This article was published in the March 2023 issue of Pet Food Processing. Read it and other articles from this issue in our March digital edition. 

As veterinarians and pet parents alike have raised concerns about the safety of rawhide chew products for dogs, the industry has developed a wide variety of long-lasting chews that provide an alternative to traditional products.

The possibility of rawhide becoming a choking hazard or causing an intestinal blockage has become top-of-mind for consumers, and dog owners are looking for safer alternatives that also deliver functional benefits including digestibility, skin and coat enhancements, and improved joint health.

“We believe that the trend toward safe, natural, healthy products with pet and planet-friendly benefits will remain for a long time to come,” Alan Snyder, Frankly Pet.

Long-lasting chews are the most popular type of treat in the market and are especially relevant in the independent pet and e-commerce channels, said Suman Shrestha, founder and resident of Arlington, Wash.-based Himalayan Pet Supply.

The market for pet supplies was up 2.4% to $5.6 billion in 2022, and rawhide dog chews accounted for $872 million in sales, according to IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm.


Incorporating quality ingredients 

Himalayan Pet has launched Unhide as a rawhide alternative consisting of a short list of recognizable ingredients including cheese, antler powder and vinegar. The company worked with researchers to confirm that dogs can fully digest most of an Unhide chew within a day.

The Coconut Bone is another long-lasting chew from Himalayan Pet, which is made with coconut powder, Himalayan cheese powder and vinegar. Coconut was chosen to help support a healthy skin and coat, while the vinegar acts as a natural preservative.

Zesty Paws, Orlando, Fla., has introduced All-In-One Functional Dental Bones made with Cargill’s EpiCor Pets, sweet potato flour, turmeric and cinnamon. The ridges in the product help fight tartar and plaque while the cinnamon helps freshen breath, all to improve dental health. Immune support, joint and gut health are other health benefits the product provides, and it is available in different sizes for different breeds.

I and Love and You's Free Ranger Braided Bully Stix

I and Love and You sources its Free Ranger Braided Bully Stix from grass-fed, free-range cattle. (Source: I and Love and You)

Offering the right size chew for the individual dog’s size, chew style and life stage is essential. To that end, Zesty Paws Chief Executive Officer Steve Ball said the company is looking to add formulations for both puppies and senior dogs.

“Treats that are too large can be hard to chew, and those that are too small can create an obvious risk for choking or bowel obstruction if consumed improperly,” Ball said. “That is why for our long-lasting Dental Bones, we offer small, medium, and large sizes for dogs in a pet-approved flavor.”

In early March, Zesty Paws announced Rafi Kalachian is succeeding Ball as the new CEO.

Products from Frankly Pet, Milwaukee, are made from 100% traceable US cattle and include collagen to support healthy skin, coat, joints, nails and teeth. Pet parents are also looking for products that keep their pets occupied. Chief Operating Officer Alan Snyder said Frankly Pet’s products help meet enrichment needs as well as provide an outlet for stress.

“Our treats and chews are made from the same human-grade collagen humans use for their own health benefits,” Snyder said. “Collagen can help build connective tissue, support muscles and bones, aid in digestion, and support healthy hips and joints. Also, the beef corium in our chews can easily be broken down by digestive enzymes and stomach acids.”

Frankly Pet’s Beef Chew Bones and Beef Chew Rolls are made with human-grade beef, are grain- and gluten-free, and include the same collagen humans take for their health. The products also help reduce plaque and tartar and are available in natural and chicken flavors in addition to being sourced, manufactured and packed in the United States.

“Collagen is a type of protein found throughout a pet’s body, as well as in our own bodies,” Snyder said. “In fact, it makes up about 80% of our skin. Product developers keep finding new uses for this versatile ingredient, from hip and joint maintenance to digestive support to nail and skin care.”

Frankly Pet’s lineup of products also includes Collagen & Protein Beefy Chew Sticks, Peanut Butter Beefy Chew Sticks, and Peanut Butter Beefy Puffs. All Frankly’s products are free of chemicals, wheat, sugar, preservatives and GMO ingredients.

Superior Farm Pet Provisions' Bark Harvest collagen puff braids

Superior Farms Pet Provisions offers collagen puffs in rings and braided sticks, both featuring dental and digestive benefits. (Source: Superior Farms Pet Provisions)

Consumers have accepted paying more for pet foods and treats, prompting pet food brands to enter and expand their innovations in the chew segment. To that end, I and Love and You, Boulder, Co., is launching the Free Ranger Braided Bully Stix, according to Aubre Tadmori, senior director of insights and strategy. The products are sourced from free-range cattle raised without antibiotics or added hormones, and the meat is leaner and has more Omega 3s and B vitamins because the cattle are also grass-fed. The product consists of three braided bully sticks in one and is designed help remove plaque and tartar, as well as serve as a good source of amino acids for a healthy skin and coat.

Barkworthies, Richmond, Va., offers chews with premium, all-natural ingredients, with most of their products containing only a single ingredient. Their collagen chews contain more than 85% collagen from the corium layer of the cow to support gastrointestinal health as well as joint and bone mobility in addition to dental, skin and coat benefits. Collagen is also what gives the products strength and the ability to withstand strong chewers.

