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Avian Marketplace: Into the Wild

Posted: Dec. 28, 2011, 10:55 a.m. EST

Innovative foods, for both indoor and outdoor birds, offer a natural buffet that rivals Mother Nature herself.
By Cheryl Reeves

In their growing zeal for all-natural pet foods, consumers are taking the demand for healthy freshness to a whole new level in the bird food category. Manufacturers are listening, and as a result are launching products and modifying others to satisfy the appetite for clean, green bird meals that are chock-full of fruits, veggies, grains, seeds, nuts, pellets and more. What’s not in the products are dyes, pesticides, fatty fillers, artificial everything and anything that’s not human-grade quality.

Even backyard birders are doing more than tossing out a handful of wild bird feed, according to industry sources. They are adding fruits, vegetables and species-specific blends to provide a delectable prize in these birds’ wild foraging adventures.

Bird food

“There’s a huge push for even more choices in high-quality, natural foods for birds,” said Gail Shepard, director of marketing at ZuPreem in Shawnee Mission, Kan. “It’s grown to the point where retailers are carving out special sections in their stores to display the most innovative and natural products available on the market. The idea is, ‘If I wouldn’t eat it, why would I give it to a bird?’

“Additionally,” she continued, “these customers also want to provide their pet with an interesting, varied diet so they’re also looking at ingredients that are nutritious and beneficial.”

To illustrate the point, Shepard reported that a recent bird food educational seminar held by the Long Island Parrot Symposium attracted well over 1,000 bird owners. In addition, she said, her company has found that more bird-owning customers than ever are converting to diets that are the closest possible match to what the species would seek and benefit from in the wild.

Customers at Mega Bird Store in Cocoa, Fla., want their exotic captive companions to consume the fresh food they would seek in the wild, store owner Donna Austin confirmed.
“From finches to macaws, customers want to get it right, so they research and come in with even more questions,” Austin noted. “What’s more, I’m noticing that shoppers are studiously reading ingredients listed on the package so they don’t feed their birds anything artificial or unhealthy.”

One new product that’s been a hit at her store is ZuPreem’s NutBlend Flavor Premium Daily Bird Food, which Austin said has qualities that appeal to both humans and birds.

“The birds love the taste, the people love the aroma, so it’s an all-around awesome product,” she said. “From the minute we added it to the shelf and the bulk bins, the product earned enthusiastic raves.”

Exceptionally popular bird foods are moved to a display at the front of the Bird Exchange store in Santa Rosa, Calif., owner Jayne Brown pointed out.

“Recently, we moved Volkman Seed Co.’s foods to that spot since customers have made the products best-sellers,” Brown said. “The popularity is based on quality ingredients and affordability.”

Brown added that many of her customers are on a tight budget and appreciate a product that’s reasonably priced. For wild birds, she named Volkman’s Premium Wild Finch mix as a steady seller.

“It’s similar to what you’d give a canary and has ground-down little sunflower seeds and thistle, which give birds a lot of energy when it’s cold outside,” she noted.

A bird’s color and the products that keep feathers looking rich and healthy are very important to consumers, industry insiders reported.

Backyard Feeders Want More Nutrition
Bird watching is one of the fastest-growing outdoor activities in the United States, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Not coincidentally, the wild bird feeding industry has taken off as well.

Retailers who cater to the market can boost business if they stock quality feed formulated to attract various species into their customers’ backyards, industry sources reported.

Backyard bird enthusiasts are increasingly demanding natural, higher quality food that will lure colorful species, said Danielle Mohilef, president of Pacific Bird & Supply Co. Inc. in Los Angeles. Moreover, many people also want to attract a greater number of wild birds.

Maximizing the number of species that visit backyards and gardens begins with providing a variety of food choices, including insects, seeds, nuts, fruits, suet and nectar.

“Seed only has the potential to draw a limited number of species; it doesn’t always appeal to the colorful, insectivorous, fruit-loving and nectar-eating birds,” Mohilef commented.
A good understanding of what wild birds eat ultimately benefits pet birds and their owners, said David Calvin, owner of Paradise Earth Pet Products in Scottsdale, Ariz.

“People should copy as closely as possible the wild diet preferences of a bird so their own birds have a healthy, balanced diet,” he said.

Accordingly, Paradise Earth Pet Products of Scottsdale, Ariz., released Color Enhancement for Finches and tanagers as an addition to its bird food line, reported company owner David Calvin.

“Before restrictions were imposed on importing birds, we noticed that flamingos imported from Africa experienced diminished color after just a few months in captivity,” Calvin said. “We learned that they weren’t getting the beta carotene they were getting from eating shrimp in the wild.”

To achieve and sustain vibrant feathers for pet birds, the company’s new food is processed by mixing moisturized beta carotene into highly absorbent egg food.

“After the initial 60 to 90 days on this diet and after molting, there’s a significant change: The color is back,” Calvin said.

Consumers are becoming more aware of what is good for exotic birds, noted Ed Schmitt, president of Goldenfeast Inc., a Phoenixville, Pa., manufacturer.

“Because there are more concerns about too much corn and wheat in birds’ diet, we are relaunching our extruded product called Goldn’obles,” Schmitt said. “We’ve modified the ingredients to eliminate corn and wheat and added, among numerous other ingredients, quinoa as its main ingredient. Why quinoa? It’s a highly nutritionally beneficial food originally grown by the Aztecs.”

Educating owners on what to specifically feed their feathered pets should always be part of the process, noted several retailers. Before someone can buy a bird from Fancy Feathers in Blackwood, N.J., owner Ursula Berg sits the customer down and gives a half hour lecture on diet and nutrition.

“We push a quality, all-natural, balanced diet,” said Berg, who reported hearing of penny-pinching owners using cheap backyard bird seed to feed their indoor birds.

“I tell them they can’t do that because it will result in an unhappy, unhealthy bird,” Berg said. “In fact, I give my leftover bird food from the store to an employee who lives near the woods. She takes it there in a bucket to feed the wild birds, who are also now getting fruit, vegetables, pasta and more.”

The most natural and varied foods sell best at her store, noted Berg, who favors products free of sunflower seed. Goldenfeast, Higgins and ZuPreem are her top sellers.

“People really like the cookables because of how easy they are to prepare after a long day at work,” she added. “The new Higgins cookable food takes only five minutes–you just put in boiling water and it’s done.”

For customers who aren’t fans of species-specific diets, Calvin recommended that retailers propose a simple test: Put out two bowls. Fill one with the usual food and the other with a fresh natural mix designed to meet their birds’ specific dietary needs.

“People will be sold when they see their bird go for the all-natural, complete diet,” Calvin said. “Birds will always tell you what they want if you’ll just let them.”


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