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Pet owners are seeking out chews and treats that will make their pets happy—but that have healthy, safe and natural ingredients. There’s no question they are being more selective about what chews and treats these choose for their furry family members.

“Pet parents are more discerning than ever,” said Laura Jones, COO for Jones Natural Chews, a manufacturer in Rockford, Ill. “They are educating themselves on nutritional

content, country of origin, protein sources, and ensuring that they are providing chews and treats that are healthy and safe for their pets—all while making environmental considerations as well. They want transparency and to feel good about products they are purchasing and letting their dogs consuming.”

Pattie Zeller, owner of Animal Connection, a retailer in Charlottesville, Va., said she is seeing the increased interest in healthy ingredients play out at her store with pet owners paying close attention to what’s listed on packaging.

“We are seeing customers look at the ingredient list or ask us questions, like where the treats came from,” Zeller said. “Our customers care a lot about that information, and we’re also providing a lot of education.”

Chews and treats made with natural, wholesome ingredients are becoming more prevalent as consumers try to steer clear of anything artificial or containing fillers, said Rob Cadenhead, general manager of Gott Pet Products, parent company of St. Francis, Wis.-based Charlee Bear.

“Functional treats are also very trendy right now,” he said. “Whether the product promotes dental hygiene, is good for training or it supports joints, consumers seek natural chews and treats that serve a purpose, in addition to offering a tasty reward to their pet.”

Jones agreed and said that pet owners are specifically seeking out functional ingredients in treats and chews.

“They want to know that anything added in the treat is providing a benefit to their pup,” she continued. “Treats are a chance for pet parents to round out their dog’s diet, so anything that they may feel is missing from their regular diet can easily be added by way of treats. For some that may mean adding diverse proteins or other nutrients that their pup may be lacking.”

Low-calorie treats are also on pet owners’ radar, said Vicky Wagner, president of Kennelmaster Foods, a manufacturer in Smyrna Beach, Fla.

“With the pandemic came an increased demand for low-calorie functional treats as pet parents working from home were reaching for the treat jar more frequently,” she said.

With the demand for functional ingredient treats, Wagner said that Kennelmaster Foods has expanded its Chip’s Naturals line with the addition of Doggie Salmon Snacks.

“Crafted from 100 percent pure wild salmon, Doggie Salmon Snacks are rich in vitamins and omega-3, which help promote healthy skin and coat,” Wagner said. “These all-natural, single-ingredient, crunchy, dehydrated treats are perfect for finicky dogs or dogs on limited-protein-sourced diets.”

Merchandising

Displaying Natural Treats and Chews

When it comes to generating in-store interest in natural treats and chews, enticing displays can help draw customers—and their pups—in.

“Dogs gravitate towards natural chews, so having product displayed in the open can really excite a dog who is shopping with their owner,” said Laura Jones, COO of Jones Natural Chews, a manufacturer in Rockford, Ill. “Bins are a fun and appealing way if your store layout allows for that. Providing education on natural chews is important as well. New pet parents may be intimidated by body-part chews or worried about mess. Sharing tips and tricks for minimizing those scenarios is key and ensures that pet parents feel more confident in their treat choice.”

Pattie Zeller, owner of Animal Connection, a retailer in Charlottesville, Va., said that both a chew bar and a treat bar are highly effective at her store. They often inspire pet owners to try something new, and Zeller is frequently bringing in new items so that customers keep checking back.

“We have [the chew bar] divided into sections and even have items like pig snouts, duck heads, cow ears with the hair still on because it’s good fiber, and necks of all kinds,” Zeller said. “It’s sometimes shocking to new customers, but when we talk to them about no animal part going to waste, they are quickly onboard.”

Sarah Stewart, owner of Southern Barker, a retailer in Lexington, Ky., said that her business employs a similar approach with its Barker Bar. There are scoopable treat bins where customers can fill their own bag and pay by the ounce. And Southern Barker also has a chew bar on the backside with all different types of chews.

“We have continued to expand the bar because it is one of our biggest profit drivers,” Stewart said. “Most customers tell us they have never seen such a big selection before, and it often inspires them to try something they otherwise wouldn’t. Every time that we go to a show we are always looking at something new that we can bring back.”

Local products are also a hit for many retailers, and displays should help to highlight these products. Kim McCohan, chief happiness officer for Bend Pet Express, which has stores in Bend, Ore., said that her customers definitely love products that come from the Pacific Northwest region—and locally sourced treats and chews are always popular.

Assortment Optimization

Stocking a Variety

Offering a selection of natural chews and treats to meet all pets’ needs can be a challenge for some pet specialty retailers. However, an assortment of products will help ensure every customer finds something that will work for them.

“It’d be beneficial to offer an assortment of protein options, including popular flavors like beef and chicken to more exotic ones like rabbit, lamb and venison,” said Rob Cadenhead, general manager of Gott Pet Products, the St. Francis, Wis.-based parent company of Charlee Bear. “It’s also a good idea to have some vegetarian choices available. This will appeal to pet parents whose pets may have allergies or aversions to specific proteins.”

Additionally, Cadenhead suggested that retailers who are committed to providing a diverse selection of natural chews and treats should simply take the time to talk to their customers and learn firsthand what they are seeking.

“This will help them gain insight into whether they’re simply looking for a delicious treat or seeking one that caters to a specific need like training, dental hygiene or mobility support,” he continued.

Variety is definitely the key, said Laura Jones, COO for Jones Natural Chews, a manufacturer in Rockford, Ill.

“Dogs’ dietary needs are diverse, so having options that address a wide variety of needs gives parents options,” she said. “Two-in-one treats, like a stuffed chew, can be a great option to help ease pet parents into new types of chews. A new type of chew can be mentally stimulating for dogs as well.”

Kim McCohan, chief happiness officer for Bend Pet Express, which has stores in Bend, Ore., agreed that having a good range of products to choose from is important.

“Pet parents always want options,” she said. “And while they wouldn’t be inclined to easily switch foods often, they might be looking to try different kinds of treats to give their pet some variety—and some fun. Maintaining a nice assortment and always adding something new is a great way to keep customers coming back.”


Trade Talk

Jessika Zulic, senior brand manager for Dogswell, a brand of Whitebridge Pet Brands in St. Louis

Dog owners are increasingly looking for treats and chews with functional ingredients. What benefits are owners seeking, and what does Whitebridge offer in this category? 

Pet parents have been spending more time at home with their dogs and observing more closely changes in their pet’s health. As a result, functional treats that offer solutions for hip and joint, digestive, immune, and skin and coat health are growing in popularity. Dogswell leads the functional treat category, offering a wide range of solutions in multiple treat formats, from jerky to grillers to our newest option, soft and chewy. Dogswell gives dog owners an easy way to get benefits as part of their normal treating behavior.

Our latest innovation, Dogswell Gut Health Jerky, capitalizes on the growing consumer concern for preventive health care. Probiotics are sought-after functional ingredients that are critical to overall health and well-being in dogs, impacting not just digestion, but even the immune system. Dogswell Gut Health Jerky provides the digestive health benefits of live probiotics in a meaty jerky treat that dogs will love.