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Sales Grow for Reptile and Amphibian Food

Quality, coupled with effective packaging and education, has resulted in recent sales growth for reptile and amphibian foods.


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San Francisco Bay Brand

The increase in reptile and amphibian ownership—be it a lizard, turtle, snake or frog—in recent years has led to manufacturers upping their offerings of herp food and retailers boosting their product supply in stores.

Bob Potts, owner of Herp Hobby Shop in Oldsmar, Fla., has been involved in reptile retail for 23 years and has seen quite the evolution of products.

“What’s really picking up lately are the commercial diets; the pellets and variety of crested gecko powders, there’s so much more than we’ve ever seen,” he said. “Feeder insects also are picking up. We used to have crickets of all different sizes and mealworms, but now we have waxworms, giant hornworms and feeder roaches that are so popular we can’t keep them in stock.”

Chris Clevers, president of Hikari Sales USA in Hayward, Calif., said freeze-dried foods remained an underappreciated category over the years, primarily because the quality was bad. But it has improved over time, he said, with the company seeing the herp business increasing overall at high single-digit growth over last year in general.

“Consumers are looking for foods that are easy to use, provide good nutrition and allow them to give their pet the best food possible,” Clevers said. “They also don’t like the smell of many of the current foods and find many of them leave an odor in their home.”

In response, Hikari became the first company to provide a probiotic-enhanced turtle food that offers many benefits that turtlekeepers desire, Clevers said.

“Continued exclusive use [of our product] can reduce the typical ammonia smell of a turtle tank by up to 88 percent when compared to competitive products, and the uniquely balanced nutrient profile provides improved water quality as a result of the high feed efficiency,” Clevers said. “Add in a great smell out of the package and you have a product that turtlekeepers love.”

Jason Oneppo, research and development manager for San Francisco Bay Brand in Newark, Calif., noted a focus on natural diets that closely simulate the diets of reptiles in the wild, as opposed to pellets that are made from starches and corn meal.

“This is due to a better understanding of the nutritional requirements of reptiles,” he said. “An interesting product that has been introduced is Pac-man/horned frog food for frogs from the genusCeratophrys. Having prepared diets available for species that normally eat live or frozen items can help increase sales of certain herps that were previously a turnoff based on what they needed to be fed.”

Ashley Rademacher, animal care and education coordinator for Zoo Med Laboratories Inc. in San Luis Obispo, Calif., said the company offers its Can O’s line of foods that can help provide diet variety for many different types of reptiles. Products include crickets, mealies, superworms, caterpillars, grasshoppers, snails and shrimp.

“These foods can be used to feed almost any insectivorous or omnivorous reptiles including geckos, bearded dragons and other lizards as well as aquatic turtles and omnivorous land turtles and tortoises,” she said. “These food items are cooked in the can to preserve nutrient content and provide a unique opportunity to add diversity to the diet for many of our reptile pets. They also can be extremely helpful for specialized feeders.”

Caiman lizards and Cuban false chameleons, for example, are known to specialize on snails in nature. These canned foods make it possible and easy to offer a natural diet that is free of harmful organisms such as parasites to these specialized feeders, Rademacher said.

Jack Armstrong, owner of Armstrong Crickets in West Monroe, La., said customers have been buying smaller, self-serve packages of crickets and worms versus the bulk purchasing.

“We also have seen the herp food market expand toward the chicken industry,” he said. “Customers keeping small chicken coops for eggs are feeding them mealworms and crickets. These customers are requesting mealworms portioned in larger quantities, like 500 per cup. Mealworms for bird feeders also have been trending for the past few years.”

The Right Package
Sometimes a package can go a long way toward getting customers to buy herp food. For example, Don Haukom, vice president of sales at The Bug Co. in Ham Lake, Minn., said the company tries to be innovative with its packaging and offers its feeder insects in eye-popping, retail-friendly packaging.

“It’s one of the things that sets us apart,” he said. “We consider our retailers our valued partners in taking live and prepared reptile food to a higher level, and we work to attract the customer’s attention.”

Zoo Med recently updated the packaging for all of its canned foods, including Bearded Dragon Adult and Juvenile Formulas, Iguana Adult and Juvenile Formulas, Tegu and Monitor Food, Box Turtle Food, and Tortoise and Omnivorous Lizard Food, Rademacher said.

Marketing Matters
Steven Spitz, owner of Big Apple Pet Supply Inc. in Hauppauge, N.Y., said that showing videos of live animals and frozen feeders on its website has helped sales considerably.

“Thousands of people have viewed the videos, and this helps churn sales,” he said. “For stores, the approach should be to show the customers the live feeders in nice displays. Unfortunately, most retail stores have them in the back inventory room, and customers actually have to ask for them. This is a very poor marketing method.”

At Herp Hobby Shop, Potts said he keeps the commercial pellets for dragons and lizards in one area where anyone buying a reptile product must pass.

“The trick I found to move product is to use it,” he said. “A few times a week we sprinkle the pellets in the tanks, and nothing sells it more than a customer seeing a professional reptilekeeper using the product.”

Oneppo of San Francisco Bay Brand agreed that letting customers see the reptiles appreciating the food in-store is crucial.

“If an animal already is eating a prepared diet, not only does it make it easier to sell that product when making a reptile sale, but, in many instances, it can help close a sale,” he said. “If a reptile already is eating a prepared diet, it takes a lot of the work of preparing food off the shoulders of the herp owner. Additionally, if customers who already own reptiles see you using certain products in-store and your animals are eating them and the animals look healthy, they are more likely to try them at home with existing pets.”

Clevers said almost all petkeepers are bombarded with claims that don’t pan out over time, as well as embellished creative marketing schemes that can leave owners feeling cheated.

“We recommend offering a sample for them to try and encourage retailers to test the products in their stores before offering them on their shelves,” Clevers said. “This makes the sale much easier and the product benefits more apparent to everyone.”

John Shafer, owner of Whitie’s Pets in Fresno, Calif., said the trick to increasing herp food sales is to keep up with product innovation, offer fair prices and deliver knowledgeable, efficient and friendly service.

“People don’t always know what they’re getting into when they purchase a reptile, so it’s important to make sure they understand what it takes to feed them,” he said. “Our staff will spend the time with someone, teach them the proper way to feed and show them the best options.”

Oneppo said that well-stocked shelves that are faced and organized will attract a customer’s curiosity. Positive, knowledgeable staff also are credible, and customers are more likely to make a purchase based on the information provided by those sales associates.

Segregating products by herp and limiting the selection to an economy item, a middle-quality product and a higher-end product can make it easier for consumers to navigate to their choices.

“Clearly identified benefits can act as a silent salesperson to help them see the differences between products,” Clevers said. “Providing educated staff who have firsthand experience with the products the store offers also is a big benefit to putting the consumer’s mind at ease.”

According to Armstrong, putting a cricket display at the front of the reptile section is a great draw because they are active, lively and constantly moving around.

“Armstrong ships individually portioned boxes of crickets called the Cricket Café, which contains 25 to 40 crickets per café (depending on size of the crickets),” he said. “These meals in a box give customers quick access to a portioned herp meal. The shipping box also converts to a display case that easily can be put on an endcap or near the checkout.”


This article originally appeared in the May 2015 issue of Pet Product News

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