Why Pet Owners Want More From Treats and Chews

Sales of dog chews, dog treats and cat treats are up year-over-year, according to pet specialty retailers. Items that are made in the USA or freeze-dried, as well as those that feature single-source proteins or body parts, are particularly favored by pet owners, sources said.

"The trend for both dog treats and chews, as well as cat treats, is a reflection of what pet parents are seeking in the foods they feed as their pet’s main meal," said Melinda Miller, CEO of Bravo! Pet Foods in Manchester, Conn. "They are seeking high-quality, nutrient-rich, all-natural products that are made in the USA and often serve some functional benefit."

Top-selling chews at California Pet Center, a pet store in Woodland Hills, Calif., include Himalayan yak bones, deer antlers and angus beef bullies, said owner Howard Feldman.

At Wally Pets, a pet shop in Seattle, tracheas from Porter’s Pride, a local company, are popular, along with bully sticks and freeze-dried salmon and cod skins.

"The beef cheeks are doing really well with our tougher chewers, and smoked and raw bones still sell well," said manager Christy Wondercheck, adding that the store also receives many requests for products that freshen pets’ breath.

Aside from the chewing and entertainment benefits, bones and chews provide additional nutrition that owners want for their dogs, said Barbara Ratner, president of K9Crisps, a manufacturer in Boca Raton, Fla.

"Customers are continuing to provide their dogs with additional heart and joint support through bones and chews," she said. "Bully sticks provide additional glucosamine. The real point of a chew should not only be for their teeth, but for the nutrition that an animal body part would provide for their dogs."

Treats that provide functional benefits also are top picks by both dog and cat owners, Ratner said. Common ingredients are "pumpkin for digestion, cranberry for urinary health, glucosamine for joints or additional taurine using organ meats for heart heath," she added.

Freeze-dried options are incredibly popular now for both dogs and cats, said Cindra Conison, owner of The Quirky Pet, a pet store in Montpelier, Vt. Customers weren’t buying freeze-dried treats when she opened nearly nine years ago, she said, and now they move very well.

Conison also reported seeing a shift in customer awareness of the fact that animals eat the entire prey animal, so they want all parts included in their pets’ treats.

"People don’t want to feed their pets junk, and they want all the animal used," she said, adding that, for that reason, freeze-dried options featuring body parts—tendons, necks and tails—are popular.

Often, less-common protein sources are preferred, according to industry insiders. Customers at The Quirky Pet respond well to tuna, rabbit and duck, while Wally Pets’ clientele especially like rabbit during spring and even cricket treats because they are eco-friendly.

"Cat people are hit-and-miss based on what the cat likes," Wondercheck said. "A local company’s [WildSide Pet Products’] freeze-dried salmon and freeze-dried chicken [are favorites], and the cat yogurts sell by the case."

Sales and Merchandising

Maximizing the Profit Potential of Treats and Chews

Most pet owners are conscious of treats and chews, but that doesn’t mean pet specialty retailers simply sit back and watch sales soar. Savvy stores have a solid plan to boost awareness about these products and draw attention to their best and newest offerings.

Howard Feldman, owner of California Pet Center, a pet store in Woodland Hills, Calif., does a lot of research on the brands and products he carries.

"We are known for carrying better products," he said. "I do my research on the companies we sell and what they do to make that product stand out, such as good packaging and quality ingredients."

When retailers take time to do their homework and train their associates, they become a valuable resource for consumers.

"It starts and ends with education," said Melinda Miller, CEO of Bravo! Pet Foods, a manufacturer in Manchester, Conn. "Being able to differentiate between the various product lines is always an important selling tool for retailers."

This empowers the sales team to match pet owners with the right size, brand and type of product based on the dog’s chewing habits, nutritional needs or texture preferences.

In-store displays also play an important role in marketing products to customers. According to Wayne Whitney, national sales manager for Happy Howie’s, a Detroit-based manufacturer, "attractive merchandising vehicles, prominently placed near the register, stimulate impulse and add-on sales."

The Quirky Pet in Montpelier, Vt., is a 700-square-foot rectangle-shaped space designed to resemble an old country store, said owner Cindra Conison.

"I market the treats and chews in wire baskets and apothecary jars, and I place bones on bottom racks in galvanized baskets," Conison said. "People walk in and are hit with this wall of animal parts. I also have a nonliving tree up front with small buckets that have other animal parts in them."

To introduce customers to new offerings, several industry insiders recommended sampling. This popular technique often creates goodwill, opens up conversation, and enables owners to discover which flavors and formats their pets prefer.

"If we get something new in, it’s front facing when people come in, and we have samples of new items [at] the counter," said Christy Wondercheck, manager of Wally Pets, a pet shop in Seattle. "That’s probably the biggest thing for us.

"And we don’t ever call it shoplifting if a dog picks something up in the store—it’s product testing," she added. "It works well for us. It’s like the dog picked its own stuff, and often the owner will come back and get more because they love it."

