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Herp Marketplace: As Nature Intended

Posted: Jan. 24, 2012, 7:15 p.m. EST

Herp hobbyists’ demand for healthy all-natural supplements is driving innovation in the sector.

Many of the newest herp supplements lining retailers’ shelves share something in common: improved nutritional value. From buying calcium powder and vitamins to caring for prey such as crickets, more customers are seeking a natural approach to reptilian diets in an attempt to mimic the organic ingredients the animals would thrive on in the wild.

“The whole reptile industry is going holistic,” said Michael Sanders, sales and education support specialist at JurassiPet, a division of Seachem Laboratories in Madison, Ga. “Additionally, the technology of packaging has been improved to enhance nutrients and lock in moisture. For instance, a new manufacturing process we employ is steam-sterilizing insects to cut down on bacteria and parasites.”


The company’s JurassiVite supplement offers 14 essential vitamins and 17 trace and ultratrace vitamins, he reported. Further, the supplement contains no soy, which is known to impair the digestion of calcium; instead, highly nutritious alfalfa has been added to the ingredient mix, Sanders added.

The company’s newest product is EasiPillar, an expansion of the EasiDiet canned food line. Adding caterpillars, he said, is another way to add variety to a herp’s diet.

While most multivitamins include some calcium, various herp species sometimes still don’t get enough of it, industry participants reported.

At House of Reptiles in Tigard, Ore., owner Tim Criswell most often recommends the calcium supplement Miner-All from Sticky Tongue Farms because, he said, the low-dosage formula means customers don’t have to worry about administering a dangerous amount.

“In the wild, these animals get a rich, varied diet that’s also seasonally influenced,” Criswell pointed out. “Feeding crickets and lettuce all the time is too limited. New foods and supplements on the market are more successful if they help create a more naturalistic experience for the pet.

“For example, we’ve seen that advances in good nutrition have resulted in longer life spans,” he continued. “Just five years ago, the bearded dragon had an expected life span of seven to 10 years. Now, some are living 14 to 15 years.”

Continuing Advancements
Many manufacturers, such as TetraFauna, are recognizing the need for nutritional innovation. The company expects to launch a new formulation of its ReptoLife Plus supplement this spring.

“The new ReptoLife Plus is a finely powdered nutritional supplement for reptiles and amphibians,” said Nick Kornblith, senior brand manager for United Pet Group’s Blacksburg, Va.-based Tetra brand. “It can be used as a dust to coat the prey item or prepared diet. It can also be used to gut load.”

ReptoLife will offer a broader spectrum of nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, amino acids and natural color enhancers, Kornblith reported. Additionally, an updated manufacturing process utilizes foil-sealed containers to ensure the animals get the promised nutritive value, he noted.

Industry Voices
What are some of your store’s best-selling supplement products?

“Rep-Cal supplements are my No. 1 best-seller because the quality is excellent. The Herptivite multivitamin features all-natural ingredients, including highly nutritious sea vegetables. Another popular product is Tetrafauna’s ReptoCal calcium supplement.”
--Chad Owens, co-owner of Mission Pet Mart in Mission, Kan.

“The Repashy Super Veggie supplement is really great because you can put it on iceberg lettuce and it sticks very well. Another amazing supplement from Repashy is the Super Pig pigment enhancer. It really brings out the true color of an animal. I also highly recommend JurassiPet canned prey food for customers who don’t want to deal with live bugs.”
--James Severts, reptile expert at Pet Paradise in Virginia Beach, Va.

“My top performers in the supplement category are Zoo Med’s ReptiVite and Tetrafauna’s ReptoCal calcium vitamin.”
--Bradley Hall, owner of Dubey’s Pet World in Burlington, N.C.

“Sticky Tongue Farms Miner-All. We also put a big focus on making sure the feeder bugs we buy are well cared for when they get to the store. Customers can find a great variety of feeder prey here, including two different sizes of mealworms, hornworms, silk worms and crickets.”
--Tim Criswell, owne of House of Reptiles in Tigard, Ore.

Timberline Live Pet Food is working to meet the demands of herp owners for freshness and more varied ingredients.

“In the past year, we’ve introduced Reptile Salad and Reptile Cactus,” said Bobby Blood, sales director for the Marion, Ill.-based manufacturer. “These fresh foods can be shipped with our feeder insects.”

Reptile Salad, containing fresh-cut kale, red endive, dandelion greens, leaf lettuce and prickly pear cactus, is a nutritional blend of veggies chosen to appeal to herbivores such as bearded dragons and tortoises, Blood noted. Reptile Cactus is comprised of fresh-cut pieces of prickly pear cactus, which is highly appealing to desert animals such as Russian and sulcata tortoises, he added.

Boutique Supplements
At the retail level, the top-selling supplement and vitamin brands at Pet Paradise in Virginia Beach, Va., include Repashy, said James Severts, the store’s reptile expert.

“These are boutique supplements that really work,” he stated. “Repashy’s Calcium ICB Plus really sticks to the cricket and offers 50 percent calcium and 50 percent vitamins and minerals. It’s a great balance.”

Another Repashy product Severts praised for its innovative formula is Vitamin A Plus. The supplement works like nothing else to treat chameleon eye problems, he said.

“Usually when a customer comes in asking about supplements, nine times out of 10 they will take our advice to go with Repashy and then come back in the store later to say, ’Thank you,’” Severts said.

The newest product from Repashy Ventures Inc. in San Marcos, Calif., is Bug Burger, an insect diet featuring more than 50 beneficial ingredients, reported company president Allen Repashy.

“What makes this unique is that it’s a ready-to-make gel formula sold as a powder,” Repashy said. “The consumer simply mixes it with water, microwaves for a minute or so and then lets the Bug Burger cool at room temperature. There’s no refrigeration required.

“Once cool,” he continued, “it forms a firm gel block, which provides both nutrition and hydration for insects, eliminating the need for separate food and water. This also eliminates the issue of drowned crickets contaminating and killing the whole tub.”

Coming Back for More
While customers do get excited by innovation, they often remain loyal to quality products, various retailers reported. Such is the case at Dubey’s Pet World in Burlington, N.C. Its continual top seller is ReptiVite, both with and without D3 formulations, from Zoo Med Laboratories Inc. of San Luis Obispo, Calif.

“ReptiVite is an established, quality product, but another reason why consumers like it is because the package lists ingredients included by the pound,” said Bradley Hall, Dubey’s owner. “People like to know exactly what percentage of minerals, amino acids and other nutrients their pet is getting per serving.”

Consumers also tend to make repeat supplement purchases at stores that always have the product in stock, manufacturers noted.

“For example, retailers can benefit greatly from the weekly, sometimes twice weekly traffic that live feeder insects can provide,” Timberline’s Blood said. “Even retailers that don’t offer live reptiles should keep a full selection of crickets, mealworms, et cetera. And good signage is critical to make sure your customers are aware of your feeder department.”

Getting Customers to Buy
A number of retailers would like to see manufacturers provide more sample-sized packages of supplements and multivitamins.

“Zoo Med provides these and they are perfect to stash in starter kits for new herp owners,” Hall said.

Severts pointed out that what helps sell supplements at Pet Paradise are endcaps containing products he thinks are the best quality.

“It’s also a great way to introduce product innovations,” he added.

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