Posted: September 4, 2013, 4:00 p.m. EDT
The natural supplement category enjoys continued growth as more owners seek to target specific health issues and boost overall wellness for their pets.
By Anthony Stoeckert
Pet owners want their companions to live happy, healthy and long lives. As a result, the natural pet supplements category is growing in popularity and in options, which promise to improve the overall health of pets, and to target specific problems that can arise as animals get older.
According to Mike Melia, vice president of sales and marketing for Valencia, Calif.-based Designing Health, maker of The Missing Link products, today’s pet owners expect and demand better lives for their dogs, cats, horses and birds.
"In the old days, it was common, and I hate to bring it up, if your dog wasn’t doing well, they told you to put it down,” Melia said. "They’d tell you, ‘Don’t waste the money or time, put the animal down.’ In today’s world, that just isn’t acceptable.”
Supplements are growing in popularity as owners seek out ways to help their pets to live happy, healthy and long lives. CINDY HUGHES/SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
Dr. Patty Khuly, a veterinarian in Miami who blogs at www.drpattykhuly.com and writes a weekly column for Miami Herald and a monthly column for Pet Product News International’s sister publication Veterinary Practice News, said that natural supplements can offer benefits to pets but suggests that pet owners talk to a vet before giving them to their pets.
"Natural supplements can be used to treat or prevent specific diseases,” Dr. Khuly said. "In this way, they’re very much like drugs. Unlike drugs, however, they don’t require a prescription, which makes them more accessible to the average person. The flip side, of course, is that they’re not as well-regulated, which means that may not be as safe. That’s one reason why a veterinarian should always be consulted whenever pet owners are considering supplementation.”
She added that most pets will benefit from supplements at some point in their lives. Glucosamine, for example, can help with ailing joints, and fatty acids can, she said, "protect the aging brain.”
"Plenty of these, however, have been found to be perfectly safe. Veterinarians will happily recommend them as long as pet owners understand that their efficacy is unproven,” Dr. Khuly said.
She noted that the quality of a supplement is an issue.
"We’ve had a lot of problems in recent years with heavy metals in Chinese herbs in particular,” she said.
"Then there’s the fact that the FDA doesn’t regulate supplements, which is probably why we’ve observed tremendous variability among brands when it comes to labeling. Plenty of brands have labels that don’t accurately reflect the concentration of the supplements.”
Healthy Owners and Pets
Designing Health got its start when Dr. Robert M. Collett, a veterinarian, started taking omega-3 fatty acids for his own health.
"Then he started thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, this would be great for our little pets too,’” said his wife, Joy. "He saw in the veterinarian field, the animal world, that animals have the same issues that we have as humans.”
Another reason for the market’s growth that manufacturers pointed out is that people are using supplements to improve their health in areas such as joint pain and digestive issues.
"I can only say thank you to Jamie Lee Curtis for all of the TV ads she’s done,” said Scott Garmon, owner of NaturVet by Garmon Corp. in Temecula, Calif.
He’s referring to the actress’ commercials for a yogurt brand that claims to improve digestive health in humans.
"She’s made the awareness of that huge. That category has done very well for us in the last couple of years,” he said. "It helps the overall health of the pet as well. It helps them digest their food on a regular basis better.”
Health is a huge issue in today’s world, with newspapers, magazines and websites filled with stories about the U.S.’s obesity endemic and endless articles on how people can live healthier. That, in turn, has led pet owners to put a different perspective on the health of their animal friends.
We humans can consider our food and make an effort to eat a balanced meal of meat or fish, grains, vegetables and fruit. Natural pet supplement manufacturers claim that most pet foods do not provide the overall nutrition that a pet needs to be healthy, largely because their food is cooked, which removes nutrients, according to manufacturers.
Melia said Designing Health considers its supplements to be the equivalent of a pet’s salad.
"We’re the part of the diet, the fiber, the nutrition, the vitamins, that you are getting in other places,” he said. "We call it nose to tail health. It helps with digestive, it helps with skin, it helps with the immune system.”
When it comes to offerings for customers, manufacturers aren’t resting on their laurels. NaturVet’s newer products include a No Scoot line designed to improve digestion and help anal gland problems, which can lead to dogs scooting on floors. That led to stores asking for products that can help with constipation, Garmon said, the result of which is Stool Ease Soft Chews, which are designed to help maintain regularity and soften stools.
Another recent product from NaturVet is its GrassSaver supplement, which the company reported can stop a dog’s urine from staining lawns.
For cats, NaturVet offers two-in-one products such as a hairball aid that contains vitamins and minerals.
"We’re trying to bring cat supplements to the next level and doing more than one thing with a product,” Garmon said.
Mulligan Stew Pet Food in Jackson, Wyo., is a pet food manufacturer that is entering the supplement game this fall. Diane Peterson, vice president of marketing for the company, said the company’s food consists of meals built around supplements.
Mulligan Stew’s products are developed by Kevin Meehan, who is not a vet but a naturopathic healer and acupuncturist whose patients include people and pets.
|Get the Word Out|
Supplements have been on the market since the early 1990s. Scott Garmon, owner of NaturVet by Garmon Corp. in Temecula, Calif., said convincing stores to carry supplements was a challenge 20 years ago.
"I literally would beg stores to take it in,” he said. "What we would do is, we would actually find someone in the store, an employee, a cousin, a brother, a parent, that had a pet with problems of hip dysplasia or joint discomfort and we’d give them free samples, and that’s how we got them started. Once the market started going and really caught ahold, and the human market started growing, then the pet market started believing in it.”