Assortment Optimization

Making Your Treats and Chews Selections

A key component to healthy sales is providing an appropriate assortment of treats and chews. Whether products are for cats or dogs, variety remains important to any good selection, said Melinda Miller, CEO of Bravo! Pet Foods, a manufacturer in Manchester, Conn.

"Doing a little bit of research on what’s available in the marketplace is important," Miller said. "There are new innovations and players coming into this space every day, so it helps to stay current and make the necessary additions to inventory based on what [retailers] learn."

Howard Feldman, owner of California Pet Center, a pet store in Woodland Hills, Calif., agreed that research is important.

"The most important thing I look at is ingredients," he said. "We focus on product quality, not price point of what we can sell it at."

To set Wally Pets apart, Christy Wondercheck, manager of the Seattle store, said she does another kind of research.

"I’m always at other stores to see what they carry and don’t carry," she said. "We stick with what works and bring in novel or unique-to-us items."

For a well-rounded offering, Wondercheck said Wally Pets tries to cover different price points, affordable training treats, limited-ingredient items and what’s new.

To avoid "more of the same" when adding new items, Wayne Whitney, national sales manager for Happy Howie’s, a manufacturer in Detroit, said, "A simple add-and-replace strategy works best.

"Rank the current offerings and replace underperforming SKUs with new items," he said. "It’s a simple strategy, but it works!"

On the Market

Popular Offerings in Chews and Treats

Consumers want healthful, all-natural consumables for their pets, and this is a driving factor in developing dog and cat treats and chews for dogs, manufacturers said.

Bravo! Pet Foods’ 100 percent dry-roasted, all-natural dog chews are tried-and-true customer favorites, said Melinda Miller, CEO of the Manchester, Conn.-based company. The line includes Bully Sticks, Crazy Curly Beef Bully Sticks, Beef Trachea and Duck Feet, which she said are used as a treat and chew.

When it comes to treats for dogs, Miller reported that Bravo! Bonus Bites and Bravo! Training Treats sell well. The Bonus Bites are freeze-dried and dry-roasted all-meat, grain-free treats, while the grain-free Training Treats are made from 100 percent muscle meats, she said.

For cats, the company offers Bravo! Healthy Bites made from 100 percent muscle meat, and Bravo! Healthy Medleys, which include muscle meat, hearts, livers and gizzards, Miller said.

At Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Fla., in February, Boca Raton, Fla.-based K9Crisps introduced larger versions of the company’s K9Crisps treats in turkey and beef disks. Free of grain and gluten, the treats feature 100 percent U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) meat and contain no added hormones or preservatives, according to the manufacturer.

Detroit-based Happy Howie’s launched Soft Meat Roll Treats in 7-ounce and 12-ounce sizes last October. The sizes are designed to make it easy for dog owners to control portions. Consumers can portion the limited-ingredient, protein-based formulas to match the size of their dogs, and the treats can be used as a topper for kibble and to conceal and administer medications, said national sales manager Wayne Whitney.

Trade Talk

Joe McIver, senior brand manager of Whitebridge Pet Brands in St. Louis

Your Cloud Star brand focuses on offering treats with natural, simple ingredients. How does this ingredient philosophy resonate with today’s consumers, and what types of innovations may we look forward to seeing this year from the brand?

Now more than ever, pet parents are looking for products that are not only natural, but as close to the healthy snacks they eat themselves. For over 20 years, Cloud Star has been a leader and pioneer in natural and minimally processed dog treats. We pride ourselves in providing pet parents with treats containing relatable ingredients using cooking techniques you could re-create in your own kitchen.

We always start our recipes with a simple premise—start with ingredients you recognize like natural peanut butter, chickpeas and flaxseed, while leaving out the unnecessary artificial fluff. Our upcoming innovation is certainly no exception, and even adds new human-grade options to the treating experience!

Coming this summer are three exciting Cloud Star Wag More Bark Less product lines: Gourmet BBQ-Style Jerky, Human Grade Iced Treat and Sweet Potato Fries.

Our exciting new meaty gourmet jerky offerings are inspired by the irresistible taste and aromas of three regional-based BBQ cuisines: Kansas City BBQ Chicken, Texas BBQ Beef and Memphis BBQ Turkey. Each treat has ingredients like paprika, lemon juice or turmeric to give it that BBQ flavor dogs crave.

We are also so excited to bring the brand equity of Cloud Star to your freezer sections with Wag More Bark Less Human Grade Iced Treat! Made with coconut cream and packed with probiotics, this doggy ice cream is one of the only human-grade ice creams in the market. Dairy free and slowly churned in the USA, pets (and pet parents) will crave this ice-cold offering all year long!

Finally, and staying true to our LID philosophy, we are launching new Wag More Bark Less Human Grade Sweet Potato Fries. Containing just one simple ingredient—dehydrated sweet potatoes—this vegetarian treat is 100 percent natural and even good enough to treat yourself!