The evolution of pet nutrition over the past few decades is nothing short of remarkable: While pet health was often considered an afterthought in the 1900s, today’s pet owners treat their pets as the living, sentient beings they are. As a natural extension of the increased levels of care pets are now receiving, it’s important that pet parents don’t lose sight of their pets’ natural urges and needs.
“As dogs have become more domestic, living mostly indoor lives of leisure, it has become more important to provide essential behavioral outlets to satisfy their natural urges,” says Nick Carter, marketing chief of ValuePetSupplies. “Natural chews, such as bully sticks, collagen chews and yak cheese, provide an essential outlet for a dog’s need for a long-lasting chew experience.”
In today’s market, pet parents have an array of options to choose from, as “chews are more than just a delicacy,” explains Alan Snyder, chief operating officer of Frankly Pet. With so many alternatives in the market, retailers would be wise to collect and maintain a diverse selection of nutritional chew options, especially in the hybrid work era.
“As more pet parents are slowly heading back to work, they’re seeking products that may help their pets cope with boredom and/or stress,” continues Snyder. “Chews are a great option since they keep dogs occupied. Additionally, they provide mental stimulation, which we all know helps increase a dog’s happiness and overall well-being.”
As pet parents are more educated than ever, they’re well-versed in the nuances of the products they supply for their pets. For nutritional chews, in particular, the ingredients that encompass the chews are just as important as the benefits they provide.
“In the food realm, pet nutrition can be defined by the ingredients that make up the product and more specifically the functionality of those ingredients,” says Snyder. “There are a variety of chews on the market today that provide nutritional benefits. Chews that are made with collagen, as well as ones featuring antioxidants, are very popular at the moment.”
Additionally, Snyder explained that a chew has to feature ingredients that are beneficial to the pet to be considered “nutritious,” adds Snyder. He explains some chews may also feature ingredients that promote stronger bones and teeth, while others may provide joint support. For example, collagen is known to provide support for healthy skin and coat, joints, and more. Antioxidants also are nutritional because they support a healthy immune system.
According to ValuePetSupplies’s Carter, key benefits to keep in mind when selecting nutritional chews include:
- Single or limited ingredients;
- Brand reputation and product reviews;
- No chemicals or additives; and
- Additional health benefits offered, such as supporting dental, skin, coat and joint health.
“Single or limited ingredient natural dog chews are the leading trend in today’s pet market. Top sellers would be bully sticks, collagen chews and yak cheese,” continues Carter. “When it comes to healthy dog chews, high protein and low fat with no chemicals or additives are preferred.
However, Andrea Blade, Barkworthies’ CMO and chief digital officer, explains that pet parents can’t get carried away when it comes to feeding chews, no matter how fresh or nutritious the ingredients might be. She stresses that chews are meant to supplement diets, not encompass them.
“Chews, when fully consumed, should not make up more than 10 percent of a dog’s daily calorie intake,” Blade continues. “They can be beneficial by helping to keep teeth clean or by providing certain nutrients, such as collagen, in a concentrated form.”
The Importance of Sourcing
Ingredients are one thing; their sources are another. In a world where pet parents are more educated than ever before, it’s no longer enough to offer products with nutritious ingredients. Instead, retailers now must consider their sourcing before curating their in-store selection.
“Pet parents should keep an eye out for chews that are made with natural, healthy ingredients, while avoiding ones that contain fillers or anything artificial,” says Snyder. “Sourcing is also important, as consumers like to know where the product they’re feeding came from. Always make sure the chews you purchase are made in the U.S.”
For example, he explains that, “Frankly Pet offers a complete line of beef collagen treats and chews for dogs that are made from 100 percent U.S.-raised and -sourced cattle that’s completely traceable. Our collagen chews are a sustainable product and are made with the same collagen that’s used in human products. The collagen in our products is highly-digestible and helps aid digestion and promote healthy skin, coat, joints, nails and teeth.”
Carter doubles down on the importance of sourcing, explaining that ValuePetSupplies strives to supply only the best, most naturally sourced ingredients.
