There’s no question that the state of the mouth affects overall health.
"Pet parents have learned that good oral care leads to overall pet health," said Marjorie Murray, brand manager at W.F. Young/The Missing Link, a manufacturer in East Longmeadow, Mass. "They are seeking dental products that can help keep their dogs happy and healthy throughout all stages of their lives."
Experts in the pet dental health category report that more customers are buying not just oral products, but natural ones. In their migration toward more natural dental items, common concerns are palatability, a limited number of ingredients and how long the product lasts, said Rob Ashworth, senior brand manager at WellPet, a Tewksbury, Mass.-based manufacturer. He also reported a rise in large-count package sales, which leads him to believe "that more consumers are learning about the importance of daily dental care and are getting in the habit of treating daily," he said.
Multifunctional is another important quality pet owners seek, Murray said.
"A dental chew should be as multifunctional as possible by including ingredients like glucosamine to help mobility and support joint and hip health, as well as balanced omegas for healthy skin and coat," she said.
Other important ingredients include "herbal and plant root extracts and fruit oils such as coconut oil and enzymes in natural dental products," said Emily Stein, Ph.D. and CEO of Primal Health, maker of Teef! in Minneapolis. She sees these trends coming from the human natural products market.
"Customers are looking for 100 percent human grade, safe, low- or no-carb and effective products," Dr. Stein added.
The fewer the ingredients, the better, said Ben Dillon, manager of Bark Avenue Pet Supply, a pet store in Mesa, Ariz., adding that non-GMO is important to customers as well. He reported a shift toward water additives such as Teef! and Ark Naturals.
Eric Berry, owner of R.J. Paddywacks Pet Outfitter, a pet store in Carbondale, Colo., also noted the trend of pet owners turning to products outside of traditional offerings.
"In dental products, we went from trying to humanize the dental experience by providing toothbrushes and toothpaste to finally coming up with products that are unobtrusive and truly effective for the animal," he said. "These are effective and getting down to the root of the problem without making the pet owner’s life difficult or the pet uncomfortable in the process."
Natural dental chews remain a favorite because they are easy to use and provide stimulation for the dog, said Heather Blum, co-owner of Petagogy, which has three stores in Pittsburgh.
Berry said his natural dental chew customers fall into two categories.
"Some just want their dog to have something to chew on, and some truly want their dogs’ teeth clean," he said, estimating that 65 percent are looking for a treat, while 35 percent want medicinal-style products.
Probiotic-based brushing tools also are on the rise for both dogs and cats, Blum said.
Retailers noted that feline dental care remains a flat category, with few customers asking for these products.
"We don’t do a lot with cats because they’re such a difficult animal to work with in this category," Dillon said. He recommends "food additives or a chew, like chicken necks, to get cats chewing for five to 10 minutes, if possible. There are a lot of cats with dental issues, but we don’t have the right tools or products to work with them."
"This is certainly an area of the pet market that needs more attention," she said. "The challenge lies in providing nutritional benefits and natural ingredients cost effectively for a market where, generally speaking, cat treats run at a lower price point. Another challenge is creating formulas and formats that will meet more finicky palates."
On the Market
Dental Health and Fresh Breath
Retailers reported rising sales of natural dental products. One reason for this growth is the expanding product selection.
"Year-to-year, I’m seeing strong growth in the section," said Eric Berry, owner of R.J. Paddywacks Pet Outfitter, a pet store in Carbondale, Colo.
Heather Blum, co-owner of Petagogy, which has three stores in Pittsburgh, said, "Sales are up as new dental products enter the market."
One recent offering in natural dental products comes from Primal Health.
"Our initial product under the brand name Teef! is a first-in-class dental prebiotic called Protektin42 to improve the oral microbiome above and below the gumline," said Emily Stein, Ph.D. and CEO of the Minneapolis-based company.
The water additive is formulated for daily use "to promote healthier gums, whiter teeth and better breath," she said.
And the company isn’t stopping there.
"We are working on a carbohydrate-free dental treat for dogs and an optimized dental prebiotic formula for cats," Dr. Stein added.
