If you have any doubt that the dog economy is booming, you only need to know that sales of dog diapers have increased to $24 million for the 24 weeks ending Aug. 15, up 202 percent from the same period last year, according to Nielsen research.
Dog-related products appear several times among the top 50 products that consumers have been shopping for since mid-March, with grooming supplies up 204 percent, flea and tick control up 178 percent, pet training aids up 153 percent and leashes up 130 percent over last year, according to Criteo.
“Pet supply sales, including food and consumables, along with grooming supplies, have increased since mid-March when the coronavirus outbreak began,” said Jaysen Gillespie, VP, Head of Analytics and Data Science at Criteo. “This surge can be attributed to pet owners following social distancing procedures and spending more time at home with their pets”
The dog sector hasn’t really needed a boost, as it’s long been the top revenue generator in the pet care industry. However, 2020 has added a different spin to what’s trending in the dog sector.
Along with dog diapers, the categories that have seen big gains from last year include treats, toys and carriers.
When it comes to toys, those for puppies are currently in demand with consumers, obviously affected by the recent increase in adoptions and foster situations related to the pandemic and its impact on animal shelters.
“I’m moving a lot of toys for puppies,” Bleznak said. “And especially toys that are for teething. Rope toys have been popular among my customers.”
Kong continues to rule the market from coast to coast, and other brands known for quality craftsmanship and durability are seeing steady or better demand.
“I sell a log of Kong,” she said. “The Kong Comfort toy is the biggest seller, by far, in my store. And the Kong Shakers, I can’t keep them in stock either. Another brand is Tall Tails. I got them late in the summer, and I really like the brand. They make a nice toy. It’s high quality and they perform well with my customers and their dogs.”
Dog owners in Centennial, Colorado, who shop at Garden of the Paws are greeted by walks of dog toys. The pet store’s owner, Blake Gipson, has a strategy when it comes to the toy brands that he carries.”
“I’m selling a lot of toys these days,” he said. “But I’m very particular about the brand of toys and durability rating that some of them are putting on their toys. Some of these manufacturers are using a durability scale, and it helps me to sell the toys that I carry. Because I was constantly hearing [customers claim] “The last toy that I bought, the dog had it chewed up in less than three hours.”
The change to only carrying toys that promote themselves with durability ratings has paid off for Gipson and his customers. Oneof the brands that he lauds is VIP Products, which makes the Tuffy, Mighty Dog and DuraForce toy lines. The Tuffy brand, which possesses over 200 SKUs, uses a Tuffscale for its toys, which can use up to seven rows of stitching and up to four layers of material during the making of a product. And the products come in a vast array of shapes, including animals, foods and complex shapes.
“The company is pretty amazing,” Gipson explains. “It’s evident to me that they focus on the durability of their products while they also cater to the customers liking the toys as much as the dogs liking the toys. They know how to market to the customer as well as the dog. Their products are a fun thing for us to carry, they make dragons, hippos, armadillos. They’re really eye-catching on my racks.”
A newcomer to Garden of the Paw is PetSafe, which fills Gipson’s need for a non-plush dog toy. Instead, Petsafe makes innovative products that mentally stimulated a dog as it interacts with the toy. Among the brand’s wide range of toys are the Kibble Chase Roaming Treat Dropper, Ricochet Electronic Dog Toy and Busy Buddy treat holders.
“We just started carrying Petsafe products, and they’re flying off my gondola,” Gipson noted. “The feedback that I’m getting is amazing. One of the Busy Buddy treat dispensers has a brush in the middle of the toy. We started carrying that two months ago, and when we introduced those to the customers, they came back and gave us outstanding feedback on them. And the customers have been buying the refills.
Gipson firmly believes that, as with the toys by VIP Products, the design of the PetSafe toys is a big factor in their appeal. The product, especially the color, is geared toward the customer.
“The color,” he said. “I think it’s for the consumers. They were really smart with the purple. A lot of women love purple. It’s a favorite color for a lot of women.”
Despite last year’s TDBBS and Brutus & Barnaby pig ear recalls, pet stores can’t go wrong carrying natural animal parts. No matter where you go, consumers are drawn to this treat category, which often gets its own display table located front and center in a pet store.
Bully sticks sit atop the list of big sellers for natural body parts, followed by ears, tracheas and femur bones. Brands that specialize in these treats are Chasing Our Tails, Nature’s Own Pet Chews, Natural Cravings and Jones Natural Chews.
A category that is making a big jump among dog treats is the raw, freeze-dried treat.
“Freeze-dried raw treats are enormously popular with my customers,” Gipson said. “Nature’s Logic Dog treats are my go-to for finicky dogs.”
If a treat is natural, then it’s also sure to be attractive with dog owners. Gipson carries a wide variety of all-natural dog treats, with Ziggy Bars by Zignature being one of his top sellers. Ziggy Bars sells itself on being all-natural and formulated with the same limited-ingredient philosophy that the brand uses for its dry and canned dog foods.
According to Bleznak, she is constantly updating her treat inventory after trade shows and from the advice of her colleagues in the pet industry. That’s allowed her to be on top of the brands that are new on the market and about to explode in popularity. Among her recent additions during the past year are Nugget’s, Pierless and Mika & Sammy’s.
With its Bone Brew, Bone Broth Jerky, Artisan Yogurt and Artisan Kefir, Nugget’s Healthy Eats is a brand that focuses on gut-healthy snacking. It’s mission is to re-invent the “healthy snacking” market with innovative, fresh, wholesome real food snacks that are part of a year-round, healthy lifestyle.
