Retailers and consumers want proof that natural supplements can benefit their pets.

By Arden Moore

Achieving success in the highly competitive natural pet supplement market has gotten more challenging. Retailers and pet owners are unwilling to quickly accept claims about what products will do to bolster the health of their pets—they want proof.

“Manufacturers of natural pet supplements better steer clear of hyperboles and back their claims with science before I consider adding their products to my store shelves,” said Damian Delezene, owner of Aptos Feed & Pet Supply in Aptos, Calif. “When my customers have questions or want information about a supplement, I want to know the answers and to make sure that the company making the product is responsive to my customers as well as to me.”

Norm Shrout, co-owner of Long Leash on Life in Albuquerque, N.M., said his customers ask lots of questions before making purchases. He is always on the lookout for the next generation of pet supplements that do what they claim, he added.

A case in point is Bio-Rep Animal Health's Boneo Canine, a relatively new supplement formulated to strengthen bone and joint health. Shrout said he uses it on Daisy, his 14-year-old Labrador retriever, and has noticed improved joint mobility that traditional glucosamine and chondroitin supplements failed to accomplish.

“We have a lot of highly educated people in Albuquerque, many who came here from other places, and they are really into their pets,” Shrout said. “Our reputation is on the line in what we carry, so I am very selective about supplements that get into our store. Don't make claims without validation.”

Be Prepared to Back Your Claim

Ready to step up and provide answers are companies such as Designing Health, maker of The Missing Link supplements, based in Valencia, Calif.

“Everyone will tell you about how great their products are, but you need to really look hard at their ingredients, the sources for those ingredients and how the supplements were prepared,” said Michael Melia, vice president of sales and marketing. “We offer a 100 percent guarantee on all our products, so if you don't see positive changes in your animal—even after using the whole bag—you get your money back. The key is to not simply develop a product, but a solution to what is ailing animals, and we do that at Missing Link Products.”

Manufacturers also should be prepared to seek third-party independent testing by certified labs and provide ongoing education to retailers and pet owners to build and expand brand loyalty, said Erin Hay, national sales representative for the pet division of Nordic Naturals in Watsonville, Calif.

The company offers 24/7 online education training on pet supplements for retailers and makes its independent test results for all of its products readily available, Hay said.

“We listened to our retail partners and provide them with a key tool to educate customer service staff on the importance of omega-3 supplementation in the diets of dogs and cats,” Hay said.

Delezene takes advantage of this educational opportunity.

“I locate all the supplements within ear shot of the register so that my staff or I can be available to quickly answer any customer questions. Companies like Nordic Naturals know the value of providing solid information.”

Think Outside the Packaging

How products are packaged can have an impact on sales.

Ted Hayes, owner of Life Line Pet Nutrition in Gig Harbor, Wash., said he has maintained a stellar reputation for obtaining wild Alaskan salmon oil, but he realized that some customers were not fond of the drips from conventional packaging. So, he added, his company created a no-dribble dispenser that doesn't leak and leave oily rings on counter tops.

“That was our biggest complaint from consumers—not about just our products, but fish oils in general,” Hayes said. “They didn't want an oily mess, and we're the only company in the pet industry with this packaging.”

He also recently replaced resealable stand-up bags with plastic jars with screw-off lids to store the company's organic ocean kelp.

Manufacturers and retailers agreed that the hottest trends for pet supplements are aimed at the aging pet population and backing up claims with independent testing.

“The supplements that I am sold on are those from people putting them together that I have access to and that they have convinced me on their claims and make scientific results available to me,” said Larry Oltmann, who has owned Clark Feed & Seed in Bellingham, Wash., for more than four decades. “We look for people who make products that genuinely perform and adhere to the highest of standards.”

Animals Show Supplement Success

Many manufacturers are helping retailers get the word out about supplements by sharing success stories of pets that have benefited from their products.

Take the case of Neo, a Siberian husky, the source of inspiration for the creation of Boneo Canine, made by Bio-Rep Animal Health in Yorba Linda, Calif. His story is shared on the company's website.

“The reason we share Neo's story with the world is because there would be no Boneo Canine without Neo,” said Aishwarya Naidu, counsel and vice president of sales and marketing. “When our family found Neo on the side of a busy highway with a badly broken leg, we fell in love with him right away.”

Neo required multiple operations to try to repair his shattered leg, but his bones would not properly fuse. Existing dog supplements only seemed to address joint issues—not the bones. So the family, already in the biotechnology and clinical pharmacy fields, turned to their scientists to develop a bone nutrient mix for Neo that proved so successful that they launched the Boneo Canine product line last year, Naidu said.

“We introduced Boneo Canine, the first all-in-one product that promotes the health of the entire skeletal system (from bone remodeling and bone turnover to joint comfort and healthy function),” Naidu said. “His smiling face is on every bottle, and his story is the inspiration for our entire company.”—AM