“The natural chews we produce have a great sustainability story,” said Gary Pfeiffer, Superior Farms Pet Provisions.

For larger dogs, Barkworthies offers 12-inch thick or jumbo bully sticks along with marrow bones, yak cheese and cow ears. For smaller dogs, the company offers 6-inch standard or thick bully sticks. The company also offers beef snap sticks, a bully product at a density that both large and small dogs can enjoy.  

In recent months, Barkworthies has introduced its Cheeky Chews as a single-ingredient grass-fed beef product that serves as an alternative to bully sticks. The company’s All-Natural, All-Star Dental Chew is a star-shaped chew that helps clean tartar and plaque in hard-to-reach areas with grass-fed ingredients including rice, beef cheek, sweet potato starch, gelatin, glycerin, vinegar, citric acid, silicon dioxide, citric acid, mixed tocopherols, vegetable oil and rosemary extract. Collagen is also added to aid in digestion and dental health.

Additionally, Barkworthies’ Backyard Barkers Beef Burgers are hybrid chews made from blending bully sticks with naturally forming collagen for a lower-calorie chew that is not only rich in collagen but also provides dental benefits.

Superior Farms Pet Provisions, Sacramento, Calif., offers its HydeOut line of cheek rolls and chips as well as collagen puffs and BullyBark jerky treats. In addition to dental and digestive benefits, these products won’t leave a mess or stain on the carpet if consumed indoors, President Gary Pfeiffer said.


Sustainably sourced products

The environmental impact of these chew products and ensuring ingredients have been sourced in the United States is also growing in importance to pet parents. Snyder said desire for these qualities in products is driven by the fact that products made in the United States must adhere to strict safety standards.

Frankly Pet's Beef Chew Bones and Beef Chew Rolls

Frankly Pet’s Beef Chew Bones and Beef Chew Rolls include collagen to support healthy skin, coat, joints, nails and teeth. (Source: Frankly Pet)

“When a brand provides full transparency and traceability, they’re also giving pet parents peace of mind that what they’re feeding their pet is 100% safe,” Snyder explained. “Raised and made on US soil, our beef chews provide dogs with a safe, high-quality chewing experience, while also helping to sustain our farming communities.”

Barkworthies’ American Pride collection is sourced from premium ingredients within the country, which is highlighted on product packaging.

Superior Farms Pet Provisions sources its ingredients from its parent company, Superior Farms, along with other protein-industry partners.

“The natural chews we produce have a great sustainability story as we find innovative new ways to utilize ingredients from the protein industry,” Pfeiffer said. “Healthy chews made from simple, natural, US-sourced ingredients will always be a preferred choice for the health and enjoyment of your pets.”

The company’s US-produced products reduce overall food miles and associated carbon emissions compared to products produced overseas, Pfeiffer said.

To boost sustainability, companies are also looking at innovative ways to reduce product waste in production.

Superior Farms Pet Provisions' HydeOut line

Superior Farms Pet Provisions boasts its sustainability success story with its HydeOut line of cheek rolls and other long-lasting chew products. The company uses underutilized animal parts for its treats and chews. (Source: Superior Farms Pet Provisions)

“By converting high-quality, but underutilized animal parts for our treats and chews, we are reducing waste, creating efficiencies, and reducing costs throughout the entire protein food chain for both human and pet consumption. Our plants are highly efficient, utilizing wind and solar power and reducing water consumption,” Pfeiffer said.

Shrestha said Himalayan Pet Supply is repurposing leftover, excess or unused cheese from the production of their Original Himalayan Dog Chew and using it to make other products, including doggy popcorn and yakyCHARMS.


Looking to future innovation

The impact of these trends on the market will only intensify in coming years as pet parents look for products that contain the same benefits they desire for themselves, including claims like allergen-friendly, gluten-free, low-fat, protein-rich, and a good source of collagen and natural vitamins, according to Andrea Blades, chief marketing officer and chief digital officer for TDBBS, parent company of Barkworthies.

“We believe that the trend toward safe, natural, healthy products with pet and planet-friendly benefits will remain for a long time to come,” Snyder said.

TDBBS' star-shaped dental collagen chews

These star-shaped dental collagen chews, made from grass-fed beef collagen, help clean hard-to-reach areas of the mouth. (Source: TDBBS)

The spike in treat sales from the pandemic has continued over the last several years, and Shrestha said that behavior has continued with alternatives, including Yak cheese chews, which are poised to drive the market in the future.

“Affordability and availability will be key factors for consumers looking for a chew that has health benefits and functional ingredients, in addition to being tasty,” Ball said.

As companies expand their work in ingredient formulations, brands that clearly communicate the traceability of their products and sourcing of their ingredients will also have a competitive advantage going forward.

“We continue to expand our innovation in collagen and bully to make long-lasting chews that dogs and their parents love because they positively occupy them and include health benefits,” Blades said. “Providing more functional benefits through natural nutrition is an area we continue to think through.”

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