“Nugget’s is very new for me,” Bleznak explained. “I’ve only had it a few months. The treats contain nothing but great ingredients. And it’s going better than I expected. I heard about the brand from my rep at PFX.”
Meanwhile, operating out of Brooklyn, New York, Pierless Pets produces all natural, handmade, single-ingredient pet treats from sustainably sourced fish. Working directly with fishing vessels, the brand uses the entire fish, from nose to tail.
“With Pierless, the salmon collars are very popular as do the extra large cod sticks,” she said. “I’m impressed by how well the entire lineup performs. They have a lot going for them, including the rice package, which is biodegradable.”
“Mika & Sammy’s has been big—I sell quite a bit of it since 2019. The customers love it—a customer once came in and said ‘you’re out of the Blazin Beef my dog’s gonna be really upset cause it’s just like crack to my dog,’ … once you give the customer a sample, they come back for more because the dogs absolutely love it. The Blazin Beef is the biggest hit among treats. They’re all popular but Blazin’ Beef doubles the other ones. I met the brand through Dan Ottmer, who also introduced me to Pierless.”
A longtime brand that Medford Pet Supply has carried is K9 Granola, a family-owned treat manufacturer based out of York, Pennsylvania. The brand is known for its packaged dog treats as well as its line of gourmet donuts for dogs.
“I sell a lot of K9 Granola treats,” Bleznak said. “Everything from the Pumpkin Crunchers, the Soft Bakes and the Simply Biscuits. And the donuts are phenomenal. We sell so many of them, so we have them located at the register, because they’re great impulse buys. [The customer will] say ‘It’s my dog’s birthday, it’s the anniversary of the day we got him. Let me get a couple of these because it’s a special occasion.’ We’re restocking the donuts all the time, and they make them fresh when you order them. What’s better than that?”
While toys and treats are no surprise, pet carriers might be puzzling until one realizes that a new pet parent needs something to take their new canine companion to the veterinarian or other destination.
“For me, the No. 1 item that has increased in terms of sales are carriers,” said Nancy Bleznak, owner of Medford Pet Supplies in Medford, New Jersey, adding that the most popular brands she carries are Petmate and Kurgo. “I’m selling all styles of carriers, the soft ones and hard kennel cabs.”
Kennel & Crate, which made a splash at SuperZoo in 2019, is also seeing a rise in demand for its luxury, handmade products. Located in Oklahoma, the brand has gained a reputation for creating pet furniture that doubles as entry tables, kitchen islands, coffee bars, credenzas, buffet tables, dressers, nightstands and other entertainment pieces.
The dog food aisle gives dog treats a run for its money when it comes to the number of brands. It’s certainly a crowded sector.
The dog food brands that are moving most this year greatly vary, depending on region of the country and a specific store’s customer base. On the East Coast, Medford Pet Supply’s Bleznak cites Fromm, a brand that has been a steady seller for her store, as being the brand that tops her dry dog food sales.
“I seem to be selling more Fromm than anything else,” she stated. “They have the Gold line and Four Star grain-in line. Those are flying off the shelves. The grain-free has slowed down, but the other varieties have more than compensated for that.”
Bleznak points to Fromm’s canned dog food as being a major factor in her overall dog food sales.
“Fromm now has so many varieties of cans, and they’ve taken off like crazy,” she explained. “That’s the biggest seller in cans. I’m down in dog can sales but up in Fromm dog cans. I have a lot of people buying a lot of Fromm dog cans. They have 34 different varieties of canned dog food, and their presence is so big that, as a customer, you’re just drawn to their product.”
In Colorado, Nature’s Logic is the top seller for dry dog at Garden of the Paws. The brand, which is known for being highly digestible, containing no synthetic vitamins and creating very little waste, allows Gipson to encourage his customers to follow a rotational diet with their dogs.
“What sells Nature’s Logic is the protein sources,” Gipson explains. “They have nine proteins to choose from, and we recommend to our customers that they rotate those proteins, because each protein has its own unique nutrients that benefit the dog. It becomes an educational experience for the customer. We tell them that the dog won’t get an upset stomach when they change the protein as long as they stay with Nature’s Logic when they rotate the proteins.
“Another thing that’s popular with Nature’s Logic is the kibble size; the kibble is very small,” he added. “The feedback I get from my customers is that a lot of the dogs just swallow the food whole. And because the size of the kibble is so small, the dogs can digest the food, and it won’t come back up because they’ve eaten too fast. With other products that [the customers have fed to their dogs] in the past, the dogs ate too fast and it came up or it had air in the kibble. And when dogs swallow a dry kibble that has a certain amount of air or gas in it, it expands in the belly and only has two places to go. It becomes gas or they throw it up. That’s not the case with Nature’s Logic.
Open Farm, which is based in Canada, prides itself in transparency, premium nutrition and ethical sourcing. In addition to partner with family farms that raise their animals humanely with kindness and respect, the brand provides consumers the ability to trace every single ingredient in every pet food bag back to its source. This has gotten imprssive reactions from the customers at Garden of the Paws.
“People in Colorado are big on sustainably sourced and ethically sourced—that’s their big thing,” Gipson explained. “And what my customers like is that you can trace their food back to the farm by a code on the package. Open Farm has been phenomenal for us. I can’t say enough good things about Open Farm, and their attention to me as a new retail store owner. I’ve been in business for a little over two years. They invested in me early on, and I’m so glad they did. And my customers love the product.”