Odor Control and Safety Are Top Concerns for Small-Animal Owners

Pet owners, in general, are much more educated about their furry family members, and increasingly concerned with making sure the products they purchase are safe and a good fit for their critters. Participants in the small animal category report seeing a strong trend toward natural and recycled beddings.

"Consumers recognize that bedding is a big part of their pet’s day, and many of them want to ensure that the product their pet interacts with is safe and additive free," said Lucas Stock, communications manager for Oxbow Animal Health in Murdock, Neb.

At Martin’s PawMart in Elkhart, Ind., manager Cindy Krizmanich said she has seen an increase in recycled paper bedding.

"The trend is coming from the upcoming generation practicing sustainability," she said. "They like the idea about it being used again. "

Phoebe Stanley, associate marketing manager, specialty pet, for Vitakraft Sun Seed Inc. in Bowling Green, Ohio, agreed that "there’s a continually growing preference for environmentally friendly products, like bedding made with recyclable materials, as we all become more conscious of our impact on the planet and its ecosystems."

In addition to small animal pet owners "educating themselves on the potential dangers of certain additives," Stanley said they  also want recognizable ingredients and even convenient packaging.

"Pet parents don’t want packages of bedding, treats, diets, etc., without a zipper because it helps protect freshness and prevent mess," she added.

Customers at Nature’s Pet Salem in Salem, Ore., look for comfort, odor absorption and, of course, a good price, said manager Kari Angle.

Angie Schmitt, senior brand manager for Chilton, Wis.-based Kaytee Products Inc., a part of Central Garden & Pet Co., has seen similar consumer demand.

"We are seeing increases in paper bedding driven by the need for a product that features better attributes in terms of safety, absorbency and odor control," she said. "Odor control continues to be one of the primary barriers to owning a pet for consumers.

"By reducing this barrier to owning a small animal, we can bring more consumers in to the category."

The bottom line, according to Stanley, is that "today’s busy pet parents want a bedding that can control odors well, has good absorption to keep pets clean, and lasts longer between changings so they can spend less time cleaning out an unpleasant cage and more time bonding with their companion."

New Beddings Capture Trends

Small animal owners are increasingly aware of their pets’ comfort and safety, so demand for natural bedding that protects pets and the environment is high. In response, manufacturers have released bedding options focused on absorbing odors using natural materials.

Oxbow Animal Health in Murdock, Neb., constructed its Pure Comfort line of natural paper bedding products of 100 percent pure, never-printed paper.

"By using a never-printed paper source, we are able to ensure the absence of any glues, inks or other materials commonly used in the printing process," said Lucas Stock, communications manager. "Pure Comfort is routinely purity tested for any foreign materials to ensure the health and safety of pets."

In addition to the company’s commitment to natural materials and consistent functionality, Stock said the odor- and moisture-absorbent bedding is 99.9 percent dust free.

Also addressing consumer desire for odor-absorbing bedding made from natural materials, Vitakraft Sun Seed Inc. in Bowling Green, Ohio, released Sun Seed Fresh World Bedding made from 100 percent recycled paper. Designed as a multipet formula, the USA-made soft bedding contains no harsh chemicals or baking soda, is virtually dust free and can control odors for up to 14 days, said Phoebe Stanley, associate marketing manager, specialty pet.

With a concentration on attracting the next generation of small animal owners, Chilton, Wis.-based Kaytee Products Inc., a part of Central Garden & Pet Co., is focusing on the color trend.

"Color variety is a fun and interactive way to appeal to kids and their desire to customize," said Angie Schmitt, senior brand manager, adding that the company added apple orchard, camo and frozen fun to its Kaytee Clean & Cozy bedding line.

"These items feature our proprietary coloring method, allowing us to deliver a product that is not only fun and unique to the market but, more important, safe for pets and their human companions," she said.

The soft, absorbent bedding offers an odor-control guarantee and is 99 percent dust free, according to the company.

Show It Off

To merchandise small animal bedding effectively, category experts recommend using the products in-store in live-pet habitats as well as on endcaps and through in-store demonstrations.

"Set up the ideal habitat for pets and utilize the product you want to sell," said Ashley Rademacher, animal care and education coordinator for Zoo Med Laboratories in San Luis Obispo, Calif. "This allows customers to see the product in use and understand how it is to be used and what it can look like in their home.

"It also allows employees to use the product, making them better prepared to answer questions and recommend the product for petkeepers to use at home," she said.

