The popularity of natural foods and ingredients seen in the mammal pet segments is trickling into the herp category, according to industry experts.
"All-natural ingredients are proving important in herp foods today," said Ashley Rademacher, animal care and education director for Zoo Med Laboratories in San Luis Obispo, Calif. "As we strive to provide the best care possible for our animals, pet keepers want to know that their foods are natural and providing the essential nutrients their animals need."
Brandon Armstrong, operations manager at Armstrong’s Cricket Farm in West Monroe, La., agreed.
"The trend of healthy, natural options still continues, but pet owners are also looking to offer variety," he said. "Live crickets, vegetables, worms and supplements—pet owners are incorporating many options in their pets’ diet."
Brian Potter, co-owner of Chicago Reptile House in Orland Park, Ill., reported similar demands from his customers.
"People want more varied live foods [to be] available, and they are," he said, adding that he sees more options coming down the herp food pipeline with advances in innovation.
"I think there will be more different types of live foods, and the quality and survivability of the bugs will keep improving as well as the dry/canned/jarred-type foods, i.e., bearded dragon, monitor, turtle and tortoise foods," he said.
Insiders also report rising sales, thanks, in part, to the hobby’s demographic shift toward younger owners.
"My herp department, as a whole, is doing better," said Tom Herron, owner of Fins Feathers Paws & Claws in Harleysville, Pa. "Younger people are getting into the hobby."
Mike Hresko, owner of House of Tropicals in Glen Burnie, Md., also reported a lift in sales.
"People are still getting into bearded dragons and species that are easier to take care of, that don’t get too big," he said.
"Herp keepers are doing more research on what they need [for proper nutrition], with different vitamin supplements, calcium and stuff like that," he added. "Customers are a little more educated on all of that."
Potter also found that consumers are more knowledgeable about reptile nutrition.
"The live segment is really the hot thing," Potter added.
Younger shoppers tend to do their research and enjoy opportunities to be hands on in the care of their animals, Armstrong said.
"A new generation of consumers who like to do things themselves is emerging, along with well-educated consumers who know or want to know a lot about their pet’s habitats and diets," he said. "So we have seen a small uptick in sales of do-it-yourself food supplies—grow your own crickets or make your own herp food, for example."
Steve Sotelo, Exo Terra division manager for Hagen Group in Mansfield, Mass., reported overall growing cricket sales within the hobby.
"As the industry grows at a steady clip, obviously your cricket sales are going to follow along because there are more people and more animals that are captive-bred," he said.
Looking ahead, Armstrong sees insect trends on the human side benefiting the industry as well.
"The trend towards insects for human consumption is slowly gaining momentum in our culture," he said. "This trend is causing live herp food to be more widely accepted as consumers attempt to raise their own crickets."