Dog treats and chews remain consistent sellers, with sales on an upward trajectory, pet specialty retailers reported.

“Every year, the sale of treats and chews steadily increases,” said Andrea Margelis, manager of Pets Naturally, a retailer in Traverse City, Mich. “Consumers are spending more on their pets, especially during the pandemic due to the fact that a lot of pet parents are spending more time with their furry friends.”

Top picks in this category are considered safe and natural, with few ingredients.

“First and foremost, [dog owners want] to know that it is safe,” said Laura Jones, COO of Jones Naturals, a manufacturer in Rockford, Ill.

Pet owners want products that bring their pets joy, Jones continued, while “giving the dog owner peace of mind that it is a safe, natural, single-ingredient or limited-ingredient chew or treat—not one full of chemicals or ingredients that cannot be pronounced.”

Margelis agreed that safety comes first in owner demands for chews and treats for dogs. Shoppers also seek chews that are “long-lasting, natural and highly digestible,” she said.

“When it comes to treats, pet parents are looking for all-natural treats,” Margelis said. “Especially limited-ingredient treats, since a lot of dogs have allergies and sensitive tummies.”

While affordability is important to consumers, they “will pay a premium for chews that occupy their pets,” said Mike Thomas, vice president of development for Dallas-based manufacturer QT Dog. “They like watching their pets enjoy themselves.”

William Paul, co-owner of The Animal House, which has two stores in Maine, agreed.

“People love their pets as if they were their own children, so it isn’t out of the ordinary to see someone spend a little extra to make sure their babies are well cared for,” he said.

Customers at The Animal House appreciate natural ingredients, and freeze-dried raw products are popular.

“This includes treats and chews made from natural pieces or products of animals, such as yak’s milk, bones and pizzles,” Paul said.

“Customers don’t just want something their dogs will love,” he added. “They also want it to be safe and healthy.”

USA sourcing and manufacturing increase consumer confidence and preference, Margelis reported.

“These trends are stemming from the fact consumers are more educated about pet products, what can be in them and how they are made,” Margelis added.

New Products

Natural and Made in USA

New and upcoming treat and chew offerings for dogs meet key consumer demands. Those requirements include natural ingredients and USA sourcing, according to manufacturers.

In September, Jones Naturals introduced Smokey Stuffed Meaty Bones in 2- and 4-inch lengths. The meaty center bones are filled with natural ingredients and a dense stuffing of chicken and rice, with meat as the first ingredient, according to the company.

“These bones are great for providing the dog with long chewing hours and the challenge of getting to all the stuffing,” said Laura Jones, COO of the Rockford, Ill.-based manufacturer.

The following month, the company launched several stuffed beef hooves and tracheas. Each is filled with natural ingredients and dense stuffing, with meat as the first ingredient, company officials said.

Both P Nutty Stuffed Hooves and P Nutty Stuffed Windees contain real chicken and have natural, non-allergenic peanut butter flavoring. Beefy Stuffed Hooves and Beefy Stuffed Windees each are stuffed with beef-flavored filling.

“Jones Naturals has a stringent process in place to ensure product safety and quality,” Jones said, adding that the products are USA made and sourced, and contain no artificial ingredients.

This quarter, Nature’s Animals introduced meatless Tiny Treats. Also sourced and made in the USA, these handmade, limited-ingredient biscuits feature a small size as well as all-natural, human-grade ingredients, according to the company.

“The smaller size allows for healthy rewards without lots of calories,” said Timothy O’Brien, president of the Mamaroneck, N.Y.-based company. “The size of the biscuit is perfect for small dogs.”

Assortment Optimization

Decisions, Decisions

In a category with growing sales and so much variety, deciding which dog chews and treats or lines to carry requires a specific strategy, industry insiders said.

“In one of our stores, [sales in this category] can be anywhere from $5,000 a year and up, [and] I have noticed that it has grown little by little each year,” said William Paul, co-owner of The Animal House, which has two stores in Maine. “We base our selection on what trends are happening in our communities.”

Because consumers shop for dog treats and chews often—averaging 11 times a year, according to Laura Jones, COO of Jones Naturals, a manufacturer in Rockford, Ill.—diversity is necessary.

“Pets are family, and pet parents love to reward them,” she said. “It is important to have a selection of treats and chews that are for a variety of dog sizes. So, having selections for small, medium and large dogs is important, with a variety of protein sources.”

Rotation also keeps things interesting for customers, said Mike Thomas, vice president of development for QT Dog, a manufacturer in Dallas.

“Retailers need to keep an open mind,” he said. “They can buy a whole chew section from one or two manufacturers, [but] that gets boring. They need to mix it up in order to keep their customers engaged.”

The Animal House isn’t afraid to freshen up the selection, Paul said.

“If it’s something new and we are interested, or we have a customer who buys something similar, we will give it a try,” he said. “If it does well, we bring it back. If it does not do well, we won’t bring it back in to keep in stock. However, we will do special orders for customers who buy something that isn’t kept in-store.”

Most retailers said that research is a crucial part of their selection process.

“We do research in regard to the ingredients and the company,” said Andrea Margelis, manager of Pets Naturally, a retailer in Traverse City, Mich. “And we test them out on our own pets to ensure we are selling the best products.”

5 Marketing Strategies to Boost Awareness, Sales

Creating a strategic plan pays off in moving dog treats and chews and gaining customer loyalty, industry insiders said. They offered their best strategies for retail marketing of dog treats and chews.

1. Sampling

“You have to get the chew into a dog’s mouth first,” said Mike Thomas, vice president of development for QT Dog, a Dallas-based manufacturer.

The company helps by working closely with retail partners and encouraging them with “aggressive ISO [initial stocking order] deals,” he said.

Firsthand experience with the chews and treats is a key marketing strategy for The Animal House, which has two stores in Maine.

“The best way in my mind to market is by trial,” said William Paul, co-owner of The Animal House. “I like to purchase new things and try them out with our pets at home and let the customers know how it went for us personally.”

2. Education

“Educating the end consumer on the benefits of bones and how to choose the right bone or chew for your dog is very important,” said Laura Jones, COO of Jones Naturals, a manufacturer in Rockford, Ill.

To that end, she said “training store staff and using online media and our website are valuable tools.”

3. Effective Displays

“Impactful, attractive displays along with highlighting the health benefits is the logical strategy,” said Timothy O’Brien, president of Nature’s Animals, a manufacturer in Mamaroneck, N.Y.

4. Emotional Connection

“You want to make an emotional connection with the pet owners,” O’Brien added. “People purchase with their emotions.”

Owners love their dogs and care about their pets’ health and happiness. By conveying those similar feelings, O’Brien said that consumers will connect with and be loyal to you and the products you sell.

5. Social Media

“We use a lot of social media to sell treats and chews,” said Andrea Margelis, manager of Pets Naturally, a retailer in Traverse City, Mich. “We feature products on our Instagram and Facebook as well as our newsletter to showcase the latest products to our customers.”

The Animal House also uses social media for marketing.

“[People] get curious based on a post or image,” Paul said. “Then they base their decision to buy or not on what [information] you have relayed to them … or your personal experiences with the product.”