The uptick in popularity of keeping reptiles and amphibians—particularly with city dwellers and those who live in condos and apartments—means demand for herp foods is on the rise as well. And because these pets are often considered family, pet owners prefer herptile foods that are well balanced and vitamin enriched.
"People are looking to ensure that their animals are fed a well-balanced diet," said Brandon Armstrong, operations manager at Armstrong’s Cricket Farm in West Monroe, La. "Armstrong’s Cricket Farm has been using vitamin-fortified food for decades, [and] a lot of our competitors have, in recent years, begun using vitamin-enriched foods."
As seen in other pet categories, natural products are a dominating focus for herp enthusiasts.
"The words ‘natural’ and ‘transparency’ have been coming around lately, both from retailers and from herp owners," said Bree Modica, nutrition and regulatory specialist, R&D, food and drug division, at Zoo Med Laboratories in San Luis Obispo, Calif. "Just as cat and dog owners are learning more about how their pet’s diet is made and where the ingredients are coming from, herp owners are starting to want this information for their pets, as well."
While consumer demand for quality is becoming a given these days in the herp nutrition category, products that allow pet owners to avoid chopping and dicing fresh foods or handling live critters are often a hit.
"Convenience is probably one of the biggest selling points for the prepackaged [items]," said Matt Benedict, sales associate for Custom Creatures Pet Shop in Phoenix. "It is so much easier to do that than to actually make a salad for some of your animals."
That said, live foods and leafy greens remain the most popular items for herp owners—particularly those who are committed to species-specific, naturalistic feeding.
"Customers like to stick with the traditional way of feeding live foods, whether it’s the fresh produce or live insects," Benedict added.
To meet demand for fresh herp fare, companies like Armstrong’s Cricket Farm strive to provide a full assortment of items to meet every animal’s dietary needs throughout the year.
"Armstrong’s Cricket Farm sells crickets in seven different sizes, from adults to pinheads," Armstrong said. "We also sell superworms, giant mealworms, mealworms, waxworms, Canadian nightcrawlers, Carolina jumbos, red wigglers, flightless fruit flies and hornworms."
Trey Campbell, manager of Animal Ark in Kingwood, Texas, said customers are willing to try new offerings and aren’t afraid to spend money on their herp’s health.
"Live foods tend to be our big mover here," he said.
"Without proper diets, you run into a world of problems, from vitamin deficiencies to calcium deficiencies," Campbell added. "People are trying new things. Herp sales over the last few years have just gone through the roof, and the food companies are trying to keep up."
At Animal Ark, customers spend anywhere from $10 a week to $200 a week on herp foods, he added.
Jayzun Boget, assistant manager of the reptile and small animal department at Preuss Pets in Lansing, Mich., said the sweet spot for his customers is around $8 to $15 for herp diets.
"People feel very comfortable spending that on their reptile’s food," he said. "They’re going to spend that much on lunch at a restaurant."