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March 23, 2017

Here’s a thought that should gnaw away at any impulse to ignore the small animal accessories sub-segment: mini mammals like to incessantly munch, and for many species—including guinea pigs, chinchillas and lagomorphs like rabbits—the all-important front incisors continuously grow and require filing down via chewing.

And therein lies a golden opportunity to position your store as an indispensable provider of nibble-tastic products.

“Small mammal chews are very popular accessories that often make a great add-on to purchases of core products such as hays and foods,” says Lucas Stock, communications manager for Murdock, Nebraska-headquartered Oxbow Animal Health. “This category continues to grow and evolve, making these items more of a focus for many retailers.”

Nibblers Have Needs
MaryAnn Loveland, senior associate brand manager for Kaytee Hard Goods in Chilton, Wisconsin, says it’s important to stock an assortment of chews and dental toys.

“You should feature an assortment of textures—a hard source for gnawing, like wood; a medium texture for cleaning teeth, like sisal; and a soft chew, like loofah, for flossing,” Loveland said. “Pet parents will always be looking for new chew toys.”

When asked what’s trending in the space, Lisa Kniceley, marketing and trade sales specialist for Vitakraft Sun Seed, Inc., in Bowling Green, Ohio, has two words: fun and flavor.

“Chew blocks have always been an industry standard,” Kniceley said. “However, pet owners today seek products that not only promote dental health but that provide variety, entertainment, fun and interactivity. For example, our Mini-Pop Corn Treats, which can be popped in the microwave and which help with dental wear, create fun for both pet and owner and help to deepen the bond between both.”

Stock agrees that the traditional wooden block, while functional, lacks excitement and merit.

“The right chews and toys should come with value added and encourage physical and mental enrichment while also being 100 percent edible and healthy,” he said. “Value-added items, like 100 percent woven hay chews and toys, are oftentimes an easier sell. Hay should be the cornerstone of every small herbivore’s diet, so it’s essential to provide it in as many forms as possible.”

Toothsome Wares
To cater to this demand, Oxbow makes the Timothy Carrot (shaped like the vegetable it’s named after), Timothy Twists (available in a package of six) and the Timothy Hideout.
Kaytee, meanwhile, boasts a large assortment of chew-related products from which to pick, including its recently launched line of chewable nests and mats, hand-woven from natural materials and Carrot Patch Chew Toys, which come in a pack that features three assorted textures.

Vitakraft Sunseed now offers a wider array of edibles designed to maintain teeth and promote dental health, including Vida Prima Snappers, chew treats that break apart into eight separate snacks; AnimaLovens Treats, featuring round-shaped crunchy cookies with cranberry and orange as well as pretzel sticks made from tasty vegetables; Grainola Treat Bars, triple-baked for crunchiness; and Vitakraft Nibble Rings, “O”-shaped ring snacks.

Other players in this space include Prevue Pet Products, makers of the Grassy Nibblers line of chew toys and accessories sourced from matte grass, including a Squash, Carrot and Activity Ball; Hagen’s Living World, provider of Chew-Nels products like the Alfalfa Chew Tube, Corn Husk Tunnel and interconnecting Cardboard Tunnels; A&E Cage Company, which produces all-natural accessories like Corn Dogs, a chew-safe corn cob, sisal, loofah and coconut husk toy; Hartz, which offers Nibble Sticks and Timothy Chews; and NPIC, known for its N-Bone Ferret Chew Treats available in bacon, salmon or chicken flavor.

The Store with More
They say good things come in small packages, but that could be a challenge to display properly and catch the customer’s eye.

“Placing small animal chews in one central area at eye level, organized among groups of similar treats and products and by species, is a great way to showcase this merchandise,” Kniceley said.
One of the many advantages to smaller packaging is that it takes up less real estate, “making it easier to achieve quality placement in your aisles,” Stock said. “Clip strips are one great option to draw attention to chews and make them easily accessible, and they hang easily from peg boards as well.”

Customers pay attention to audible activity within a display cage occupied by live animals, and few sounds perk up a human ear like that of a hamster, ferret or other small animal chomping away at something substantial.

Consequently, “a great way for retailers to showcase chew products is to physically use them inside the habitats of the animals for sale,” Loveland said.

On a final note, remember that training your staff on what to recommend and how to advise shoppers when it comes to appropriate chew SKUs and materials can pay your store back in the form of more loyal customers and repeat business.

“Consumers need to be educated about how important it is to offer a safe source of chewing for small animals and to recommend a variety of chews that have different materials and textures that will offer different benefits to small animal pets,”
Loveland added.

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