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Repellents Enjoy Natural Popularity

As natural products become more widespread, flea and tick options experience an uptick in demand.


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Natural flea and tick products are trending up with customers who rank product safety and efficacy as their top concerns, according to manufacturers and retailers.

“Everyone wants a natural product because they are nervous about putting chemicals on their pets,” said Frank Bickley, owner of Westhampton Pet in Westhampton Beach, N.Y. “A lot of people come in looking for something natural, expecting it to be as effective as the stronger chemicals.”

Industry insiders report that along with seeking natural flea and tick products that are safe for the entire family, consumers want transparency—from labeling to manufacturing.

The potential toxicity of synthetic chemicals and other harmful side effects greatly concern pet owners, said Cindy Wenger, president of Peaceable Kingdom Essentials in Hershey, Pa. In response, Peaceable Kingdom Essentials and other companies offer information about the ingredients they use along with their healing properties.

Made in the USA also represents an important component for natural flea and tick products, according to industry insiders, as well as an emphasis on botanicals and other natural ingredients.

“Essential oils are also becoming more popular as a tried-and-true holistic remedy,” said Stephanie Boone, founder and CEO of Wondercide Natural Products in Austin, Texas.

Vicki Rae Thorne, certified aromatherapist and herbalist, founder and owner of Earth Heart Inc., based in Dundee, Ill., agreed.

“I’ve been formulating aromatherapy remedies since 1992, and I’ve seen a huge increase in both interest and use of botanicals including herbs and essential oils as well as pressed oils such as neem seed,” she said.

At Dragonfly Healing House in Hummelstown, Pa., store owner Josette Neubaum said that ease of application and how long a product stays effective are important features to customers, as are product availability and price point.

Latest Natural Repellents

The newest products in the natural flea and tick category incorporate the aromatherapeutic benefits pet owners seek. As more customers desire essential oils in the products they use for themselves, they want them in their pet products, too.

“The trend I’m seeing is essential oils, [and it’s] being driven by consumers looking for natural alternatives,” said Laura Whitman, owner of Pet Headquarters in Palmyra, Pa. “We’re more conscious of what we are doing for ourselves, and it has trickled down to our pets.”

In late 2016, Wondercide Natural Products launched a reformulation of its Flea & Tick Control for Pets + Home in three scents: Cedar, Lemongrass and Rosemary. Developed to kill and repel fleas and ticks without harsh chemicals, the spray also offers aromatherapeutic benefits with therapeutic-grade essential oils, the company stated.

“We modified the formulation in response to feedback on the fragrances’ strong cedar aroma,” said Stephanie Boone, founder and CEO of the Austin, Texas-based manufacturer. “While therapeutic-grade cedar oil is an active ingredient that repels fleas and ticks, we softened the scents in our reformulation. Now, they’re more appealing to people—and less powerful to pets’ powerful sense of smell—while still keeping those icky bugs at bay.”

Available in 16-ounce, 32-ounce and 1-gallon sizes, the spray is clove free to make it safe for dogs and cats. 

This summer, fans of Earth Heart Inc.’s Buzz Guard topical spray for clothing and bedding can look forward to Buzz Guard in a wipe form, designed to complement the company’s spray. The product contains citronella and neem, is made of 100 percent pure essential oils and features a light, fresh scent, the company stated.

“Our beta testing has shown that Buzz Guard wipes are fantastic as a quick direct topical for dogs as well as their human and equine friends,” said Vicki Rae Thorne, certified aromatherapist and herbalist, founder and owner of the Dundee, Ill.-based company.

Boosting Safety & Sales

Despite increased interest in and understanding about natural versus conventional products, consumer education remains imperative in the natural flea and tick category.

“Many pet parents don’t understand the potential negative side effects of traditional, and even veterinary-prescribed, spot-on flea and tick medications,” said Stephanie Boone, founder and CEO of Wondercide Natural Products in Austin, Texas. “Discerning pet parents would never do anything to harm their companions, so educating them to help them make an informed decision is a step in the right direction.”

Using essential oils and other botanicals incorrectly can be harmful, said Vicki Rae Thorne, certified aromatherapist and herbalist, founder and owner of Earth Heart Inc., based in Dundee, Ill.

“While there is more acceptance and validity in today’s marketplace than when I started, education remains crucial in helping customers recognize and understand what makes a product an authentic aromatherapy product that is safe, effective and affordable for not just the dogs, but for the entire family,” she said.

Richard Biegun, owner of Quadruped Pet Care, based in Wappingers Falls, N.Y., agreed that talking to customers about product safety concerns is a crucial aspect of consumer education.

Effective education methods recommended by manufacturers and retailers include informative web and print materials, in-store handouts or brochures, and samples.

“Samples to staff members can go a long way, especially for any product that needs to be applied,” said Derek J. Archambault, director of marketing for FoodScience Corp. in Essex Junction, Vt. “This allows the store staff to share the best ways that they use the product and any hints or tips for different types of pets.

Laura Whitman, owner of Pet Headquarters in Palmyra, Pa., agreed.

“The best way to educate is to speak from personal experience first,” she said. “I have many dogs and try anything that comes along so I can offer an opinion. Second, I will refer to articles or studies I have read.”

The Best Ways to Display

Retailers looking to boost sales of their natural flea and tick products may want to consider building endcap displays, industry insiders report.

“It catches people’s attention, and they ask about [the product] or stop to read the label,” said Stephanie Boone, founder and CEO of Wondercide Natural Products, based in Austin, Texas. 

At Westhampton Pet in Westhampton Beach, N.Y., owner Frank Bickley said the key to merchandising natural flea and tick products “is to offer the customer some choices and be able to explain to them about what they are getting and the differences between the different products.”

Insiders agree that an educated staff and personal experience can be very handy.

“The best thing they can do is relate their own knowledge and experience with the products,” said Richard Biegun, owner of Quadruped Pet Care, based in Wappingers Falls, N.Y.

Displaying pictures in the aisles of plants with simple text explaining how they enhance the products can be a helpful—and eye-catching—marketing strategy, said Vicki Rae Thorne, certified aromatherapist and herbalist, founder and owner of Earth Heart Inc., based in Dundee, Ill. 

Cindy Wenger, president of Peaceable Kingdom Essentials in Hershey, Pa., suggested offering sales and coupons during flea season.

Josette Neubaum, owner of Dragonfly Healing House in Hummelstown, Pa., said her store integrates the natural flea and tick products with other displays focusing on pet health and well-being. She also invites the manufacturer into her shop to talk about the products.

At Pet Headquarters in Palmyra, Pa., the natural flea and tick products are displayed directly across from the cash register, while traditional products such as Frontline, etc., are behind the counter, said owner Laura Whitman. 

“Having the natural products close by is handy,” she said. “I have found the best technique is just talking to folks. They are willing to listen.”

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