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Retailers and manufacturers have reported increasing demand for natural pet supplements as more pet owners turn to alternative solutions to maintain their pets’ health.

Sue Green, co-owner of The Whole Cat and Dogs, Too, a pet store in Denver, said that pet owners are seeking prescription-free and steroid-free approaches to keeping their pets healthy and solving problems.

“More pet parents want natural solutions for existing health concerns or for preventative maintenance,” Green said. “Joint health in older pets is a big driver of supplement sales for us—but so is anxiety. A lot of people are stressed, and our animals pick up on that. We’re seeing more anxious pets than ever before.”

Diane Dewberry, owner of The Healthy Animal in Pembroke, Mass., said that supplements for anxiety remain top sellers at her store, too—something she attributes to the lingering impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A lot of people have gotten dogs during COVID-19, but were unable to socialize them,” Dewberry said. “Now, people have these pets who are not used to being around people or other dogs, and it’s very stressful. We call them the ‘pandemic dogs,’ and we see customers coming into the store with questions about them every single day. I’ve honestly never been busier as a result.”

Scott Garmon, president of Garmon Corp., the Temecula, Calif.-based maker of NaturVet products, said that during the winter months, retailers can likely expect continued interest in joint health.

“Consumers start to notice that their pets are a bit stiff from the colder weather, and they start their search for reputable joint health products,” he added.

In addition to joint health and anxiety treatments, pet owners are also looking for probiotics and digestive support, according to Tom Mariner, co-owner of Daminger’s Natural Pet Foods, a pet store in Sewell, N.J.

“More people are beginning to understand the importance of gut health—and see a difference in their pet with these types of supplements,” Mariner said. “We are selling a lot in that category.”

Mariner said the rise of cannabidiol (CBD) products has also helped put attention on the supplement category. Pet owners who might not have shopped for supplements in the past are coming in to ask about CBD and seeing the wide range of options available in all types of supplements, Mariner added.

Chad J. Tillman, national sales manager for Grizzly Pet Products, a manufacturer in Woodinville, Wash., said that the interest in CBD products is undeniable—but it’s also an area where retailers need to pay close attention.

“It is a huge category with lots of gray area and murky waters,” Tillman said. “Unfortunately, many fly-by-night and pop-up brands have entered the CBD category to make a quick buck and are not providing the pet community with products that progress the category and make it better. It is more important than ever to ensure that you are providing CBD products that carry the NASC [National Animal Supplement Council] seal for your pets.

“Pet parents want CBD supplements from a brand they know and trust but that also have the support and scientific merit to make the health claims that they do,” he added. “The CBD category is no longer the Wild West that it was in the past, but there is still vast room for improvement and for weeding out products from brands that do not have the pet community’s best interest in mind.”

Consumer Education

Encourage Conversations

Pet owners are making the connection between natural supplements and pet health, said Marjorie Murray, pet brand manager for W.F. Young/The Missing Link, a manufacturer in East Longmeadow, Mass., adding that many are taking the time to research these products.

“They are beginning to understand that pet food alone may not be enough for their pet, especially if they have particular health concerns like hip and joint health or digestive issues,” Murray continued. “The importance of maintaining health and heartiness through supplementation is resonating with pet parents more than ever as we all adapt to ‘new normals’ of taking care of each other and being cognizant of the importance of vitamins, minerals and balanced nutrition.”

With more pet owners interested in how supplements can help their pet, the time is ripe for independent retailers to step in and provide guidance toward choosing the best products. This means having a good understanding of what’s available.

“It’s imperative that all store employees know what supplements the store carries and simple features and benefits of each product,” said Scott Garmon, president of Garmon Corp., the Temecula, Calif.-based maker of NaturVet products. “Rely on educational materials provided by brands for easy-to-understand training materials. The majority of new consumer purchases are driven by employee recommendations. We encourage store employees to start a conversation with the customer to dive in to what additional supplies the pet needs while making thoughtful health recommendations.”

Tom Mariner, co-owner of Daminger’s Natural Pet Foods, a pet store in Sewell, N.J., said that providing solid consumer education and guidance can be essential in differentiating independent retailers from their competitors—something that can help keep supplement sales in-store, as opposed to online.

“The online competition for supplements can be tough because it’s becoming a product that’s easy to buy online—so we have to be able to offer the best education as a way to differentiate ourselves,” he said. “Customers come to us because we don’t just sell them the supplements they’re looking for, but we also answer all of their questions. We build a rapport and that keeps people coming back.”

