How Growing Consumer Awareness Is Changing Up the Pet Supplements Market

Natural pet supplements continue to gain traction as pet owners look to do whatever they can to keep their pets in good health. And as shoppers make more healthful choices in the pet food aisle, turning to supplements for potential health concerns that may arise has been a natural transition.

Jason Ast, owner of Just Dog People in Garner, N.C., said that he speaks to customers daily about supplements—that’s how in demand they are right now. And the category shows no sign of slowing down.

"Most of these parents are looking for alternatives to medicine," Ast said. "We are in an area where there are a lot of relocated families, and, upon moving here, a lot of these pet parents report that their pets are itching and having allergies for the first time. Salmon and pollock oil, in particular, are mainstays for allergy concerns."

Nick Massey, co-founder and CEO of Pasadena, Calif.-based Green Coast Pet, which manufactures hemp-based supplements and other products, said that pet owners care about improving their pets’ quality of life so that they can continue their relationship with their pets for the long haul. They see supplements as a way to help their pets live longer while also enjoying good health.

"This means they want a natural and safe product that actually works," Massey said. "When pet parents decide to shop for a supplement, it’s because they see an area of their pet’s life that they want to improve, and they do not want to use non-natural chemicals to do it. They are also looking for a product they can afford, because this is a product that must be consistently purchased."

In general, customers who shop at Ken Sherbacow’s store, Wholesome Animal Grocery Store (WAGS) in Avon, Conn., are doing so because they already want to commit to "taking a more natural avenue," he said. That includes both in terms of diet and supplements.

"Oftentimes, pet parents feel like supplements are providing just as effective, if not more effective, solutions as something their vet would prescribe," Sherbacow said. "They just want something that works."

While supplement sales are often so focused on dogs, Sherbacow said that cats are just as important.

"Cats are not always fed a very appropriate diet for their needs, and they may actually have a greater need for supplements than dogs," he said. "But sometimes, cats are not as willing to take a supplement, so you must find a format that they like."

Susan Conly, a sales associate at WAGS, agreed, adding that palatability is important for both cats and dogs.

"If you can’t get them to take the supplement, it’s not going to be able to do what you want it to do for your pet," she said. "Nobody likes having to force feed their pet supplements, so finding a format that your pet will readily take—whether it’s a powder or a chew—is important."

Functionality Drives Sales

While there are some pet owners that utilize supplements as a preventive measure to avoid potential problems and promote good health, oftentimes, pets are already experiencing an issue and owners are seeking a specific solution when they turn to an independent retailer for help.

The specific functions that pet owners buy supplements to address are varied, but some stand out more than others. Antonio Duggins, owner of Proformance Pet Supply in Greensboro, N.C., said that skin and coat and joint health are two of the biggest needs seen at his store.

"They’ll tell me the issue their pet is experiencing, and we will recommend what supplement we think will work best," said Duggins, who added that his store features an entire wall of supplements organized by product function because it’s such a popular category.

Michael Stoeckle, president and CEO of Tampa, Fla.-based Ark Naturals, which manufactures supplements, agreed that pet owners are seeking solutions to specific problems.

"If their pet is having a digestive issue, they want a specific product that addresses gastrointestinal issues," he said. "If they have a senior pet with a heart condition, they want to be able to offer their pet a solution specific to heart health."

Pointing customers in the right direction is key. Oftentimes, that comes down to getting to know your customers and their animals, Massey said.

"Retailers should have conversations with their customers about their pets," he said. "The more conversations they have with their customers, the easier it will be for them to recommend products that could help their animals. One fun idea is to create a profile for each customer’s animals. Factors like age, favorite activities and breed, that a retailer would know about the animal if they created a profile program, are critical to understand when recommending supplements."

Assortment Optimization

Curating the Right Supplement Mix

Because customers’ needs are varied, retailers’ supplement assortments should include a wide range of options. This means not only taking into account the functionality of the products with health-specific supplements (joint health, gut health, etc.), but also the formats in which they are available (pill, powder, chew, etc.).

"We recommend retailers look for what their customers are asking for and to offer a variety of categories that will fit the need of every pet," said Chelsea Gennings, co-founder and vice president of Littleton, Colo.-based Pet Releaf, which makes cannabidiol (CBD) supplements for pets. "For instance, most customers feel comfortable trying CBD for the first time in a [chew] form and then, later on, moving towards the higher-potency oil products. Diversifying your product offering to ensure you have different strengths, flavors and administration methods, all while keeping quality at the highest priority, is what I would recommend to retailers."

Even when retailers have variety, it is important that customers trust their choices, said Antonio Duggins, owner of Proformance Pet Supply in Greensboro, N.C. In other words, pet owners should feel like retailers stand behind all of the products they choose to carry.

It is about narrowing it down to products you believe in, Gennings agreed.

"We see that retailers who offer a few [CBD] brands which align with the store owners’ beliefs on quality and processing, and then explaining why they chose those brands is what will make customers trust your choice in product assortment," she added. "When customers see five different brands with similar potencies and different price points, they tend to get confused on which product to purchase."

New Products

CBD Continues to Gain Ground

Cannabidiol (CBD) and hemp-based supplements, in particular, are taking center stage, and there are several new options for retailers to consider.

Littleton, Colo.-based Pet Releaf has introduced Boom Bars, a hemp protein supplement bar for dogs available in Longevity, Energize and Recovery formulas.

The company is also offering a special edition Barking Dog collection of Edibites, an all-natural full-spectrum daily CBD supplement for dogs that comes in a soft chew format. According to the company, the collection is dedicated to American artist Keith Haring and developed in partnership with Plant Alchemy, whose premium botanical products are crafted to celebrate the world’s diversity of plants for health and wellness. Pet Releaf and Plant Alchemy will use the Barking Dog collection to raise awareness for animal rescue and to sponsor events that assist animal rescue shelters around the country.

Green Coast Pet has launched its broad-spectrum hemp oil lineup, a group of affordably priced oils.

"When we made this line, we focused heavily on affordability and made sure not to overprice the oils simply because they were for pets, but instead kept them in line with the human oil pricing," said Mike Bateman, co-founder and COO of the Pasadena, Calif.-based company. "These products are priced to give retailers a tremendous 60 percent profit margin."