Sales of dog chews are up, industry participants reported, with preference often going to U.S.-made and natural products.
"Consumers still want all-natural, domestically produced chews," said Curt Jacques II, president and CEO of West Lebanon Feed & Supply in West Lebanon, N.H. "Durability, safety and ‘lasting qualities’ are top of the list."
Expanding on the USA-made focus, Jeff Reibert, buyer for CountryMax Stores, which has multiple locations in New York state, said "The trend for local products—in our case, made in N.Y.—has increased as well."
Mike Thomas, vice president of development for QT Dog in Dallas, agreed that demand for USA-made chew products is solid. He added that single-ingredient body parts are trending as well.
"Consumers’ needs for pets are constantly evolving," he said. "They are always looking for something new. They want novel natural chews."
Thomas added that there is strong consumer demand for minimally processed and paleo-style products.
Heather Blum, co-owner of Petagogy in Pittsburgh, said chews make up some of the best-selling dog treats in the store because consumers view them as entertainment to prevent boredom and as a natural teeth cleaner. Favorites include chews from the VE Raw Bar—Vital Essentials’ proprietary bulk chew display—natural bully sticks and rawhide alternatives, she said.
Consumer demand for unique proteins, plus pet owners’ keen interest in sustainable products in relation to ingredient sourcing, is also shaping the category, according to Keefer Dickerson, marketing and outreach manager for Nashville Pet Products, which has five locations in Tennessee.
"Based on what they tell us and what they ask about, our customers want all-natural ingredients, sourced in USA—unless there’s a good reason for it to come from somewhere else—and no GMOs or ingredients from China," Dickerson added.
Transparency and palatability are imperative for dog owners selecting chews for their beloved animals, said Joe McIver, brand manager for Whitebridge Pet Brands in St. Louis.
"[They want] chews with ingredients owners recognize and that sound appetizing to them, as well as treats and chews that are minimally processed—almost to the point where it seems like they could make it in their own home," he said.
Rawhide alternatives and safe options for dogs of all sizes are important considerations for chew shoppers, sources said.
"Alternatives to rawhide and body-part chews has been a hot trend that continues to expand," said Glenn A. Novotny, president and CEO of Emerald Pet Products in Walnut Creek, Calif. "Soft chews and alternative chews are seeing the most growth in the pet category, which can be attributed to pet owners’ desire to provide items that are easy for their pet to break down in the mouth and stomach."
The strong demand for soft chews, he added, is also associated with the prevalence of smaller dogs as well as the fact that the softer products are usually easier for older dogs to chew.
New or popular alternatives include deer antler, yak cheese, bully sticks, tendons, horns, ears and bones. Insiders also reported seeing cannabidiol (CBD) and hemp emerging in the chew category.
"Hemp and CBD are all the rage, but that train is still trying to gain traction," Thomas said. "Bleached rawhide is still a staple, but the public has come to accept a super-premium price point for exotic proteins and long-lasting natural materials."