For businesses that do not have live animals in-store, or as another selling opportunity, Lucas Stock, communications manager for Oxbow Animal Health in Murdock, Neb., encourages retailers to invite customers to feel the differences between products by displaying boxes containing opened bedding in the aisle or at the counter.

At Martin’s PawMart in Elkhart, Ind., small animal bedding is displayed together, with the store’s recommended bedding at eye level.

"It has been very effective to have all the bedding together rather than by brand because the customer can see it all at once and not just see one brand and stop there," said Cindy Krizmanich, manager. "Sometimes, if we have a sale on the bedding, it might be on an endcap."

Lora Sturm, operations manager for PetSaver Healthy Pet Superstore in Rochester, N.Y., said the store’s small animal bedding is displayed on a pallet and in the aisle.

"They are stacked flat with the nice label facing out," she said. "[We] can fit more on the shelf this way, and they stack much better on a pallet. They are slippery bags, so we do not want them to fall!"

Old-Fashioned Customer Service

Bedding serves an essential function with small animals, and not all bedding is created equal, so retailers and manufacturers agree that consumer education is paramount.

"Different styles of bedding are better for certain types of animals, so it’s important for pet parents to understand all the available options and whether it’s a good fit for their companion’s habitat as well as their own home," said Phoebe Stanley, associate marketing manager, specialty pet, for Vitakraft Sun Seed Inc. in Bowling Green, Ohio.

Consumers often need help to understand their pets’ needs and how bedding affects those needs, said Angie Schmitt, senior brand manager for Chilton, Wis.-based Kaytee Products Inc., a part of Central Garden & Pet Co.

"As their understanding grows, so does their rate of success, creating a more enjoyable and rewarding experience for both them and their pet," Schmitt said.

Educating employees so they can offer guidance to consumers is a primary focus at PetSaver Healthy Pet Superstore in Rochester, N.Y. Lora Sturm, operations manager, said the store has invited manufacturer representatives to come in and explain the benefits of products and how to recommend the correct bedding.

"Employees trying the product at home is also a major help," Sturm said. "Since they personally use the product themselves, they can then recommend it to a customer."

Cindy Krizmanich, manager of Martin’s PawMart in Elkhart, Ind., said that unsanitary cage conditions and inappropriate bedding can lead to health problems for small pets. Therefore, retailers must equip customers with knowledge to make educated bedding choices.

"The most effective way we have found to educate our customers on the product has been to speak with the customer one on one," Krizmanich said. "Signs are great, but there is no guarantee that the customer will read it; it is best to go back to old-fashioned customer service."

According to Kari Angle, manager of Nature’s Pet Salem in Salem, Ore., many owners rely on word-of-mouth or an internet search for their information.

"The popularity of the new types of bedding has spread widely, and it seems that much of the information customers find online backs up what we tell them," she said. "[However,] don’t assume your customer has an option they already like. They could have missed what’s on your shelves or may not know there’s something better.

"Never assume, and just bring it up in your sale," Angle added. "If they already have something they like, maybe show them a new color option available."

Stores Show Steady Demand

Most independent pet stores reported dedicating about 10 percent of their location to small animal products, and bedding accounts for up to one-third of that area. For example, Lora Sturm, operations manager for PetSaver Healthy Pet Superstore in Rochester, N.Y., said that in their three locations, they carry one brand of aspen, one brand of cedar, one of pine and one option for paper bedding.

According to Kari Angle, manager of Nature’s Pet Salem in Salem, Ore., the trend toward eco-friendly soft bedding reduced the store’s need to carry many options. Despite limited bedding offerings, she said sales are up.

"We take the time to talk to each customer and learn about their needs, and then we can make an add-on sale by providing options with easy-to-understand benefits," Angle said.

Her recommendation for boosting bedding sales?

"Talk to your customers, find out what they are using and educate them."

PetSaver’s sales in this category remain steady, which Sturm attributed to a strong partnership with her manufacturer along with featuring the items in her store flier.

"Our target customer is the female shopper looking for deals," she said. "We have done sales on hay, bedding and the food, and that is a major reason our sales are consistent."

Additionally, Sturm recommended good signage.

"Signs sell," she said. "The average customer does not want to ask questions, so signs are very important to grab the attention of those customers."

The need for bedding remains consistent, Angle said. Her bedding sales are fairly static, and she finds that talking to customers when they purchase a new animal and asking if they have everything the animal needs, such as bedding, provides an ideal opportunity to educate the customer and boost sales of these products.