried Stewart treats.

“We suggest that retailers not only include them in the obvious freeze-dried section, [but] in the meaty treat and fun treat sections as well,” Cremeans said. “Our treats are no doubt all three.”

Just Dog People in Garner, N.C., displays treats in several spots.

“Besides our designated ‘treat section,’ we also have a Body-Parts Bar and a Raw Bar with various treats and chews,” owner Jason Ast said. “At our [point-of-sales area], we always have samples available for our customers to try. And we also keep some treats close to their kibble counterpart on clip-strips.”

With many customers working from home, they are looking for long-lasting chews to keep their dogs busy, and the Body-Parts Bar makes this easy.

“Instead of maybe just a couple chicken feet, now folks are buying buffalo horns, bully sticks and pig snouts in larger quantities so they can keep their dog entertained while mom is on a Zoom call with her co-workers,” Ast said.

Cindra Conison, owner of The Quirky Pet in Montpelier, Vt., has mastered showcasing chews in a tight space. Every bit of space counts in the 700-square-foot store, and Conison makes the best of it. She displays chews in metal buckets on the floor and candy jars on shelves.

“Think of an old general store, the way the shelves are,” Conison said.

The Quirky Pet bundles chews into samplers, including:

• The Quirky Sampler, a $10 pack that features whatever chews Conison decides to throw in. Each one is different.

• Just Feet, which features cow hooves, duck feet and chicken feet.

• Cheers for Ears, which features two types of cow ears, pig ear, lamb ear and sheep ear.

“People love that because they can just grab it and go,” Conison said.

Frozen yogurt and cupcake treats were a big hit over the summer at Bend Pet Express, which has stores in Bend, Ore.

“Adding ‘ask about our Pupsicles’ to our readerboards brought in some curious customers wondering what the heck a Pupsicle is,” said Kim McCohan, chief happiness officer.

On the other hand, the store has been facing a bit of a decline in its bulk treats and chews sales. Bulk biscuits are typically the store’s best-selling treat.

“I’m guessing the timing could be tied to people having to figure out how to pay bills now that COVID assistance has run out,” McCohan said. “[Bulk sales have] been challenging with the new COVID protection guidelines in place, like a new cup per customer while scooping bulk biscuits.”