Simple seems to be the key in the dog treats and chews category right now—and transparency remains top of mind with savvy shoppers, according to industry insiders.
"The trend that we have noticed in treats and chews are more simple-ingredient chews and treats," said Corissa Bubenick, manager of Hot Diggity, a pet store in Mashpee, Mass. "Our customers are concerned about what their dogs are consuming, and they look for chews that are long lasting, made in the U.S., single-sourced ingredients and palatable for the picky pup. The same goes for treats."
The desire for natural, made in the USA products has steadily increased over the past four or five years, according to Wayne Whitney, national sales manager for Happy Howie’s in Detroit.
"This demand is the result of increased consumer awareness of product quality," he said. "The consumer has been taught what to look for in product ingredients by the dog food industry. They tend to look for treats that match those standards."
Insiders reported seeing more interest in functional additives such as cannabidiol (CBD) and hemp.
"CBD- and hemp-infused chewables are becoming very popular due to the properties associated with them, including anxiety relief, pain relief, [reduced] aggression, sleep aid, allergies and numerous other ailments," said Kariee Buchanan, pet care specialist at Uncle Bill’s Pet Centers, which has locations in Indiana.
In seeking the best they can offer their pets, consumers want "the security in knowing that not only will their pet enjoy the treats they are given, but these treats may even provide actual benefits," said Kenn Manzerolle, vice president of sales and marketing for Treatworx Dog Treat Co. in Toronto.
Items that will keep pooches entertained and out of mischief are key for dog owners as well.
"Customers are looking for a safe, healthy chew that can keep their dogs busy for an extended time," said AdreAnne Tesene, co-owner with her husband, Andy Tesene, of Two Bostons, which has stores in Illinois. "Customers are extremely interested in chews that chew like rawhide, but don’t include the dangerous ingredients most rawhides use. Rawhide alternatives are a healthy trend we feel great getting behind."
Finally, dog owners want variety to keep things interesting with their pets. Whitney reported that more pet owners think their dogs need variety in their treats.
"Consumers want treats that excite their pet," he said. "Treats are the connection between the pet parent and their dog. It’s all about the reaction they get."
Treats to Meet Demand
Dog chews and treats available on the market today come in a variety of shapes, sizes, flavors and textures; however, industry insiders have noted certain trends within the categories. Some of the best-selling dog chews, according to retailers, include bully sticks, deer and elk antlers, and hard dog chews. For treats, retailers reported chicken, salmon, beef, peanut butter, duck and pork as favorite flavors among consumers.
To keep consumers excited about this category, manufacturers have been hard at work developing new products and refining formulas to meet high consumer demands.
In September, Happy Howie’s relaunched its Happy Howie’s Soft Meat Roll Treats.
"We updated our formula to meet government standards for shelf stability," said Wayne Whitney, national sales manager for the Detroit-based company. "In the process, we improved our range of sizes to more closely match the needs of our pet parents."
The rolls now come in 7- and 12-ounce sizes for smaller dogs and single-dog families, he added.
Treatworx Dog Treat Co. launched its lineup of natural dog treats to the U.S. market at SuperZoo in Las Vegas in August.
"We came to the market with a variety of products based in protein sources such as beef, chicken, turkey, duck, salmon and cod, and in a variety of different formats/textures such as freeze-dried, crunchy oven roasted, air-dried skins, dehydrated muscle meat and soft jerky," said Kenn Manzerolle, vice president of sales and marketing for the Toronto-based company. "Consumers are looking for variety, natural meats and different options, and we have tried to bring this all together under one brand—Treatworx."
Sharing Treat and Chew Information
When it comes to treats and chews for dogs, one size does not fit all. Thus, education at the store level is highly valued in this category.
"It’s our entire team’s responsibility to educate our customers on what the best items are for their pets," said AdreAnne Tesene, co-owner with her husband, Andy Tesene, of Two Bostons, which has stores in Illinois. "Asking the right questions at the very beginning to help them narrow down choices is important."
Kariee Buchanan, pet care specialist at Uncle Bill’s Pet Centers, which has locations in Indiana, agreed, adding that their pet specialists are proactive in the store to answer questions about the products available.
"It is incredibly important for pet owners to know what they are giving to their pets," she said.
At Hot Diggity, a pet store in Mashpee, Mass., talking to and educating customers is an important strategy.
"We are constantly educating ourselves to better inform and educate our customers on what our brands have to offer their pup," said manager Corissa Bubenick. "For example, we are always having the conversation with people on what size chew is appropriate for their dog. We use shelf talkers to help with this as well."
Manufacturers play a crucial part in education too.
"We have feeding guidelines on our packaging and our website," said Wayne Whitney, national sales manager for Happy Howie’s in Detroit. "The consumer needs to know that they are responsible for the health and safety of their dog. They should check the label for feeding guidelines and to make sure that there are no known allergens that might affect their dog’s health."
Happy Howie’s also provides retailers with an "informative merchandising unit," Whitney said.
"It shows the consumer how to portion the product and approximately how many treats they can get out of each roll [to give] pet parents complete control over the portion size of their treats," he said.
Wichita, Kan.-based Cosmic Pet, which makes Wild Eats chews, also uses packaging to educate consumers, said CEO Tim Blurton. Additionally, the company harnesses the power of social media to directly share beneficial product information with consumers.