Diane Dewberry, owner of The Healthy Animal, a pet store in Pembroke, Mass., agreed.

“People come here because they need our help—if they didn’t, they’d probably go online,” she said. “We continue to offer that help by being able

to answer questions and really getting to know each of our customers and their pets.”

Assortment Optimization

Curating a Supplement Section

Knowing your customers is important in curating a thoughtful assortment of supplements, said Diane Dewberry, owner of The Healthy Animal, a pet store in Pembroke, Mass.

“Building relationships with our customers and knowing their needs is what helps us select the best products,” she said. “The best product assortment should be a reflection of what customers come in here asking us about. Right now, that’s anxiety and joint health.”

Of course, there are certain “must-have” categories that retailers can’t ignore, said Scott Garmon, president of Garmon Corp., the Temecula, Calif.-based maker of NaturVet products. This includes joint health, digestive enzymes and probiotics, fish oils, calming aids and vitamins, he noted.

“From there, the store can expand categories based on community needs,” Garmon said. “Always choose products that have the National Animal Supplement Council [NASC] seal of approval as the NASC ensures label claims are accurate and that product was manufactured in a reputable and safe facility.”

Chad J. Tillman, national sales manager for Grizzly Pet Products, a manufacturer in Woodinville, Wash., agreed.

“The best way to provide your customers with an optimal assortment of supplements from trusted brands is by stocking market-leading brands that also carry the NASC seal. Market-leading brands help drive customers through your store doors and provide you the support you need to sell their products. Being NASC compliant means that those products carry a very high standard of quality, safety and efficacy along with [U.S. Food & Drug Administration] FDA compliant health and label claims.”

Rob Johnson, vice president of sales, North America, at Hofseth BioCare in Chicago, which manufactures Brilliant Salmon Oil, said that retailers should do their research on all of the brands and their manufacturing processes when curating an optimal selection of products. Knowing where ingredients are sourced from will help determine if a product is something they want to carry.

“Being transparent in today’s society is more important than pricing,” Johnson said. “But we are pleased that Brilliant Salmon Oil not only offers unmatched quality and performance, but is also at a price point that pet parents can afford.”

New Products

Supportive Selection

There are several new products in the natural supplement category.

Grizzly Pet Products, a manufacturer in Woodinville, Wash., has introduced Grizzly Algal Plus, an animal-free product made from marine microalgae, the original source of omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, said Chad J. Tillman, national sales manager.

“All of the omega 3s found in fish originate from the consumption of marine microalgae throughout the food chain,” Tillman said. “By using algal oil, we are able to provide the entire pet community with a sustainable and renewable omega supplement that skips over the entire food chain. Grizzly Algal Plus does not contain any fish oil, so there is no longer a fish smell, nor will your pets have fishy breath after consumption. Grizzly Algal Plus is bringing the future of omega supplementation to the present and providing those in the pet community with the ability to make responsible and sustainable choices at an affordable price.”

NaturVet recently released two new product categories. The first is a complete line of Senior Advanced Soft Chews, which is available in six formulas, including: Joint Health, Calming Aid, 5-in-1 Support, Incontinence Support, Intestinal Support, and Gum and Breath.

“This product line features non-GMO ingredients and targeted solutions for senior-specific pet health needs,” said Scott Garmon, president of Garmon Corp., the Temecula, Calif.-based maker of NaturVet products.

The second is an Advanced Hemp Joint Health with Collagen Soft Chew that helps restore cartilage, ligaments and joint lubrication, and helps decrease any discomfort associated with daily exercise, Garmon added.

The Missing Link Collagen Care line of soft chews is the newest supplement offered by W.F. Young.

“Collagen is the key protein in dogs’ bodies, making up 70 percent of their skin and coat, and 30 percent of their bones and joints,” said Marjorie Murray, pet brand manager for the East Longmeadow, Mass.-based company. “As dogs age, just like humans, their bodies lose the ability to create collagen. Supplementation can help.

“The Missing Link not only developed these super-concentrated, bite-sized soft chews with collagen to help rebuild cartilage and support connective tissue, skin and bones, but introduced other cutting-edge ingredients in three formulas to target a dog’s biggest health concerns,” she added. “Collagen Care for Skin & Coat includes omegas from fresh ground flaxseed, coconut oil and fish oil. Collagen Care for Hips & Joints includes chondroitin, glucosamine and turmeric. Collagen Care for Calm & Focus was developed to help keep dogs calm and relaxed, and features chamomile, broad-spectrum hemp and L-theanine.”