Eye on Oils
As topical and edible oils gain more traction with humans, the trend is catching on in the pet product space, too.
Topical and edible oils are all the rage in the human world. Essential oils home-based businesses, for example, have rapidly gained popularity. While these products aren’t new, they’re getting a lot of sudden interest, and that’s translating into the pet world.
“Fish oils have always been strong sellers and have had a good following, but recently I’m seeing a lot more interest in other oils, such as coconut oil,” said Michele Zigrossi, owner of The Natural Pet Center in Gardiner, N.Y. “We sell that as well as several other oils. I definitely find that more people are coming in asking for these types of products.”
Dean Mancini, owner of Murphy’s Paw, agreed. The buzz surrounding coconut oil has more people inquiring about it for their pets at Mancini’s Pleasanton, Calif., shop. The same goes for essential oils, Mancini said.
“It’s a big trend, but I think the popularity also proves many of these things work,” Mancini said. “It’s like your grandmother’s cedar chest. It was meant to preserve things—and it works. Anything that’s natural and also works is going to be a big hit.”
Consumers are not only looking for pure edible and topical oils, but also products that make use of oil extracts such as treats or spa and grooming items. These products often tout various benefits beyond just good nutrition.
Grizzly Pet Products LLC in Woodinville, Wash., recently introduced Grizzly Krill Oil, a natural marine-based antioxidant that has been sourced from Antarctic krill.
“This is not just ‘another’ omega-3 supplement,” said company president Harald Fisker. “Grizzly Krill Oil is extracted differently than krill oil for humans, which has more of a focus on omega 3s. This is a brand-new natural antioxidant supplement for pets.”
The use of oil extract in treat form also has been popular. Auntie Dolores Kitchen, an Oakland, Calif.-based company that bakes cannabis-infused edibles, has segued into the pet treat market with its Treat-ibles product. Treat-ibles uses the nonpsychoactive cannabidiol (CBD) extract from organic hemp to make organic, human-grade pet treats that are packed with benefits, said Marjorie Fischer, Treat-ibles director.
“We’ve gotten tremendous feedback that these treats are helping pets with everything from separation anxiety to arthritis and nausea and even epilepsy,” Fischer said. “It’s more than a delicious treat—it is something that is really beneficial and increases vitality.”
Plato Pet Treats in Fresno, Calif., is adding a new fish oil blend from wild-caught anchovies and sardines (naturally high in omegas) to its Thinkers line of meat sticks, said Aaron Merrell, co-owner and co-founder. Plato Pet Treats already has a line of Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil that comes from wild-caught salmon, he added.
Selling more oils and oil-based products could be a matter of passion. Merrell said that having personally witnessed oils’ efficacy has increased his own zeal for promoting oils. If more retailers tried oils themselves—and with their pets—they might be more passionate about selling them and therefore have increased success, he said.
“Taking the time to use and try the products—and to collect feedback from customers who use them—will go a long way in supporting customer education with personal feedback,” Merrell said.
Many of these products do generate an almost-immediate effect, which has helped them gain a following.
The Natural Pet Center’s Zigrossi said that with fish oil products in particular, you start to see a difference in the coat pretty quickly. As a result, these products tend to have a loyal base, she said.
Where products are displayed can also have a lot to do with how they sell. Treat-ibles’ Fischer suggested that retailers broaden their definition of supplements to include food products, when warranted.
“I think it’s important for pet retailers to consider the placement of any oil-extract-based products, because that’s going to make a huge difference in whether they sell,” Fischer said. “Our treats retail for $22, and in the treat section it’s easy for shoppers to not understand why they would be priced that way and overlook them. But in the supplement section, they would recognize that it’s a product that has special ingredients that add great value in addition to the whole foods in the treat.”
Lorin Grow, owner of Furry Face, a Redlands, Calif., retailer, said that she displays all of the oils together in a Health and Wellness Center. Grow added that it’s especially important to keep essential oils out of reach.
“Essential oils have a separate shelf, up high enough so as to not be touched by kids or animals and their wagging tails,” Grow said. “Essential oils need to be utilized correctly, and when used incorrectly—or improperly—they can actually be harmful or dangerous.”
Keeping these products out of reach also forces the customer to have a bit more of a conversation with the sales staff. As the salesperson is pointing out where to find these oils, they have time for a little education. That’s important, as caution must also be applied with regard to species-appropriate usage, Grow said.
Involvement with the customer is crucial when it comes to selling oils for pets.
“A proactive customer-service approach builds customer knowledge and loyalty,” said Erin Hay, national sales representative for the retail pet division of Nordic Naturals Inc. in Watsonville, Calif. “Nordic Naturals supports an engaged customer service staff with our clear message through diverse media.”
Hay said that retailers can be trained through an online platform that focuses on omega-3 science, pet health and specifics about Nordic Naturals.
“Retail store staff earn free product when they train, which gives them the opportunity to try our products personally,” Hay added. “It’s always powerful when staff can speak to consumers out of their own positive personal experience with a product.”
In addition, supplying samples when possible can go a long way.
“Any time you can give customers a chance to try a product for themselves, it can help make the sale,” said Murphy’s Paw’s Mancini. “I try to get as many free samples as I can so I can give them out and talk to more customers about these products.”
Ultimately, getting customers to try these products for themselves can help make them believers.
“Right now a lot of the success stories are anecdotal, but as time goes on and they do more research about extracts and oils on the human side, I think that will carry into the pet side and people will be even more open to trying them,” said Diane Dewberry, owner of The Healthy Animal in Pembroke, Mass. “But I have definitely found that people are eager to try something new if they believe it will work. Most customers are pretty open-minded if it’s something that could potentially help their pet.”
How do you educate your customers
“We are available to answer questions about these products, but most of our customers are pretty educated about these products already. Often they’re the ones coming in specifically looking for fish oil. And if I am the one to suggest it first, they often already know what it is. Having such educated pet parents means we need to know our stuff, so we aim to keep up with the latest information.”
“A lot of people are already using these oils themselves. They’re baking with coconut oil or using essential oils with their family. They usually just don’t realize they can also use those products with their pets. It’s often just a matter of starting a conversation.”
“Placement on the counter is huge. Anything you set out on the counter becomes a talking point, so it’s a great place to start the conversation about oils. I have as much of the company’s literature—fliers and brochures—as possible so that the customer has something to take home and read about. They may take home a brochure and buy something the next time they come in.”
This article originally appeared in the July 2015 issue of Pet Product News.