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Avian Diets Reach New Heights

Consumer demand for premium quality and innovation has led to a growing market brimming with new options.


High-quality nutrition, premium ingredients, and species-specific products are all current trends manufacturers and retailers are reporting in the avian diets category.

“Years ago, when you went to a pet store, there were few options for birds on the shelves,” said Stephanie Carbaugh, marketing and design support for F.M. Brown’s Sons Inc. in Sinking Spring, Pa. “Now, manufacturers are producing several different types of food to accommodate the needs of all types of birds and bird owners. This way, consumers can browse the shelves and find the foods and treats that best fit their personal values and beliefs as well as their pet’s nutritional needs.”

At Shawnee, Kan.-based Zupreem, a brand of Premium Nutritional Products, Gail Shepard, director of marketing, sees a number of trends in the avian diet category.

“Specialty pet parents are trading up from lower-quality, commodity-type feeds to higher-quality and more human-grade foods,” she said. “Much like dog and cat parents, specialty pet parents are treating and feeding their pets more like family members. They are looking for fewer, more real, higher-quality and cleaner ingredients to satisfy their pets. They are trading up from packages that are loaded full of lower cost, wasteful ingredients to more premium, better products.”

Shepard also finds that bird owners, particularly new ones, are often unsure of how to provide complete and balanced nutrition to their pets. 

“They are seeking more knowledge on how to best feed their pets and looking for easier ways to provide healthier nutrition,” she said.

Making sure that the food aisle is easy to navigate and stocked with a well-thought-out assortment of options can go a long way in helping bird owners find the most suitable product for their pets.

“Too many times, I see an aisle with not only too many brands but single or limited offerings of each of those brands,” said Dean Reyes, director of marketing and sales for The Higgins Group Corp., based in Miami. “This can lead to a disorganized appearance for the aisle and overwhelm a consumer.”

Instead, retailers should aim to present a well-organized assortment of carefully selected items.

“We feel that offering a good selection of manufacturers is the key to success,” Reyes added.

Smarter Nutrition

Last year, ZuPreem, a brand of Premium Nutritional Products in Shawnee, Kan., launched three product lines developed based on extensive input from bird owners and designed to meet the nutritional and packaging needs birds require, said Gail Shepard, director of marketing. These include Pure Fun, Sensible Seed and Real Rewards. All three of these product lines, plus the ZuPreem Essential Nutrition product offerings, are combined into one feeding program called Feed Smart, which launched at the same time as the new product lines. 

“Feed Smart helps pet parents take the guesswork out of daily feeding and provides an easy way to ensure each bird gets balanced nutrition throughout the week,” Shepard reported. “The program limits the overconsumption of seed so pet parents can combine the nutrition each bird needs along with variety, convenience and special rewards.”

At Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp., which is based in Mansfield, Mass., a new blend of extruded diet called Alternative has been added to the company’s family of Tropican formulas. 

“Alternative is formulated without corn or soy and contains alternative sources of protein such as pea and quinoa to create a diet that offers high-quality protein that is easy to digest,” said Melanie Allen, avian product specialist for the company. “Packed with antioxidants, Alternative also has higher levels of omega 3 and 6 and beta carotene. As an additional benefit, Alternative also includes bentonite clay, an ingredient that helps with optimal nutrient absorption.” 

Being in the Know

For pet specialty retailers, educating bird owners on proper nutrition for their pets can be key to building consumer trust and a loyal clientele.

For Gloria Medina, sales manager at Omar’s Exotic Birds in Lake Forest, Calif., customer education is not just about sales. It’s about caring for customers and their pets.

“We have a fully developed staff-training system, and we aren’t afraid to ask questions,” she said. “We learn from our customers sometimes, too. Many have been passionate for so long about their birds—decades—and there’s a lot of exchanging of information.”  

Edna Bresnaham, owner of The Crystal Parrot in Southampton, Mass., echoed the sentiment.

“Education is what we’re passionate about,” she said. “We have over 24 years as store owners, and 40 years of experience as bird owners ourselves, so we share our personal experiences with our clients. Our aim is to educate, and offer knowledge about these beautiful exotic birds. Sales will be there, but that’s not what this is about. The cash register doesn’t come first—certainly not at the expense of our beloved feathered pets.”

At The Bird Shop in Sacramento, Calif., supervisor Brianna Latino notes that store staff is very involved with teaching consumers about their birds’ nutrition. 

“We spend lots of time going over all of the different types of food we carry with our customers to make sure they understand the importance of their specific birds’ needs,” she said.

Andrew Solorio, general manager of Jedds Bird Supplies in Anaheim, Calif., said that although some customers only come in to buy “birdseed,” most take pride and responsibility in buying the correct type of seed mix for the right time of year. 

“After researching and discussing certain feeding systems among other bird enthusiasts, customers are very particular in what they feed their pet birds and haven't changed their feeding routines in years,” he said.

Manufacturers agreed, saying that having knowledgeable staff is key to ensuring that customers leave with the most appropriate foods for their pets. According to Melanie Allen, avian product specialist with Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp. based in Mansfield, Mass., retailers should also be educated specifically on the products they are selling so they can, in turn, teach their customers.

“This is especially important with customers that are asking for pellets or formulated diet,” she said. “There are many differences in formulated bird food, and not every bird fits in a nice food category. Begin with asking the customer about their bird’s age and lifestyle.” 

Gail Shepard, director of marketing for ZuPreem, a brand of Premium Nutritional Products based in Shawnee, Kan., recommends team training to make sure store associates are familiar with the differences in the products on their store shelves. 

“Not all bird food provides the same nutrition,” she said. “Also, ZuPreem and other manufacturers offer training videos to help educate store associates so that they can make the best recommendations to their customers.”

Experts agreed that retailers looking to maximize sales in this category will benefit from being attentive to how they market their avian diets. 

Shepard also suggests expanding visibility of promotions to ensure customers are aware of them.

“Many manufacturers extend promotional offers that don’t always make it into the hands of the pet owner,” she said. “When these are available, make sure they are extended to the shelf so that shoppers can take advantage of these savings. This generates product trial, can increase sales and generates loyalty to the retailer.”

Packing Bird Food

The packaging is the first aspect of a product that consumers notice when they see it on the shelf, and it can make a big difference in the choices they make, according to manufacturers.

“Packaging is the first impression you have with a customer, and that makes it very important,” said Stephanie Carbaugh, marketing and design support for F.M. Brown’s Sons Inc., based in Sinking Spring, Pa. “We create outstanding packaging and graphics with important nutritional information on every product. Our products are their own ‘salespeople’ and will inform your customers about the benefits of the product.”

Dean Reyes, director of marketing and sales for Miami-based The Higgins Group Corp., said that packaging in this category is extremely important.

“A product’s packaging should not only convey the brand’s message but be at the same level of quality as the food in the package,” he said. “At Higgins, we have gone to an almost ‘360 degree’ view, with wrap-around windows to show customers the premium ingredients in our brands.”   

According to Angie Schmitt, senior brand manager for Kaytee, a brand of Walnut Creek, Calif.-based Central Garden & Pet Co., packaging is crucial in getting information across to the consumer.

“Packaging is a primary vehicle to communicate information about the product—what bird species is the product for, what benefits does the product offer,” she said. “It is very important to have a clear, concise packaging story. Packaging also needs to be easy to use and convenient.” 

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