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Cat Marketplace: Nine Lives and Bottom Lines

Posted: March 27, 2014, 3:00 p.m. EDT

Supplement sales roar as cat owners seek out products formulated to address pets’ specific or total health needs.

By Ramona D. Marek

The feline supplement niche is pouncing into the marketplace as pet owners look to ensure optimum wellness for their cats.

"In 2002, cat owners spent an average of $21 on vitamins and supplements for their pets,” said Kathleen Kintz, digital marketing specialist at Natural Polymer International Corp., in Plano, Tex., maker of Get Naked functional treats. "In 2012, that number jumped to $77. The most in-demand supplements are those that address signs of aging, and the newest trend among supplements is having them in treat form.”

Supplements in treat form are popular at Wags & Whiskers, which has two locations in Nashville, Tenn., said owner Amanda Beaty.

"Top-sellers include Daily Health Nuggets for Cats by Earth Animal, UT Support soft chews and Daily Best Senior for Cats, both by Pet Naturals of Vermont,” she added.

Pleasing the Palate
Cats are finicky eaters. A supplement with the world’s best ingredients does no good if the cat won’t eat it, said industry sources.

Products that come in a form that cats will readily eat are winners, and the two most popular are chews and gel/paste, according to industry participants.

Alexis Smith, manager of Teton Tails, said Nutri-Vet’s Hairball Paw-Gel, available in assorted flavors, sells well. Other favorites at the Jackson, Wyo., retailer include Jungle Kitty Young at Heart by Animal Naturals and Calming for Cats and Hairball chews by Pet Naturals of Vermont.

Norm Shrout, co-owner of Long Leash on Life in Albuquerque, N.M., said, "Our top-selling supplements for cats span across the many subcategories of pet supplements, and some of the most popular include Vet’s Best Hairball Relief Digestive Aid, Daily Best chews by Pet Naturals of Vermont and Herbal Multivitamin & Minerals by Animal Essentials.”

Cat Specific
"Often, cat owners don’t realize cats have some specific problems that dogs don’t have,” said Phil Brown, DVM, veterinary consultant for Nutri-Vet in Boise, Idaho. "More people are aware that cats have urinary tract dysfunction and hairballs, but they don’t think cats have joint dysfunction because cats appear so agile.”

Top-ranked health conditions include hairball resolution, digestive, urinary tract dysfunction and joint health, retailers and manufacturers reported.

"Considering that hairballs are a potential problem for most cats, it is not surprising that almost half of our cat shoppers reach for one of our many hairball remedies,” Shrout said.

Kintz of Natural Polymer International Corp. has seen an increased interest in the categories of cognitive dysfunction and dental health, in addition to other trends.
"Supplements and treats containing glucosamine (for joint health), omega 3 fatty acids and probiotics are most popular, like our Get Naked Urinary Health or Get Naked Furball Relief treats for cats, but some ingredients like green tea and elk velvet are becoming more in demand,” she noted.

Digestive health aids, probiotics and enzymes, popular in human diets, also are best-selling supplements for cats.

"This supplement requires more attention, and I think cats should be on probiotics for digestive health and immunity,” said Dr. Brown. "Nutri-Vet has a salmon oil with probiotics in it now available in a smaller size.”

Urinary tract health is another common cat-specific ailment addressed by supplement use. Retailers Beaty and Shrout said a high percentage of their customers buy supplements related to digestive and urinary tract health.

Education Equals Success
Retailers should step in to educate customers, participants said.

"Nutri-Vet is ramping up its education and marketing efforts of available supplements and usage to their salespeople, making retailers more aware of what’s available for cats,” Brown said.

Nutri-Vet offers retailers monthly, quarterly and tradeshow specials, live education, and online training and participation in any store promotion they might plan, Brown said.

"When a retailer’s staff is educated and understands the products, their business does better,” he added.

Beaty, Smith and Shrout are dedicated to education and open communication with their staff and customers.

All discuss healthful, holistic diets with pet owners, and ask detailed questions to gather pertinent information and provide the appropriate supplement for each cat’s specific need.

Each retailer takes various approaches to displaying and promoting supplements and providing samples.
"We often use displays provided by the manufacturer/distributor and will occasionally feature a specific product with a display on the checkout counter or other area in the store,” Teton Tails’ Smith said. "We will provide samples if they are available but will not break open products for sampling.”

At Long Leash on Life, Shrout uses similar practices.

"Our cat supplements are displayed together with other cat products,” he said. "Rotating products allows more noticeability. We also invited several cat supplement manufacturers to sample out their products.”



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