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Animal Supplements Add Value and Revenue

New health aids target a number of problem areas in pets, creating sales opportunities for pet stores.
By Karen Shugart

Natural Pet Product MerchandiserDog and cat owners striving to improve and prolong their pets’ lives are embracing natural supplements.

“The industry has boomed within the last 10 years,” said Bethany Valyou, an associate at South Salem Pet Supply in Salem, Ore. “Owners are becoming more aware of their pets’ specific health problems and are seeking out supplements. People are taking it upon themselves to learn about their pets’ health.”

Natural animal supplements
Producing everything from squeeze packets to chewable tablets, manufacturers are stepping in to meet the growing demand with a wide variety of delivery methods.
A new line from Bergan LLC of Monkey Island, Okla., is Prudence–Nature’s Wellness, which can be sprinkled on dog food for convenient, pill-free administration, said Dana Williams, Bergan marketing manager. The supplements are designed to address several concerns, including immune system function, joint mobility and coat appearance.

For owners looking for chewable, organic animal supplements, Green Arrow Nutrition came out with two canine choices: i-Live Joint Health and i-Live Organic Multivitamin. The latter formula provides vitamins and minerals, while Joint Health is a gluten-free tablet containing 800 milligrams of chondroitin and 500 milligrams of vegetable-derived glucosamine. It contains serrapeptase, an enzyme said to reduce inflammation, said Josue Molina, president of the West Palm Beach, Fla., company.

“Creating the i-Live line was a direct response to feedback from veterinarians and dog owners alike,” Molina noted.

Ferrera Farms Naturals, a brand of Rush Direct Inc. of Wood Dale, Ill., in February released a line of chewable supplements called Bee the Best. The formulas are made to support hips and joints, the immune system and the skin and coat as well as promote relaxation. They contain red propolis, a substance produced by honeybees that is rich in antioxidants and isoflavonoids, as well as echinacea, boswellia and chamomile.

Dr. Jeffrey Lee, DVM, led the line’s development.

“Throughout my international journeys and time spent with some native tribes, I became acquainted with certain healing herbs, such as boswellia, echinacea and chamomile, that I’m happy to have finally been able to bring to the market,” Dr. Lee said.

Animal supplements that support mobility are very popular with customers at South Salem Pet Supply, according to Valyou. Part of the appeal, she said, stems from their high profile.

“They’re very widely available, either as chewable tablets or something that can be put right in the food,” she added.

They’re also gaining wider acceptance and scientific recognition. Membrell’s RE-NU Canine has been on the market about six years, but a key ingredient, natural eggshell membrane, is gaining attention as an inflammation-reducing tool, said Dr. Kevin Ruff, director of scientific and regulatory affairs at the Carthage, Mo., manufacturer.

Dr. Ruff co-authored an article this year in the Journal of Medicinal Food on the ingredient’s ability to reduce joint pain and stiffness.

NEM, as natural eggshell membrane is sometimes called, “is clinically proven in humans to improve joint discomfort and stiffness in as little as seven to 10 days,” Ruff said.

Form Bonds with Vets
Just as relationships between manufacturers and retailers are vital for sales, so are bonds fostered between retailers and veterinarians, who, after all, are health experts.

“We always tell people to ‘check with your vet,’” said Bethany Valyou, an associate at South Salem Pet Supply in Salem, Ore. “We aren’t vets. We can give you advice, but your animal is going to have his own specific issues that you should talk to your vet about.”

The relationship between vet and pet store is a two-way street, Valyou added. Many customers are referred to her store by vets who recommended a supplement. Other customers come in seeking recommendations on which vet to choose.

“It does help if the retailers are aware of the vets in the area,” she emphasized.

Josue Molina, president of Green Arrow Nutrition, a manufacturer based in West Palm Beach, Fla., said veterinarians can help educate customers. Partner with vets who will take time to share their knowledge, he said, adding, “Education is key.” –KS

Supplements aimed at improving skin and coat appearance remain popular. Dana O’Donoghue, director of the Zoological Education Network at Harrisons’ Pet Products in Lake Worth, Fla., said the company has increased the level of omega-3 fatty acids to more than 16 percent in Sunshine Factor and in Booster. The reason, she reported, was to offer a whole-food, nonsynthetic source of omega-3.

“Just as in humans, it is important for animals to have the proper ratio of omega-3 and omega-6—another essential fatty acid—in the diet,” O’Donoghue said. “Most commercial animal foods tend to contain more omega-6 fatty acids than omega 3s – some as much as 30 to 40 times higher, which is considered way too high on the omega-6 side.”

Both cat and dog owners are concerned about digestive issues, manufacturers and retailers reported. Probiotics are the most important supplement in the view of Jay Horwitz, co-owner of The Cat Connection, a retailer in Dallas. Whether for vomiting issues, inflammatory bowel problems or dietary changes, such aids can ease stomach issues, he said.

“We suggest keeping cats and dogs on them all the time, especially if they have a tendency to switch foods or the cat or dog has a really sensitive stomach,” Horwitz said. “It adds good flora.”

DogGestive Daily, a supplement that is squeezed out of a packet, came out in February because William Miller, founder of the company by the same name, wanted to find an easy way to deliver the digestive benefits of pure pumpkin.

While pumpkin pie filling was readily available in grocery stores, pure pumpkin wasn’t, said Jo May Salonen, marketing director at the Missoula, Mont., manufacturer. Besides, Salonen added, cans can be cumbersome.

“Pumpkin is often recommended by veterinarians to help dogs with both constipation and diarrhea,” Salonen said. “Many dog owners—whether it’s owners who have companion dogs, show dogs, hunting dogs or agility dogs—use pumpkin to keep their dogs’ digestive systems working properly.”

Last fall, Richard’s Organics released High-Calorie Nutrient Paste as a way to boost the nutrition of a pet, such as a pregnant dog or a young kitten, that may need extra help. The company wanted a supplement with natural ingredients that would give pet owners peace of mind, said Irene Rojas, marketing director at Synergy Labs in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

“If it’s organic or it’s natural, you’re going to get better acceptance in the market,” Rojas stated. “If you have a puppy that’s malnourished or you have a dog that’s pregnant, you don’t have to worry about giving this product to your pet and having a negative reaction.”

While natural products gain acceptance in the market, they don’t necessarily sell themselves, some observers said.

Natural supplements are not items that can just be placed on the shelf with a hope they will sell,” Bergan’s Williams said.

The key to driving sales is education. A well-informed staff equals well-informed customers, said Josh Morales, a supervisor at Pet Extreme, a pet supply store in Sacramento, Calif.

Morales recommended that storeowners bring in company representatives to explain the product to employees.
“That way we’re able to pass on information to customers that’s not just what’s on the back of the box,” he said.

Lee, of Rush Direct, said pet specialty retailers that offer a wide supply of supplements can differentiate themselves from the big-box stores, as can customer-driven contests.

“They can have before/after picture contests where customers can compare their pets prior to giving the supplements and then see the results,” Lee recommended.

He also suggested including an animal supplement in a gift basket given during dog adoptions or training sessions.

“The idea is to teach customers to have a routine and to give the supplement throughout the lifetime of the dog to support their health,” Lee said.

Using the Web to drum up sales is useful too, Molina said.

“Retailers need to get acquainted with social media and how powerful and economical having a social media presence can be for their stores,” he added.

Marketing and selling natural supplements ultimately has one purpose: nurturing and promoting the relationship between customers and their pets.

“People want to spend more time with the pets they love,” Williams said. “Not just time, but quality time and quality experiences.”

This article originally appeared in the June 2012 issue of Natural Pet Product Merchandiser.


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