A Commitment to Wellness
Promoting the supplement category comes down to selling overall health and wellness for pets.
There continues to be a growing interest in supplements for cats and dogs, and independent pet specialty retailers say it’s a trend that’s not going away. The leading driver is pet owners’ desire to improve pets’ overall health while avoiding the use of prescription medications.
“The problem is that Big Pharma’s options aren’t working, and animals aren’t getting better on medications,” said Lorin Grow, owner of Furry Face in Redlands, Calif. “This is frustrating to pet parents who would, and do, often pay dearly to care for their animals only to have a sicker animal after doing so.”
As a result, Grow said, pet owners are turning to alternatives like natural supplements.
“Customers are realizing that pet food is not perfect,” said Samantha Henson, a certified clinical pet nutritionist and merchandising manager for Premier Pet Supply, which has stores in Michigan. “They’re even noticing visible changes—such as their pets’ coats getting duller. But when they start them on a supplement, they notice a change, and they notice it quickly. From there, the word-of-mouth takes over.”
Chuck Francis, president of Tempe, Ariz.-based Finish Line Pets, maker of the Vet Worthy brand, agreed that products that deliver noticeable results help feed the interest in supplements. He said the most popular subcategories of wellness products include those that help with joints, skin and coat, calming, and digestive issues. Pet owners can see relatively quick results in each of those categories with the use of supplementation, Francis said.
Supplements that solve specific problems continue to remain popular with pet owners, agreed Andrew Morrison, founder and CEO of Presidio Natural Pet Co. in San Francisco.
“Supplements allow pet parents to not just provide increased nutrition to their pets, but help them achieve a specific goal,” he said.
As pets are embraced as part of the family, this trend will only continue to grow, industry participants reported.
“Here in Vermont, dogs have moved from the barn to the living room,” said Amanda Reilly, co-founder of Reilly’s Hemp Co. in Burlington, Vt. “Generally speaking, when dealing with health issues, pet parents are looking for holistic, pharmaceutical alternatives or co-therapies that will help maintain their pet’s health and wellness.”
How Supplements Can Help
While the supplements category is growing, manufacturers and pet specialty retailers agree that continued growth is contingent upon education. It’s important that pet owners understand why supplementation is necessary and how it can help.
“Dry food is a convenience product that is beneficial to pet parents because it’s easy,” said Ryan Oaks, general manager of Mini-Critters in Sioux Falls, S.D. “That’s not always something that pet parents want to hear or that is easy for them to grapple with, so education is key. Pet parents must come to understand that their pets need something more than just some kibble.”
Ara Bohchalian, CEO of Anaheim, Calif.-based Animal Nutrition, maker of the International Veterinary Sciences (IVS) brand, agreed.
“Dog and cat supplement [sales] continue to be based on the pet consumers’ education and understanding that even a high-quality food is simply not enough,” Bohchalian said. “The bioavailability in supplements helps increase overall health, activity and longevity in pets as they do in humans. Pets are, thankfully, not only living longer, but with a higher quality of life, thanks to supplements with high-quality ingredients combined with a proper balanced diet as the cornerstone of a healthy lifestyle.”
Samantha Henson, a certified clinical pet nutritionist and merchandising manager for Premier Pet Supply, which has stores in Michigan, said that they host an in-store wellness seminar on the first Thursday of every month and, recently, the store covered supplements. Henson said it’s a lot easier for her to educate 30 dog and cat owners at once on wellness topics than to try and ensure each individual hears it when they stop in the store to pick something up. Pet owners come to seminars ready and willing to learn.
“I’ll do a short presentation, and then open it up to questions,” Henson said. “This is a hot topic as pet parents want to get their dogs and cats off medications, such as steroids, and find more natural solutions to the problems they’re dealing with. It’s a free event, and we always include samples and raffles for other giveaways.”
Of course, education begins with the store employees. Before they can educate customers, they must understand how to help them. Chuck Francis, president of Tempe, Ariz.-based Finish Line Pets, maker of the Vet Worthy brand, said that, most often, pet owners come in looking for a solution to a problem. That’s how the conversation about supplements can begin. But it helps for store employees to have some good background knowledge. This can even help promote prevention.
“Learn all of the different breeds of dogs and cats and understand the types of problems that those breeds most commonly have as they get older,” Francis said. “For example, large-breed dogs are likely to have more joint issues; thus, an associate might recommend a joint supplement long before the pet parent even sees any problems.”
Get Pet Owners’ Attention
In order for supplement displays to be effective, pet specialty retailers need to ensure that these products grab the consumer’s eye, industry participants reported.
However, there’s no question that supplement displays can pose a challenge, as floor space is incredibly valuable in a pet store, said Chuck Francis, president of Tempe, Ariz.-based Finish Line Pets, maker of the Vet Worthy brand.
“We have found that cross-merchandising these types of products in gravity feed-type displays, next to similar food, seems to work best,” Francis added. “It hangs on the rack, so it doesn’t take up a lot of floor space, and it’s an easy add-on sale for store associates.”
Samantha Henson, a certified clinical pet nutritionist and merchandising manager for Premier Pet Supply, which has stores in Michigan, said that they’ve had the most success by placing supplements in an area that customers must pass through in order to get to other products they’re seeking.
“For instance, cat owners looking for treats must pass by the supplements first,” Henson said. “Let’s face it, most pet parents don’t come in looking for a supplement unless they’ve already heard about them, so we do our best to find ways to introduce them to the idea early on.”
Introductions for Dogs and Cats
New products in the supplement category are constantly being added as consumer interest grows. Finish Line Pets, maker of the Vet Worthy brand in Tempe, Ariz., has introduced Vita-Freez, a new delivery system of frozen vitamins and supplements for dogs. The product contains 30 individually packaged supplements on six blister cards with all the active ingredients in liquid form. The pet owner takes the product home and freezes it. They can then pop out a frozen “treat” one at a time, said president Chuck Francis.
International Veterinary Sciences (IVS), a division of Animal Nutrition in Anaheim, Calif., has introduced Comfort Time Natural Source Calmative Supplements for Dogs and Cats. This chewable product is all natural and specially formulated for calming high-energy or anxious pets during separation, travel by car or air, thunderstorms, fireworks, trips to the veterinarian or other stressful experiences, said CEO Ara Bohchalian.