Why Simple Sells in the Dog Treat and Chew Aisle

Consumers are becoming more and more health conscious for both themselves and their pets. As they shop for treats and chews for their canine companions, this mindset is front and center—and products that match this criteria are flying off the shelves, according to industry insiders.

"The sales numbers in our bones/chews category are generally up," said Lisa Rosseau owner of Lisa’s Doghouse, a pet store in North Bay, Ontario, Canada. Although exact statistics depend on the product, she says, her sales are up approximately 10 percent year-over-year.

When it comes to dog treats and chews, a few main takeaways stand out from insiders: Sales are up or rising, packaging is evolving and consumers are becoming more allergy conscious, preferring simple recipes made with natural ingredients.

"Pet parents are looking for few ingredients, and ones that they know," said Matthew Golladay, president of BrightPet Nutrition Group, a Lisbon, Ohio-based manufacturer of pet food and treats. "Pet parents don’t want to guess if the treats are healthy for their furry friends.

Instead, they want to look at the ingredients and instantly feel good about what they’re buying."

Greg Claypool, president of Dog Nip, a Ray, Mich.-based manufacturer of dog chews, agreed. 

"Motivated by the increasing concern regarding health and wellness, consumers seek those same high standards when grocery shopping for their pets," Claypool said. "Consumers don’t want to see grains, added hormones, artificial colors or flavors, fillers, wheat, soy or preservatives in their dog’s treats and chews." 

What’s more, customers appreciate products that are sourced and packaged in the U.S., insiders noted—something that officials at the 140-acre Veritas Farms in Pueblo, Colo., know all about. The company, which has corporate headquarters in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., recently launched its Veritas Pets line. The Veritas Pets line includes a pet tincture made with full-spectrum hemp oil that comes in two flavors and a line of chews that are infused with the company’s full-spectrum hemp oil in three varieties: Skin & Allergy, Calming and Joint Care. 

"We know a growing amount of consumers use full-spectrum hemp oil to aid pets with a wide range of medical and behavioral issues,"said Mike Krouskos, vice president of channel development. "There are over 100 cannabinoids found in hemp. [Cannabidiol] CBD is only one of these beneficial compounds."

Beyond natural, healthful ingredients, another new trend in the dog treats and chews category is evolved packaging. The way dog treats and chews are packaged is shifting, favoring bright colors and an uncluttered pattern, industry participants reported. At Wag N’ Wash, a natural pet food franchise with stores in eight states, president Rob Flanagan reported that well-packaged chews with exotic proteins are selling well.

"Pet parents seem to flock to these for a number of reasons, but a number of companies have started really enhancing their packaging on these unique chews, and I believe the attractive packaging is working," he said.

Pattie Boden Zeller, owner of Animal Connection, a pet store in Charlottesville, Va., noted that practicality is a consideration for consumers. 

"As far as the training treats go, what our customers are looking for are things that don’t get yucky in their pockets," she said. 

For other types of treats, Boden Zeller prizes uniqueness in regard to shape and size, trying to find treats that don’t look like they all came from the same bakery. 

She appreciates treats in smaller packages, too. 

"Now pet companies do 3-ounce or smaller sizes so people can pay less and try something to see if they like it," Boden Zeller said.

Insiders noted that novel protein sources are also popular with customers, and that pet owners appreciate transparency about who they’re buying from and what they’re buying.

New Products

Simplicity Sells 

Simple recipes as well as healthful and natural ingredients all play a big role in the new dog chews and treats that will be on shelves in the near future. 

Dog Nip, a Ray, Mich.-based manufacturer of natural dog treats, recently released a line of Gobble! Turkey Tendon Sticks and Strips. The strips are high in protein and contain just a few simple ingredients, according to president Greg Claypool. 

Veritas Farms, which has a farm in Pueblo, Colo., and corporate headqauarters in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., has several new products coming out, too. 

"Part of the company’s upcoming collection of pet products includes three new varieties of Full Spectrum Hemp Oil Chews," said vice president of channel development Mike Krouskos. 

The chews are infused with the company’s full-spectrum hemp oil and are available in the following varieties: Skin & Allergy, Calming and Joint Care. 

BrightPet Nutrition Group, a Lisbon, Ohio-based manufacturer of pet food and treats, recently introduced several new products, reported president Matthew Golladay. First, the company debuted a new line of Adirondack branded premium dog and cat treats. These single-ingredient, grain-free treats are freeze-dried for freshness and flavor and are great for pets with allergies. For its Blackwood Pet Food brand, the company introduced premium baked dog treats that are "flavorful and nutritious," with flavors like Bacon with Real Peanut Butter and Duck with Apple, Golladay said.

Dog treat and chew manufacturers find inspiration for developing new products in a variety of ways. 

For BrightPet Nutrition Group, listening to customers is key when it comes to dreaming up new products.

"We certainly do a lot of time reacting to [customer] requests for new recipes that may help pets be healthier and happier," Golladay said.

Once BrightPet has feedback in-hand, the company works with a team of animal nutrition experts to make sure each recipe has the right balance of ingredients.

Dog Nip considers simplicity of ingredients during the new recipe development process. 

"Our goal is to keep our products at only a few simple ingredients," Claypool said. "[They] are rich in protein and minimally processed/dehydrated to a shelf-stable moisture level." 

While Dog Nip currently focuses on turkey, the company is planning to expand into more novel protein sources in the future.

3 Tips to Merchandising Dog Treats and Chews

The market for dog chews and treats does not lack options. The variety of  chews and treats available today runs the gamut from soft and crunchy to body parts and those infused with functional ingredients. As such, it might be wise for pet specialty retailers to come up with a merchandising strategy that makes sense for their stores. Three retailers offer inspiration for others looking to create a display that captures consumers’ attention. 

1. Centralize Treats and Chews  

"Our main method is the utilization of a centralized island of bones and chews, known as ‘Bone Island,’ which utilizes large buckets," said Lisa Rosseau, owner of Lisa’s Doghouse in North Bay, Ontario, Canada. "[This] displays the products in a way that not only can people observe and touch them, but it also allows their dogs to shop around themselves, which takes a lot of the guests’ work out." 

2. Cross-merchandise 

"We merchandise our treats in high-traffic locations and cross-merchandise as often as possible," said Rob Flanagan, president of Wag N’ Wash, which has locations in eight states. "A lot of consumers don’t know that the manufacturer of their preferred food also makes treats, and that’s when cross-merchandising can highlight a brand. The food is working, so adding the matching treat comes as a no-brainer to our guests when presented correctly." 

3. Make It Fun and Offer Discounts 

"We have a scoop-your-own treat bar that we bought," said Pattie Boden Zeller, owner of Animal Connection in Charlottesville Va. "And we have a re-biscuit program, where [customers] get a container and when they refill it from the treat bar, they get a discount."