For a multifunctional offering, W.F. Young launched The Missing Link Smartmouth Original Dental Chews last year. The textured chews feature ridges designed to help fight plaque and tartar buildup, as well as textured grooves to help deep clean teeth for fresh breath. Included in the chews are omegas for healthy skin and coat, and glucosamine to support mobility and hip and joint health, said Marjorie Murray, brand manager for the East Longmeadow, Mass.-based manufacturer.
To keep pets and owners engaged, WellPet offers its Whimzees brand of dental chews in a variety of shapes.
"While Brushzees is our flagship shape, we also have Alligator, Hedgehog, Stix and bone-shaped treats," said Rob Ashworth, senior brand manager for the Tewksbury, Mass.-based company. "Consumers love our variety packs because it mixes up the routine every day and adds an element of fun into daily dental care."
Dental care is a staple because the need for fresh breath and a healthy mouth is ongoing, said Ben Dillon, manager of Bark Avenue Pet Supply, a pet store in Mesa, Ariz. He reported that sales of natural dental products are up since expanding the store’s selection.
"We’ve brought in more Whimzees chews in our store, and we have Teef! at the counter as a great add-on," he said. "[The demand for dental products] won’t go away; it always needs to be addressed."
Customers Prefer a Range of Choices
Choosing how many different natural dental products to carry is an important decision for pet specialty retailers. Most find a range of offerings works best for this category.
"I have about six different brands of dental products, from TropiClean to Teef!," said Eric Berry, owner of R.J. Paddywacks Pet Outfitter, a pet store in Carbondale, Colo. "I really do find having a range gives a comfort level for the consumer that you’re not just playing around. People appreciate that."
Bark Avenue Pet Supply, a pet store in Mesa, Ariz., carries toothpaste, chew items, a water additive and a gel or spray, a finger brush and a toothbrush with soft bristles, said manager Ben Dillon. He added that offering a "good, better, best" selection opens up the educational aspect of natural dental products.
While some retailers noted that price represents a lesser concern for many pet owners, Dillon pointed out that bulk or value options on dental chews are often an attraction option.
"For example, with Whimzees’ bulk boxes, customers can see what their dog likes best," he noted. "Having that trial first works very well in our store, and then they come back for what worked best for their pets."
At the end of the day, the main purchase driver is whichever method the pet will allow or tolerate, said Heather Blum, co-owner of Petagogy, which has three stores in Pittsburgh.
4 Powerful Merchandising Positions
Many retailers have an ongoing challenge between displaying products effectively and keeping stores from looking cluttered and cramped. Industry insiders offered these tips to merchandise natural dental products well in pet specialty locations.
1. Grouped Together
"We keep dental products together so that pet owners can see the different assortment of dental options," said Heather Blum, co-owner of Petagogy, which has three stores in Pittsburgh.
"We’ve got nice chews on the endcaps," said Eric Berry, owner of R.J. Paddywacks Pet Outfitter, a pet store in Carbondale, Colo.
"Separate from the standard shelves, we offer a standalone bulk rack which can be located anywhere in the store," said Rob Ashworth, senior brand manager at WellPet, a manufacturer in Tewksbury, Mass. "These are great to entice trial and help educate new consumers about the importance of pet oral care."
W.F. Young/The Missing Link is another manufacturer that offers similar support.
"To assist retailers with space in a potentially crowded dental aisle, The Missing Link will be offering freestanding floor stand displays that are convertible to power wings," said Marjorie Murray, brand manager at W.F. Young/The Missing Link in East Longmeadow, Mass.
"Typically with a new product, like with Teef!, we put it on the counter for impulse buy, and they are packaged perfectly for this," said Ben Dillon, manager of Bark Avenue Pet Supply, a pet store in Mesa, Ariz.
Other types of displays can work well at the checkout.
"Another convenient display item is a gravity-feed dispenser display box perfect for counters, so customers can purchase one or two single individually wrapped chews for their dogs to try before purchasing a full bag," Murray said.