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Avian Marketplace: All Bird Foods Are Not Created Equal

Posted: July 27, 2011, 3 p.m., EDT

Offering products targeted for individual species is an opportunity for retailers, but the selection often is limited.
By Cheryl Reeves

Manufacturers introduce innovative food blends each year to compete for market share and meet the needs of every type of pet bird, from parakeet to macaw. However, industry sources have three chief questions: Does each bird species require a specialized diet? To cater to birds that truly need a tailor-made diet, how can a retailer promote and display such a breadth of inventory? Most importantly, how can retailers quickly educate and steer shoppers to the correct products and not overwhelm them with choices?

The Next Big Thing?
Given that many breeders formulate diets specifically to address a bird species’ particular dietary needs, some retailers believe that more such diets would be greatly welcomed by consumers.

Birds pecking seed.
“There’s not a lot of specific food out there yet,” said Marc Morrone, co-owner of Parrots of the World, a store in Rockville Centre, N.Y. “The question is: Is there are a big enough market for it? If the answer is yes, then it could be the next step in the pet bird food market.”

He hasn’t found a big demand for species-specific foods but does sell Pretty Bird pellet formulations and Kaytee seed-based food, though the Kaytee mixes are often geared more toward a bird’s size than species.

Lafeber Co., a manufacturer in Cornell, Ill., creates its foods based on sound nutrition and a bird’s instinctive foraging needs, said Jenny Lyons, the company’s executive vice president.

“Anywhere from food to toys, manufacturers are being challenged to not only provide nutritional foods but also to provide foraging activities within the food,” Lyons said.

She noted that ingredients, texture, size and shape play key roles in making a species-specific food attractive and palatable for birds.

Feeding Wild Birds
Jon Friedman, owner of The Wild Bird Store in Tucson, Ariz., knows how to attract all types of wild birds as well as customers. Friedman, in business for 20 years, said retailers should understand that different species have specific seed preferences.

“Many people don’t understand the difference between seed and grain,” Friedman commented. “The dove and quail, for example, will eat grain, but the desirable birds customers want to see come into their backyard prefer seed along with variables of insects, fruit or nectar.

“Also, understand that the cheaper the wild bird food is, the more likely it’s got a lot of filler grain in it that birds will reject,” he added.

Friedman suggested that retailers teach customers to be more discriminating about wild bird mixes and ask what type of birds the customer wants to see in the backyard.

“If someone is interested in feeding a shy bird such as a cardinal, the right food is key to get them to come around,” he said. “What a cardinal goes for is a mix of sunflower seeds, safflower, hemp and a few peanuts. On the other hand, a goldfinch prefers thistle seed, especially in the form of the tiny black nyjer seed.”

Retailers should have a friendly staff that knows what wild birds like to eat, even if that means referring to a printout of species and their feeding preferences, he said. He also advised that retailers put the focus on quality instead of price.

“I also belong to a local organic seed co-op, so I can get the freshest local seed that has never been stockpiled in silos,” he noted. “About 80 percent of what I sell is locally made and 20 percent we make ourselves.”

Friedman stressed the importance of stocking feeders designed for specific bird types. The size and weight of the feeder is key, he said, adding that Droll Yankees Inc. of Plainfield, Conn., makes a great one for upside-down eaters such as goldfinches.

Friedman reported that his business of feeding wild birds is flourishing. Bird-watching is extremely popular, he stated, as one out of three households feeds wild birds.

“It happens a lot that people buy the right wild bird food from me and then come back in to report that they’ve never seen so many cardinals, orioles and goldfinches in their backyard,” Friedman said. “This generates more business from word of mouth, the best kind of promotion there is.” —CR

Lafeber’s best-selling product, Lyons reported, is the Nutri-Berries line, which is formulated for parakeets, cockatiels, parrots, cockatoos and macaws.

Lyons said the product’s popularity stems from its nutritional balance, coupled with the fun birds have in foraging and playing with the berry-shaped pieces.

Lafeber’s new Pellet-Berries, made of 81 percent pellets and 19 percent individual fruits and grains, appeals to birds because of the different sizes and the variety of textures, she said.

Michael Massie, president of Pretty Bird International Inc., a Stacy, Minn., manufacturer of food for birds, reptiles, small mammals and fish, said hundreds of types of birds are kept as pets. Therefore, he said, no store could possibly carry that many diets.

“The innovation,” Massie said, “is in knowing what each type of bird needs and being able to group the needs of multiple bird types into a single nutritionally balanced diet.”

Massie noted that more people every year seek out species-specific foods, but he links the trend to a growing awareness of the importance of nutrition in the lives of owners and their pets.

“People are actively seeking out superior nutrition, and species specific is a strong contender,” Massie asserted.

Tell a Brand’s Story
Rick Horvitz, a wholesaler who owns the Golden Cockatoo store in Deerfield Beach, Fla., said his best-selling species-specific diets are Avian Science Super Eclectus and Super Parrotlet, both from Volkman Seed Co. of Ceres, Calif. Customers put more trust in the products because Volkman conveys the reasons behind the brand’s creation, he added.

“The story Volkman tells, which we relate to our clients, is that these mixes were developed by actual breeders of these species who came to Volkman and asked them to make a blend based upon what they have found to be the best combination of seeds for that particular species,” Horvitz said.

However, he noted, the majority of his customers seek food that is appropriate, rather than species specific, for their birds. What’s key to a product’s success, he said, is all-natural ingredients, no chemicals and affordability.

Beverly Morlan, owner of Bizee Bird Store in Beaverton, Ore., said she doesn’t have many requests for species-specific foods but suggested the reason may be that not much is on the market or being promoted.

“I sell a lot of ZuPreem bird food and also stock its specific mix for lories,” Morlan said. “Other specific foods I sell are made by Sleek & Sassy and Volkman.”

Gail Shepard, director of marketing at ZuPreem, a manufacturer in Shawnee Mission, Kan., said lories have a brush-like tongue and in the wild live off nectar, insects, pollen and fruit.

“Lories are a very pretty bird but also one of the messiest,” Shepard commented. “Our Lory Diet has a nectar and pellet combo that keeps this bird’s waste from getting too runny. This helps alleviate the projectile mess problem.”

Shepard said ZuPreem also makes a low-iron diet formulated for iron-sensitive softbills.

Merchandising Tips
Colorful packaging that displays well continues to be the trend in stocking bird food, Lafeber’s Lyons said.

“In part, what attracts us to birds in the first place is their beautiful color,” she noted. “The same is for the packaging. It needs to be attractive.”

Larger or bulk-size packaging will continue to gain in popularity because of the added savings when compared with smaller containers, Lyons said.

Eye-level displays draw more attention to a product at Parrots of the World, Morrone said. The store’s co-owner added that package design is key, emphasizing that “a pretty package sells.”

Morlan said she likes to engage her customers and understand their needs and their birds so she can offer as much assistance as possible and stock the appropriate inventory. She said customers identify with the bird shown on a particular bag of food. If it matches theirs, the product is the one they want, she said.

Massie, of Pretty Bird International, said retailers need to make sure their employees feel comfortable talking about species-specific diets and train them to know what to recommend.

As always, the most successful retailers often are the ones that know each product sector inside and out. These merchants also make it their mission to train their employees to confidently field questions about all types of bird food.

“Employees with no training on species specific will recommend the general product, which is also available at any mass merchant,” Massie stated.

He added that stores promoting species-specific diets will have “a consistent and loyal clientele, and they will make more money.”


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