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Essential Oils for Pets


Promoting the health benefits of natural oils for pets can add to a retailer’s bottom line.
By Maggie M. Shein

Natural Pet Product MerchandiserNatural oils for pets are formulated to do it all, targeting everything from hot spots and itchy skin to brain, joint, heart and kidney disorders. Today’s market is more diverse than ever, with plant-based oils such as flax, fish, coconut and various combinations all claiming a stake.

As the importance of essential fatty acids and other natural ingredients moves farther into the pet marketplace, retailers reported that the key to selling more oils starts with educating both themselves and their customers.

“More people are becoming aware of the importance of essential fatty acids for themselves, and this naturally translates to awareness of the same need for their pets,” said Dr. Jean Hofve, DVM, veterinary adviser to Nordic Naturals. The Watsonville, Calif.-based company makes Pet Cod Liver Oil and Omega-3 Pet, which provide essential fatty acids in the form of docosahexanoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentanoic acid (EPA), according to the company.

The reason oil supplements are so important, industry sources stated, is because commercial pet food and even home-cooked food may lack significant sources of essential fatty acids.

essential oil supplements for pets
“You cannot put enough of the fatty acids in foods or treats to take the place of supplementation,” said Ted Hayes, vice president of sales at Life Line Pet Nutrition Inc. in Gig Harbor, Wash. The company uses a cold-extraction method to manufacture human-grade, all-natural Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil for pets from sustainably harvested salmon, according to Hayes.

Focus on Health
Beyond selling oil supplements through traditional marketing and promotions, retailers can gain optimal results by focusing on the health benefits during conversations with customers.

“It’s very uncommon for people to come in asking specifically about an oil supplement,” said AdreAnne Tesene, co-owner of Two Bostons, which has two stores in Naperville, Ill. “They will come in with a problem. A lot of times it starts with recommending a food and then recommending a supplement.”

For example, Tesene said, she suggests coconut oil for pets suffering from hot spots or rashes.

The biggest thing retailers can do, Hayes pointed out, is educate the staff and “make sure they understand that every bag of food that goes out the door—whether it’s a 5-pound or 40-pound bag—needs to be supplemented with oil.”

“With a product like oil, unless customers already know of the benefits and have a reason to buy, a pretty package won’t do it,” he said. “Customers need to know the benefits from the store or by word of mouth.”

Never Stop Learning
According to retailers, resources such as websites, journals, magazines and industry experts are vital for learning about the benefits of natural oils. Kerry Scott, owner of Good Dog Goods in Oak Bluffs, Mass., said she surrounds herself with veterinarians, holistic doctors and vendors to gain an understanding about pet health. Scott knows her vendors by name and where all the ingredients in the products she carries are sourced, allowing her to pass along the knowledge to customers, she said.

“Nothing matters more than what my vendors are sourcing,” Scott said. “Rancid oils can make pets very, very sick. With supplemental oils, there is only one ingredient in one of the products that I carry that comes from some place other than the U.S., and it is olive oil from Italy.”

Scott reported her store carries a handful of supplemental oils and focuses on products that include a mix of more than one oil.

Companies that eagerly answer retailers’ questions are also favored by Vicki Rabe-Harrison, owner of Victoria’s Pet Nutrition Center in Fond du Lac, Wis.

“I keep up on things by talking with the manufacturers, reading articles and websites and talking to holistic vets,” she reported. “That way, I know exactly what to tell my customers. A lot of people don’t know what they are looking for, so it’s up to me to educate them.”

Rabe-Harrison said she walks trade show floors in search of companies that can answer questions about their products and provide evidence to back up any claims.

“I tend to push the products that I know work great,” she said, singling out oil supplements from Dr. Harvey’s, Animals’ Apawthecary and Azmira Holistic Animal Care.

Dr. Harvey’s is big on sharing information with retailers and customers, noted Wendy Shankin-Cohen, president of the Keansburg, N.J.-based company.

“We do a lot of education, and we just finished a series of videos that talk about each individual supplement,” Shankin-Cohen said. “We think that it is very important not just for the consumers but the retailers to understand the benefits of these products.”

The company’s most popular oil supplement, she said, is Health and Shine, an all-natural mixture of human-grade flax, borage and fish oils.

True-Life Stories
Marketing oils through first-hand accounts, customer anecdotes and product samples works especially well in the category, retailers reported.

“If you use a particular product yourself, as soon as your customer hears that, it gives the product a lot of credibility,” Tesene said. “It’s the best way to sell.”

She added that Two Bostons’ employees get generous discounts on everything in the store to encourage them to try products on their pets.

“As soon as [employees] have used a product at home themselves, that’s when they can talk passionately and knowledgeably about it,” Tesene said.

CocoTherapy, a brand of Oscar Newman LLC in Batavia, Ill., has a Web page that CEO Charisa Antigua called a great learning tool for retailers.

“We have a ton of information on our website and we encourage retailers to read the testimonials,” she said. “It’s easy to translate that to a pet owner who walks into their store.”

The coconut oil manufactured by CocoTherapy is all-natural and organic and helps with allergies, hot spots, sores and skin inflammation, according to Antigua.

“Education is so important,” Antigua added. “We also have rack cards that retailers can put near the product and samples. The more hands-on a store is in terms of educating and giving out samples, the better they will do with selling.”

Scott of Good Dog Goods reported that pointing out the importance of oils in a human diet helps a customer understand the correlation with a pet diet.

“People use oil supplements to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer in humans, so it’s often easy for the customer to understand the benefits to dogs,” she said.

Customer anecdotes can be effective as well.

“Some of the stories are remarkable, such as ‘My dog is getting up more freely or doing stairs more often when before she wasn’t,’” Scott said.

Both retailers and manufacturers reported that customers who have done their homework are open to further education, especially about less-known products such as natural oils.

“People want their animals to be healthy and they might not know what to do,” Shankin-Cohen said. “It’s very important for us as well as our retailers to be able to provide that information.

“Trust is a big part of this,” she continued. “The consumer needs to understand and trust, not only the manufacturer, but the person recommending the product as well—and that’s usually the retailer.”

This article originally appeared in Natural Pet Product Merchandiser's March 2012 issue.

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