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Industry Roundtable: Small Pets, Big Changes

Manufacturers in the small-animal and companion bird categories weigh in on what to expect in these segments this year.


Published:

Participants:

Jason Savitt, president of Prevue Pet Products in Chicago

Lucas Stock, communications manager for Oxbow Animal Health in Omaha, Neb.

John Gerstenberger, vice president, product development and sourcing, for Ware Pet Products in Phoenix

Tim Norsen, national sales manager for Vitakraft Sun Seed in Bowling Green, Ohio

Julie Fain, digital marketing and communications coordinator for Vitakraft Sun Seed

Pet Product News: As we start the calendar on 2019, what are the latest trends in the industry for small mammals?

Jason Savitt: Small pets were once for small children only. The industry focused on designing homes and accessories in bright colors to appeal to kids. Millennials have really changed the game, as they made small animals—and unusual small animals, at that—popular pets for adults too. The two biggest trends in small animals are more neutral [home-design friendly] cages and pet homes with tighter wire spacing to accommodate a variety of small pets including sugar gliders, chinchillas and hedgehogs, as well as the more traditional pets like hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits and ferrets.

Lucas Stock: Industry trends point to a continued demand for premium nutrition and care solutions made up of safe, all-natural ingredients.

Today’s pet parents want to provide a complete and enriching picture of health and well-being for their animals. In addition to established

essentials such as hay and fortified foods, more customers are seeking out enriching products that support the natural instincts of their pets. Providing a variety of opportunities for

enrichment with products such as chews, toys, habitats and care items is a great way to ensure that pets are engaged and stimulated throughout the day.

John Gerstenberger: Wholesome chew treats are very popular, made from natural, nutritious ingredients like alfalfa hay, compressed to promote clean, healthy teeth. It’s important to offer fun and eye-catching designs of products on the retail shelf. Also, make it easy for the pet parent to shop and understand what the product is and how it’s going to be a great fit behaviorally, nutritionally, etc., for the pet and for the home and family.

PPN: Let’s turn our attention to birds. What are people buzzing about?

Savitt: Whether it’s in the home or on the go, bird parents are spending more time with their pet birds. From buying several cages and play stands to put in multiple rooms in the home (to always be with them) to travel carriers, birds are becoming companion pets more than ever before.

Gerstenberger: After seeing a steady decline in ownership, keeping birds as pets appears to be gaining popularity. This is especially true with budgies (parakeets), cockatiels and conures, whose general good nature and relative small size make them a good all-around pet. Lesser-known species like parrotlets also appear to be gaining in popularity.

Pet owners are all about making caring for a bird as a pet easier and less messy, while providing adequate space for the bird and good engagement for the bird.

Tim Norsen: Product trends and innovation have been slow in this category, but we are seeing a continued trend towards natural products. 

PPN: How has your company responded to the trends of bird owners?

Savitt: For Prevue, this means focusing on design and style with home décor in mind, in addition to function and safety. Prevue has several new styles coming out in 2019 that were designed with different birds’ needs in mind, but also look fabulous in the home, like our new Sonata line. We also have a new travel backpack for medium to larger birds to keep them safe and comfortable on the go, and [it is] easy for the bird owners to carry.

Norsen: We are a founding member of an industry organization called BEAK. The mission of this group, composed of manufacturers, distributors and industry organizations, is to grow responsible bird ownership. Our consumer campaign called MyBird has reached new levels of success this year in our online and social media initiatives. I would encourage everyone in the industry to check out myrightbird.com for more information.

PPN: What about the small-mammal category? What do you have planned for 2019?

Stock: At Oxbow, we believe that small-animal health and happiness transcend nutrition and that opportunities for enrichment are essential to meeting key instinctual needs of pets. With the goal of providing for a complete picture of health in mind, we are excited to announce the upcoming launch of our Enriched Life line of natural chews, innovative habitats, enriching activity centers and premium care items. Available this spring, these items are innovatively designed to support instinctual activities of small pets, including chewing, playing, hiding and exploring.