“ValuePetSupplies has been selling natural dog treats under the ValueBull brand for 18 years and counting,” says Carter. ValueBull natural treats are FDA-inspected and irradiated to assure safety and quality. They are made from limited natural ingredients and produced without chemicals or additives. The best thing any pet owner can do is read reviews and ValuePetSupplies is proud to show feedback from thousands of real-world customers to help the decision-making process.”
However, a huge caveat of sourcing, Carter continues, is the availability of products. When products are made with truly natural ingredients, there are issues that arise regarding how readily those ingredients are available to be sourced.
“One major consideration for resellers is product availability,” explains Carter. “Natural dog chews are reliant upon the raw materials available from the meat packing industry. Bully sticks are the well-established market leading natural chews, but the challenge is that they’re derived from a bull’s raw material. With only one in 10 cattle being a bull that yields only a few pounds of raw materials, there is a scarcity challenge in this market. Collagen chews, on the other hand, provide a similar chewing experience with added health benefits at a lower price due to plentiful raw materials.”
For an inside look into how the manufacturing facilities themselves support ethical and sustainable sourcing, Blade outlines Barkworthies’ commitment to delivering the freshest chews from the bottom-up. She explains that being transparent about sourcing is essential to building strong relationships with pet parents.
“There are no shortcuts in building trust and it’s an entire team mandate, which is why our excellent SQF certified facility in Richmond, Va. independently lab tests our chews before they ever reach our factory floor,” she continues. “Our dog-loving factory team hand inspects and packages every chew. Our supply team demands fair trade, sustainable and humane practices as we source our proteins. Confidence in quality is most critical for building trust with the pet parent. And if we succeed there, we’ve done our job.”
Nutritional chews are especially interesting because they’re not the main component of a pet’s diet; instead, they serve as a supplement to traditional meals.
“Chews play a very important role in a pet’s diet, as they can provide added nutritional benefits that the pet may not get from their food,” says Snyder. “Some pet parents feed the same food throughout the duration of their pet’s life and chews are a fun and easy way to add variety to their diet.”
Considering the critical role chews play, pet parents are going to do what they do best: research products and ingredients. In this era of the educated consumer, the onus falls squarely on the shoulders of retailers to match wits with this ambitious, smart demographic.
“First and foremost, pet parents take the time to research products. A quick search on the internet or going into a store and speaking one-on-one with an employee can provide helpful information for finding the right nutritional chew,” says Snyder. “Taking advantage of these resources will also help consumers find products specific to what they’re looking for, whether they want a chew that will help joint mobility, or perhaps one that provides skin and coat support, etc.”
To that end, both FranklyPet and ValuePetSupplies offer supplemental resources to support their products.
For ValuePetSupplies, Carter explains that the company offers in-depth product information on every product detail page on ValuePetSupplies.com, as well as on its product collection pages and blog. On the other hand, Snyder explains that Frankly Pet relies on point-of-purchase (POP) kits, which retailers can request through their distributors or by contacting customer service at Frankly Pet’s website.
“The first rule of health is ‘do no harm,’” says Carter. “Natural dog chews must be safe to offer your dog above all else and should complement a dog’s healthy diet by adding a nice protein boost while also providing a challenging chew experience to satisfy the natural urge to gnaw. This is great for canine dental and mental health, but also a great way to protect a dog owner’s shoes and furniture.”
For Barkworthies, Blade explains that the company is actively engaging its customers and advertising its brand, providing in-depth education and knowledge at events, in-store, with sponsorships, influencers and on social media. She continues that not all pet retailers have customers with the same needs, so the company offers a team of consultative pet industry pros to help its retail partners curate the right assortment for their shoppers.
“Providing chews can be useful to keep dogs busy, entertained and help prevent them from chewing on inappropriate objects,” Blade concludes. “Additionally, they may have the added benefit of helping to keep the teeth clean. Chews with nutritional features are chosen to provide something extra, such as collagen, that may be only a small component of the pet’s daily diet.” PB