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Exotics Marketplace: Seed Money

Posted: March 27, 2014, 4:15 p.m. EDT


With a variety of avian diets and treats available, recognition, quality and healthful benefits can go a long way toward deciding which products make it to checkout.

By Laura Doering

An instant connection with an avian product can make the difference between one that sells and one that remains shelved, said Fran Sturms, owner of Exotic Birds by Fran, an avian-only retailer in Cypress, Calif.

"People are visual; they respond to seeing a photo of their bird on the package,” she said. "Zupreem, Lafeber and Kaytee do a good job with their packaging because of ease of recognition. If people are used to seeing a familiar logo and a picture of their bird on the bag—and their bird happens to like the product—they’re going to be loyal to that product and additions to that particular product line.”

Lafeber Co. in Cornell, Ill., recently launched an addition to its Nutri-Berries line of bird food, Senior Bird Nutri-Berries, which caters to the growing demographic of pet birds living longer due to better nutrition and improved overall care, said Jenny Lyons, the company’s executive vice president. The product comes in formulas for parrots and macaws/cockatoos and is formulated to offer a low-calorie, balanced diet designed to promote optimum health throughout a bird’s golden years, according to the company.

"The inspiration behind this unique diet was to prevent and/or help commonly known ailments in mature birds and older birds,” said Lyons. "Much of the same conditions that affect us, like arthritis and high cholesterol, affect our feathered friends.”

Bird Food
Katie Ingmire/I-5 Publishing at Omar’s Exotic Birds

Vitakraft Sunseed recently relaunched its Vita Prima small animal and pet bird product line. The company updated its packaging to achieve a more cohesive look and also added treats to the line, said Lisa Kniceley, trade sales specialist for the Bowling Green, Ohio, company.

Will Work For Food
Edible foraging products are now common in many avian diet and treat manufacturers’ product lines, as they serve as healthful treats and destructable bird toys.

Vitakraft Sunseed’s soon-to-launch Natural SunSations line of food, treats and toys was designed to encourage foraging behaviors in pet birds.

"One of our Brain Teaser toys is a wooden puzzle with blocks and a rope,” said Kniceley. "The parrot pulls up the rope to get to the hollowed-out part of the block, which can be filled with our Tid Bits line of treats designed to bring out natural foraging instincts. Our Swing Ring, for example, has a soft wood center, a baked biscuit covering and a grass-seed coating on top. Once the birds are done picking off the food, they can chew the wood, which promotes beak health and prevents beak overgrowth.”

Lyons attributed the popularity of Lafeber’s top-selling Nutri-Berries and Avi-Cakes lines to the nutrition and foraging opportunities they provide.

"They can see and taste the whole grains; sense their various textures; pull, stretch and manipulate each berry or cake like no other product on the market,” she said.

Overly complex foraging systems might confuse novice bird owners looking to provide a healthful treat, said Sturms of Exotic Birds by Fran.

"A lot of owners don’t understand foraging,” Sturms added. "People usually just want to grab some food they can put in the bowl.”

What the Wild Things Eat
Much like pet bird owners, those who interact with wild birds expect the diets they feed to be high quality and nutritionally benefical to the species visiting their feeding stations.

"Freshness and quality make all the difference,” said Jeannette Lovitch, co-owner with her husband, Derek, of Freeport Wild Bird Supply in Freeport, Maine.

Staff at the store advise customers to buy what they can use in one to two months, Lovitch added.

Feeding Wild Birds Year-Round
You might have heard recommendations to not feed birds year-round; doing so could make them overly dependent on backyard feeders. However, many wild bird enthusiasts and related product retailers agree that this is bunk.
"It’s a persistent myth, but your feeding station is just one of many, so you aren’t harming birds,” said Jeannette Lovitch, co-owner with her husband, Derek, of Freeport Wild Bird Supply in Freeport, Maine. "Wild birds are going to go for what they need; they are very smart about that.”
It is estimated that food offered from bird feeders makes up less than 20 percent of a wild bird’s diet, said Freddy Howell, co-owner with her husband, John, of Los Gatos Birdwatcher in Los Gatos, Calif., so encourage wild bird seed customers to purchase food and keep their feeding stations open all year long.—LD

"The bigger stores might make the mistake of stocking up on huge bags of seed, and the quality can slip,” she said.

Simplicity makes for a better wild bird diet, Lovitch continued.

"We customize our seeds to cater to our regional birds, and we keep our mixes simple—we don’t put in stuff most birds won’t eat,” she said. "People notice that higher-quality food makes a difference. They’ll put out our mix and see a lot more birds coming to their feeder. Birds respond to the higher-quality nutrition.”

Los Gatos Birdwatcher, a wild bird specialty store in Los Gatos, Calif., also emphasizes freshness.

"We rotate our seed every week, and our supplier does a great job of keeping the seed clean and free of insects,” said Freddy Howell, who co-owns the store with her husband, John.

Some of the less expensive wild bird seed mixes include fillers that wild birds mostly ignore, retailers said.

"A lot of mixes have blends that are 50 to 75 percent filler,” said Lovitch. "It lowers the price, but a lot of it ends up uneaten.”

None of Howell’s seed types or mixes contain fillers, such as milo, cracked corn and oats, which results in less kickout.

Most of her customers also want to avoid shell litter and weed growth, she added.

"Our best-sellers are sunflower chips, which have no shell, and Pure Patio Mix, which consists of sunflower chips, peanut chips and hulled millet,” she said.

"We ask our customers what is important—shells/no shells, squirrel issues, habitat, what species of birds they see—so we can tailor a feeding station to their requirements,” Howell said. "My customers are my main guides on what to stock. They come up with ideas and different needs, or they have seen something elsewhere they think would go well in the store.”

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