Through Enriched Life, we are excited to bring an added level of purpose to the hard goods aisle that will help pet parents meet the essential daily enrichment and care needs of their pets.

In the foods category, we are excited to share that we will be expanding our popular Garden Select line with young formulas and larger sizes to meet the needs of a broader range of pet parents. Offering young formulas is an important step in helping pet parents start their animals off right from the very beginning. New varieties will include young rabbit and guinea pig formulas, as well as a mouse and young rat formula. Offering multiple new larger sizes helps us meet the demands of customers with multiple-animal households. We are very excited to add value to this popular line.         

Julie Fain: We recently launched Sunseed Vita Balance, a new line of advanced all-pellet diets for rabbits and guinea pigs. It’s made with high-fiber timothy hay, yucca to aid with odor control, probiotics for digestive support, and doesn’t contain any added sweeteners or artificial ingredients. The pellets are uniquely shaped to promote tooth abrasion, which is important for long-term dental health in rabbits and guinea pigs.

PPN: How are these categories faring in terms of pet ownership and consumer interest?

Stock: Industry data paints an exciting picture for enrichment. According to the most recent APPA [American Pet Products Association] survey, 85 percent of today’s pet parents are actively purchasing accessories, including items such as toys and chews. Today, these purchases often occur as impulse buys. Through Enriched Life, we look forward to bringing added purpose to the enrichment aisle, transforming impulse buys into planned purchases in the process. To accomplish this, we are excited to support our partners with multimedia educational support, point-of-sale materials and engaging consumer marketing content.

Gerstenberger: Bird is picking up and increasing, while small animal is holding steady.

PPN: How do you stay up-to-date on trends and ensure you are providing what your customers want?

Savitt: Prevue is always tracking trends, and our customer service team takes time to really listen to the needs and suggestions of our customers.

Stock: Staying up-to-date on trends and pet owner preferences means keeping an open line of communication with partners and consumers and always looking for opportunities to add value and create solutions. We take customer feedback to heart, always sharing what we learn with our product innovation team. We regularly reach out to our customers to gather insights regarding products, pet care preferences and other valuable areas of expertise. These insights are invaluable to us as we strive to provide premium, innovative solutions that promote and help advance small-pet health and happiness.

Gerstenberger: We listen very closely to what our customers share about what their customers are asking for and asking about. Retailer feedback is incredibly important to our team. Also, we attend related trade shows around the world to get different perspectives and ideas on what could possibly work in our domestic market. 

Fain: Our employees also have a good variety of pet birds and small animals of their own, and they’ll occasionally share new ideas or point out special characteristics about their parakeet or rat that only a person who shares a home with those species and is a part of those pet-owning communities might notice. It’s nice to get those firsthand insights sometime.

PPN: How has the category changed in the past few years? What are customers interested in now that maybe weren’t as important a few years ago and why?

Stock: A commitment to products made from safe, natural materials remains at the forefront of many pet parents’ minds when shopping for their companions. Similarly, pet parents are always on the lookout for innovative solutions to essentials such as housing and care.

Additionally, more and more customers are interested in providing their pets with nutrition and care products that model their own preferences and values. For example, health and wellness-minded consumers are more likely than ever to shop for products that they view as wholesome, nourishing and enriching. Customers overall are more discerning and willing to perform in-depth research before choosing a brand. This is great for the industry and pet parent communities alike; manufacturers are held accountable to produce high-quality products and market them honestly, and customers benefit with more high-quality options on the shelf and a greater level of transparency from brands than ever before.

Gerstenberger: Small animals are more than a kid’s pet; their popularity is growing with adults. In turn, habitats, accessories, etc., are seeing an opportunity to be more fashion-forward and be more than something that is tucked away in a kid’s room.

Norsen: The availability of animals is the biggest change in the category, especially for birds. Local legislations, costs of care and the animal itself have all driven availability down. This makes it much harder for consumers to find good-quality live pets. In order to reverse this trend, the industry continues to battle legislation to hamper availability and encourages good practices at retail. As with other categories, there is a shift in the market towards e-commerce driven by consumer habit and also shrinking assortments at retail.

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