Herp Food Evolution and Adaptation
Natural, no-mess and easy-to-feed products lead in popularity with herpkeepers.
Though there haven’t been many major breakthroughs in the herp food industry over the past year, according to Jason Oneppo, research and development manager for San Francisco Bay Brand in Newark, Calif., recent product alterations and improvements continue to evolve in response to consumer preferences.
Pet owners are more educated and ingredient conscious than ever before, making the demand for natural and healthful herp food options increasingly pronounced.
“Consumers like to know exactly what they are feeding their pets,” said Jack Armstrong, president of Armstrong’s Cricket Farm in West Monroe, La.
Oneppo said that owners’ criteria for what constitutes natural food goes beyond just the ingredient listing, but also includes appearance, odor and texture.
Demands for convenience remain equally pronounced, necessitating what Oneppo called “prepared natural diets,” such as those made from freeze-dried and dehydrated fruits, vegetables and insects.
“One of the most convenient attributes of this type of food is that it is as close to fresh as you can get without having to worry about it spoiling if it goes unused,” he said. “These can be fed as a staple diet or in addition to the usual fare and have proven to be well accepted by both herps and their owners.”
This isn’t to say that convenience is out of reach when it comes to traditional options. Producers of fresh herp foods, such as Armstrong’s Cricket Farm, have integrated services and assortments that cater to busy but mindful owners.
“Many consumers appreciate products delivered directly to their door and want diversified quantities,” Armstrong said. “Armstrong’s meets these needs with our Cricket Café—a box of
multi-sized live crickets that are easy to purchase online with delivery within one to two days or at a local retailer.”
Preparation and maintenance requirements also have become key to consumer decisions in the herp food space.
“Consumers are looking for products that herps will eat readily and those which reduce their maintenance time,” said Chris Clevers, president of Hikari Sales USA Inc. in Hayward, Calif. “A number of new foods have arrived on the scene that are attempting to make feeding herps more efficient by reducing the amount of time required to prepare as well as clean them up.”
As predicted by their growing sales over the past several years, reliably natural, convenient and efficient herp food options are growing in market dominance with increased owner knowledge and shifting lifestyles. Alongside the complex technological, cultural and generational factors effecting consumer behavior and demands, the reasoning Clevers shared for these changes also remains relevant: “Owners want to spend their time interacting with their pets!”
New Media Unmatched for Customer Education and Engagement
Educating herp owners regarding their pets’ innate dietary needs and the most effective ways to meet them lies at the foundation of products’ value and success. The opportunity that online tools and platforms offer in this area has grown exponentially in recent years and become the No. 1 education and engagement strategy of nearly every manufacturer and retailer.
“The use of social media is one of the best sources of spreading new information,” said Jack Armstrong, president of Armstrong’s Cricket Farm in West Monroe, La. “Online content, both on our own website and those of other related outlets, is proving to be the most effective way of communicating in real-time with customers.”
Manufacturers and retailers have become very effective at using social media to provide customers with feeding and health tips concerning herps and to notify them of new trends, said Jason Oneppo, research and development manager for San Francisco Bay Brand in Newark, Calif.
YouTube videos showcasing use of the products and product review sites featuring first-hand testimonials have drawn the highest amount of customer education and engagement among all online mediums, said Oneppo and Chris Clevers, president of Hikari Sales USA Inc. in Hayward, Calif.
“Information and opinions reach the general audience much faster these days, and in some cases what’s online can make or break a product,” said Oneppo.
Marketing Herp Food In-Store
Although digital efforts have taken a front seat when it comes to marketing and consumer engagement for herp food manufacturers and retailers, in-person, experiential tactics remain equally critical.
“In addition to YouTube videos, in-store feeding and sampling have been our best methods of getting the word out to consumers about new products,” said Chris Clevers, president of Hikari Sales USA Inc. in Hayward, Calif. “Frog and turtle breeders have also been instrumental in getting the word out at reptile shows.”
In-store, interactivity is what sways pet owners shopping for herp foods.
“Armstrong’s has found that crickets placed in a glass case and displayed on an endcap draw customers and cause them to linger as they watch the activity inside,” said Jack Armstrong, president of Armstrong’s Cricket Farm in West Monroe, La. “Purchasing live crickets from these cases provides a fun and interactive experience.”
Take the “Ick” Out of Frog and Turtle Feeding
Aquatic herps’ exotic and unique qualities have made them sought after and adored by owners of all ages for decades. The mess and odor associated with feeding them, on the other hand, has historically drawn quite the opposite response.
“Aquatic herp food manufacturers are now modifying products to help address issues consumers have identified as negatives to keeping these specific pets, such as odor and constantly dirty tanks,” said Chris Clevers, president of Hikari Sales USA Inc. in Hayward, Calif.
Traditionally, frog foods have been offered as powders to which water must be added, with the mixture rolled into a ball by owners before being fed to their pet. Clevers said this process, combined with the associated odor of these products, causes the smell to linger on hands for days after preparing the food.
Manufacturers such as his are eliminating this unpleasant issue with simplified solutions.
“Hikari has a new Pacman frog food, Pac Attack, which is a stick that can be dipped into water and then immediately fed,” Clevers said.
Similar innovations are emerging within the turtle food market, where odor and tank water quality have both been persistent problems.
The prevalent ammonia smell known well by turtle owners is reduced by up to 88 percent through a combination of unique ingredients in Hikari’s new probiotic turtle diet, Saki-Hikari Turtle, Clevers said. And water quality has been proven to improve by as much as 50 percent when using the product, he added.
“It also smells pleasant right out of the bag, which is not common for turtle foods,” Clevers said.
As in the broader herp food industry, convenience is of principal importance to consumer decisions when it comes to frog and turtle food—especially as it relates to cleanliness.
As Clevers summed up, “Owners are always on the hunt for ready-to-use food products which reduce their preparation and cleanup time while eliminating the odors which many in the household don’t enjoy.”
This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of Pet Product News.