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Avian Marketplace: The Many Benefits of Pet Bird Treats

Posted: Sept. 17, 2012, 3:55 p.m. EDT

Educating customers on the many benefits of pet bird treats can boost sales.
By Lindsey Getz

Treats serve important purposes for birds, and therefore can be big sellers if customers understand the value behind them. Showing that treats function beyond the occasional snack can keep owners returning for more.

“Pet bird owners are starting to realize that the treat is multifaceted,” said Gail Shepard, director of marketing for ZuPreem in Shawnee Mission, Kan. “It can be a reward, part of a training experience or part of a bonding experience. It might just be for the pure enjoyment of the treat. It can serve multiple purposes for the bird and its owner.”

Treats for Interaction
Foraging products have been a big trend in the treat category, Shepard said.

Bird treats
When it comes to pet bird treats, owners want nutrition and convenience, and manufacturers are responding with new products in the category. Photo courtesy of Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Inc.
“Bringing a toy and a treat together so that the bird has to work to receive that treat is definitely where things are headed,” she said.

Foraging treats, as well as the act of foraging, are an essential element of a bird’s life, reported  Jean Paul Coffinberry, project manager at Harrison’s Bird Foods in Brentwood, Tenn.

“Foraging and training treats may end up making up a decent percentage of a bird’s daily diet,” he said. “It is very important, then, to make sure that these items are nutritionally beneficial to the bird.”

Making feeding fun is also really important, said Shirley Rentzel, owner of Rentzel’s Bird Farm in Windsor, Pa.

“It’s a great opportunity for owners to bond with their pets,” she said.

The trend toward foraging toys has only continued to grow as pet bird owners become more knowledgeable about their pet’s behavior and needs, reported Michael Clark, brand manager, pet birds, for Kaytee Products in Chilton, Wis.

“Foraging for treats provides great interaction for the bird,” he said. “It promotes mental stimulation. Hand-feeding a reward also is something that pet owners can enjoy with their birds. Overall, treats serve an important interactive purpose.”

While treats are excellent for bonding and interaction, industry participants said it’s important that they’re not overused. Kelsey Hopper, livestock manager at Pisces Pet Emporium in Calgary, Alberta, Canada stresses this to customers.

“Treats are treats, meaning they should not be given too often,” she said. “Treats should be used for bonding or training. I remind customers not to forget fresh veggies and fruit, which should be fed every day.”

Owners should use treats wisely and effectively with pet birds, said Melanie Allen, avian product specialist with Rolf C. Hagen Inc. in Montreal.

“Treats--in the sense that a treat is a yummy morsel that the pet bird doesn’t normally get--can and should be used in conjunction with other activities that enhance a bird’s lifestyle,” Allen said. “An example would be in offering Living World Treat Sticks to a bird that is on a nutritious formulated diet. The seeds on treat sticks are bound and offer foraging opportunity for the bird while he’s picking off the seeds, nuts and fruit pieces. The bird will recognize this as something he doesn’t normally get. It engages the bird’s innate desire to search for more, even if he has to ‘work’ for it.”

Health-conscious Choices
Overall, the trend in avian food products is toward healthy and natural items. This is true of the treat category as well.

“When people ask me what kinds of treats to feed their birds, I talk to them about fresh fruit, vegetables and nuts,” said Paige Patch, manger at San Dimas Grain & Bird Co. in San Dimas, Calif. “I’m happy to see that the snacks and treats coming out from manufacturers are getting healthier. We know a lot more about what a bird needs nutritionally, and it seems like the manufacturers are trying to meet those needs.”

At Rentzel’s, the focus is on organic foods, which customers embrace.

Industry Voices
Where in the store do you display and sell treats?

“I keep sample bags of different kinds of treats right on the counter so customers see them while they’re checking out and might decide to give them a shot. The entire treat rack is located near the counter because if treats are kept by the food, people get too overwhelmed by all the material. It’s easier to find the treats when they don’t get lost among the food products.”
Paige Patch, manger at San Dimas Grain & Bird Co. in San Dimas, Calif.

“We have the treats in the same section as the toys so customers have no trouble finding them. It also helps them to think about the treat in terms of foraging or as an activity for the bird.”
Susan Lufkin, co-owner of Essex Bird Shop & Pet Supply in Essex, Mass.

“I have the treats and seeds together. When customers are buying food, that’s when they’re thinking about treats. A lot of times, customers get hooked on a specific product, and then they want the treat that goes with that product. They do get brand loyal when it comes to food, and that carries into the treat. A lot of my customers come in asking for a specific product.”
Stephanie East, owner of Stephie’s Exotic Birds in Greensboro, N.C.

“Treats always should be displayed very close to staple bird diet items so they are seen regularly by customers when they pick up food. The treats also seem more a part of the diet if they are displayed close to the bird food.”
Kelsey Hopper, livestock manager at Pisces Pet Emporium in Calgary, Canada

“The emphasis is on good nutrition,” Rentzel said. “We’re big on fruits and vegetables and on cooking food for the bird. That’s why I sell a lot of Higgins Cuisine.”

Because customers want healthy and nutritious bird foods, Miami-based Higgins Premium Pet Foods made that its priority.

“Six years ago, we made it our mission to make all our foods and treats natural and free of artificial ingredients, based on human food and dog food trends,” said Dean Reyes, director of marketing and sales for Higgins. “We have increased the level of premium, human-edible ingredients and improved our long-standing brands with better packaging.”

The most popular treat line from Higgins is the Snack Attack Natural Treats group.

“Snack Attack is actually an assortment of 14 treat mixes—six for parrots and eight for smaller birds,” Reyes said. “All flavors under the Snack Attack brand are natural blends of human-edible ingredients.”

The Convenience Factor
While nutrition is at the top of their list, today’s bird owners also want snacks that are easy to offer and conducive to their busy lifestyles.

“Bird owners are looking for things that are convenient,” Kaytee Products’ Clark said. “Something that’s easy to grab-and-go is going to be popular.”

Even though she promotes cooked food, Rentzel said anything that takes too long to prepare won’t be popular with customers.

“People like the idea of cooking their bird’s food, but they don’t have a lot of time to do it,” she said. “It has to be something easy. Bird Bread [by Harrison’s] is a big seller here, and I’ll often tell my customers to make up the whole bag at once and cook them in a mini muffin pan instead of the loaf. Then they can put the mini muffins in ice cube trays and freeze them. You’re set with food for a while and can just pop out one at a time.”

Merchandising Matters
To increase success in this category, one of the most important things for retailers to understand is how to merchandise treat products, ZuPreem’s Shepard said. She suggested using clip strips by the register because treats tend to be an impulse buy. An endcap in the bird department also can be a successful location.

“Creative merchandising ideas are critical,” Clark said. “Signage is an easy way to do that. Retailers could have a sign that says ‘Don’t forget the treats!’ located near the food products. They also could do a ‘Treat of the Week’ endcap where they’re switching out the treat they market each week and getting customers in the mindset of picking up a treat for the birds each time they come into the store.”

The multi-purpose uses for treats also should be marketed to customers.

“Remind the customer that the treat serves many purposes by putting them near foraging toys or using them in training demonstrations,” Clark noted. “That way you’re also educating the customer on the many different values of the treat.”


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