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Sizzling Stock: Pet Supplements

Posted: June 28, 2012, 7:45 p.m. EDT


Supplementing Nature
Pet owners look toward natural products to support and improve the quality of their four-legged companions’ lives.
By Kaitlin Foley

To keep their pets’ health on track, owners are turning to supplements to provide added nutrition and help remedy any health issues. From 2008 to 2010, the percentage of pets being given supplements increased overall, according to research conducted by the American Pet Products Association. In 2010, 10 percent of dogs were given supplements, compared to 8 percent in 2008. Also, 4 percent of cats were given supplements in 2010, a 2 percent increase from 2008.

With the demand for pet supplements on the rise, manufacturers have introduced new product lines and assortments. And when it comes to dog and cat supplements, manufacturers and retailers agreed that two types of products are in the highest demand: joint relief supplements and products with more natural ingredients.

Joint Relief
“We have a lot of customers who come in and ask about joint supplements because they are noticing their pets are displaying difficulty getting up or walking easily,” said AdreAnne Tesene, owner of Two Bostons Pet Boutique in Naperville, Ill.

Dog health supplements
Pet stores can draw attention to supplements and help boost sales by displaying products in a special section. Sherri L. Collins/BowTie Inc. at PetStop Warehouse
Once customers are in her store for joint relief supplements, Tesene uses that as an opportunity to talk about preventive treatment for younger animals in the home, too, she added.

WellyTails, a manufacturer based in Guelph, Ontario, Canada, also reported that its joint relief supplements are popular among consumers. The company’s latest assortment, which includes Cartilage Hip & Joint Rx, uses natural human supplement ingredients to ensure they are of the highest quality, according to John Leveris, WellyTails’ founder.

“Our joint supplements are the most popular because joint issues are more apparent to the pet owners,” noted Jodi Hoefler, vice president of Garmon Corp., the maker of NaturVet products, which recently released a line of supplements specifically formulated for senior dogs and to address such issues as mobility, digestive support, bladder support, aches and discomfort, gas and bad breath.

For Ark Naturals, joint supplements are among its top three sellers—probiotics and dental products do equally well, reported Susan Weiss, president of the Naples, Fla.-based company.

“Joint supplements for dogs are popular for so many reasons,” Weiss said. “The marketplace is seeing more active pet guardians, which equals more active dogs that can have joint issues earlier in their lives. Plus, pet guardians understand the issue and want to do everything they can to make their pets more comfortable.”

Dogs aren’t the only pets facing joint issues, as evidenced by Andover, Maine-based Wapiti Labs’ recently expanded cat line, which includes a supplement focused on mobility and longevity for aging felines.

“There aren’t many products out there for cats so we decided to launch the cat line,” said Maureen O’Neill, executive director of Wapiti Labs. “There are 38.9 million households that own a cat…so from a retailers’ perspective, if they carry those products they can have a lot of recurring revenue.”

While dental and probiotic supplements for cats do well for Ark Naturals, the company has seen less of a demand for joint supplements, Weiss reported.

“Cats are physically designed to jump and climb trees,” Weiss said. “Typically when a cat has joint issues, I’ve found that the cat might have had an accident at some point that caused them.”

Natural Ingredients
Along with joint relief products, pet owners are increasingly more concerned with the ingredients used in their pet’s food, treats and supplements, according to industry participants.

“The industry is definitely trending toward all-natural products, but I would like to see it go further,” said Barbara Emmett, president and owner of Godfrey’s Dogdom in Mohnton, Pa.

Emmett said she often shops trade shows, such as the Global Pet Expo, and searches online for supplements to stock in her store.

“I don’t carry anything in my store that I don’t believe in as a good, quality product,” Emmett reported, adding that to ensure quality, she looks for specific certifications such as products supported by the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC).

At Tomlinson’s Feed & Pets, with six locations in Austin, Texas, more customers are requesting natural products as opposed to asking for a specific ingredient, said Brad Bowdon, store manager.

Natural in general is what customers are looking for here,” he said. “That is definitely becoming more of a trend.”

Products from HerbSmith, NaturVet and Grizzly Salmon Oil are some of the most popular supplement brands at his stores, Bowdon reported.

The search for more natural ingredients stems from pet owners thinking of their pet as a part of the family, Wapiti’s O’Neill said.

“We are humanizing our pets,” O’Neill noted. “We are looking at them as another member of our family and a lot more people are gravitating to the more natural products because they are concerned about the source of the ingredients.”

The Right Selection
When introducing new products, retailers reported that they not only want to know the product’s benefits, but why it is superior to others on the market. In order to do so, especially as the pet supplement market continues to grow, retailers can keep a few crucial points in mind.

“I try to bring in the products that are considered the best of the best,” Emmett said, nothing that she doesn’t find it necessary to have five options of a certain type of supplement as long as she carries two or three that are proven to work.

Reviewing a product’s features and benefits is essential to selling a product, especially pet supplements, retailers reported.

At Two Bostons, Tesene said her store’s associates are required to know the benefits provided by all of the store’s supplements. She focuses on continuing product education and even customer/associate role-playing to practice selling techniques.

Product manufacturers can be a retailer’s most valuable asset when it comes to training and selling techniques for pet supplements. Accordingly, many manufacturers are using technology to better serve their customers from afar.

“In addition to store training, digital screens, flip charts and other educational material, we created a special NaturVet Mobile Assist that can be used by store associates and consumers,” Hoefler said. “A simple scan of QR code with a mobile device will instantly take the user to a customized self-help site that will quickly and easily help them select the product that best fits their needs. It also offers helpful videos, coupons and additional educational material.”

Other companies are also taking advantage of new technology. Wapiti Labs uses Skype training sessions along with informational DVDs to help the company’s retailers get more acquainted with the products, O’Neill reported.

“We use the latest and greatest technology of the moment—webinars, conference calls, Facebook, Twitter, etc.,” Ark Naturals’ Weiss said. “And then we use the all-time tried-and-true way: We visit the stores and talk to our retailers. We stay in touch so they are comfortable calling when they have a questions.”

Tomlinson’s Bowdon said he prefers face-to-face training, but marketing materials always help.

“Herbsmith has some brochures that go along with their products and I think that is a very good tool,” he noted.

No matter which method companies use to reach retailers and their customers, the U.S. marketplace has a great advantage when it comes to promoting health-supporting supplements.

“American pet guardians are more attentive than ever to doing everything in their power to provide their pets a long and healthy life,” Weiss said.

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