These days, supplements are far more common, and are available in just about every pet store. There are still challenges, though, such as increased competition, which makes it harder for individual brands to stand out.
All these years later, Garmon said getting word out about new products remains a challenge. Today, NaturVet runs a TV commercial promoting its GrassSaver line of supplemental wafers, soft chews and tablets, which are formulated to stop a dog’s urine from staining lawns. He said social media, coupons and advertising are other keys to getting the word out.
NaturVet also takes efforts to help sellers understand its products.
"The biggest edge that we have is because we have a fairly broad product line, we go in and we educate the store owners and the employees, we have programs for that, so that they know what they’re doing as far as helping the consumer,” Garmon said.
Diane Peterson, vice president of marketing for Mulligan Stew Pet Food in Jackson, Wyo., said that in releasing its new products, the company is counting on its "brand equity” and reputation to get the supplements on shelves.
"We’re actually starting off with our existing sales channels,” she said. "Everybody who already sells Mulligan Stew knows the value and what we bring to the table from a formulation perspective. So most of my current selling partners are saying ‘Yeah, absolutely I’ll bring it in.’”—AS
One of the company’s upcoming supplements is targeted for allergy relief.
"It actually helps with seasonal allergies,” Peterson said. "The interesting part is the dog only needs to take it while the allergy persists, and then they can get off of it.”
Another of the company’s new supplements is designed to improve joint health. Peterson said Meehan has been selling a similar product for humans for years, so creating one for dogs was a natural step. She added that she has a 12-year-old Lab that is generally healthy but has joint pain and has benefited from the supplement.
"It’s amazing,” she said. "It’s giving these older dogs that are creeping along just a little bounce in their step.”
Another product is designed for overall health and to detox the body by producing a key antioxidant called glutathione peroxidase, Peterson said.
"It’s kind of the mother of all antioxidants,” Peterson said. "All mammals—you me, the cat, the dog, the horse, we all produce that naturally. The challenge is that it’s actually depleted by poor diet, stress, lack of exercise, and environmental or food toxins, so your body can’t produce enough of it.”
The fourth supplement to be released by Mulligan Stew is for performance enhancement in military, police, sporting and working dogs.
Stores and Manufacturers Team Up
The natural supplement market is a crowded one, and when it was suggested to Garmon that there must be more competition today than when he started, he said, "That’s an understatement.”
There are ways that stores can help increase sales. Peterson said she works with stores on educating them about Mulligan Stew, sometimes in person and sometimes via webinar training sessions.
Holly Costanza, manager of Global Pet Foods’ Bells Corner retail location in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, said that natural supplements are growing in their popularity with major sellers being hip-and-joint products and probiotic supplements that help with pets’ stools.
"I find what helps is that when my staff knows why the product works and what it does,” Costanza said. "When we can tell the customer how it works, the customer believes in it and will take that next step to try it.”
Supplements are growing in popularity as cats and dogs are developing more issues, said Michael Growney, owner of Utopia for Pets in Princeton, N.J. Popular products are those that offer vitamins, help calm dogs, or assist with problems with ears, eyes, skin, paws nose or teeth, he said.
"All of them are natural products,” he said.
Most customers who buy these products are hoping to help their pets with specific problems, Growney said. But with vitamins, owners are looking to improve their animals’ overall health.
He also takes steps in figuring out which supplements to carry. "I normally go through criteria of popularity, what is in the supplement versus another company, packaging, and how much a company is willing to help us.”
Joining the Market
The Pet Hydration People in Chicago began selling its line of Licks for Dogs supplements two years ago.
Its product line includes Joint+Heart and Zen formulas, which founder and CEO Amy Paris describes as a holistic mix of ingredients designed to help with anxiety issues in dogs.
"It has treated dogs for anxiety that have tried everything and not found relief with any other products,” Paris said. "It works great for thunderstorms, fireworks, car rides, separation anxiety, vet visits, aggression from being caged, etc.”
The company’s newest product is Athlete, which Paris said is modeled after human recovery gel shots. It’s aimed at working dogs, joggers, hikers and other active dogs, and is formulated to improve endurance and muscle recovery while also providing a long-term joint support supplement.
Samples are the best way to get the word out about Licks for Dogs products, Paris said.
"Licks’ delivery device, single-packet pouches that can be added to dogs’ food, water or straight to their mouths, is the most convenient and effective supplement administration method on the market,” she said.
She noted that in addition to providing stores with large amounts of samples, the company also offers coupons, display modules, brochures and posters, but that samples are the best way to demonstrate the products.
Marketing for Success
NaturVet publishes a newsletter every month, Garmon said, with articles about new products, their benefits and other pet health-related issues. The newsletters also offer monthly specials. Store owners can receive the newsletter via email and cut and paste from it to send information to customers on their contact lists.
"If you have a consumer list, and consumers who love you and trust you, if you give them good pieces, they’re going to follow you and read them, and they’ll come back and they’re going to purchase the products,” he said.
Knowledgeable and attentive employees can help sell products, Designing Health’s Melia said.
"Listen to your customer,” he said. "If somebody says, ‘My dog’s skin is real dry or my dog just seems to be lifeless or my cat is not doing well,’ listen to that customer. Let them talk through what is going on with their pet.” <HOME>
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