In the same way that pet owners are increasingly proactive about their own health, they no longer want to wait until something is seriously wrong with their pet to seek help. By the same token, many pet owners are taking faster action at the first signs of a problem—and looking to avoid medications with side effects whenever possible. All of this has made the supplement category soar.
The statistics back this up. According to market research firm Packaged Facts, pet supplement usage rates rose from 29 percent in spring 2019 to 38 percent in winter 2020 for dogs. For cats, usage rose from 17 percent in the spring to 19 percent in winter 2020. The top condition for which supplements are purchased remains joint/mobility conditions, followed closely by general health, skin/coat and immune health, according to the Packaged Facts November/December 2020 Survey of Pet Owners.
Lara Bernhardt, director of consumer marketing for H&C Animal Health in Parker, Colo., said there’s no question that shoppers are looking for similar types of preventive health support for their pets that they seek for themselves, and the number of available pet options is growing.
“Supplements are not new, but we are seeing the evolution into innovative delivery modes, such as toppers, broths, water-soluble supplements and more,” Bernhardt said. “There is a lot of interest in calming supplements like our Dailydose Dental + Calming Chew, featuring GABA [gamma-aminobutyric acid] and melatonin. We are also tracking demand for hip and joint supplements with new formulations that are not just glucosamine and chondroitin.”
Bernhardt said that the company’s Angels’ Eyes Natural Tear Stain Soft Chews in Sweet Potato flavor has been performing well in the supplement category. This product is a blend composed of natural antioxidants to help prevent tear stains before they start, working from the inside out.
Carl Borucki, manager of The Natural Pet Center at Ireland Corners in Gardiner, N.Y., said that his goal is to help pet owners realize the value of using supplements for preventive care, rather than waiting until there’s an issue.
“It’s great if we can get big dogs on a hip and joint supplement early,” he said. “Of course, we also sell supplements for cats and are seeing more interest there. People care more than ever about pets and want to do what they can to protect their health.”
Larry Simon, founder and CEO of Somerville, N.J.-based Little Big Shots, the maker of Immune-D, said that immune supportive supplements are popular for pets right now, just as they are for people. He also said that any supplements that support healthy joints, bones or the digestive tract appear to be leading.
Immune-D supplements will soon be joined with a new product called Immune-d Plus.
“Besides giving your beloved dog a healthy immune system, we added the No. 1 concentrated omega from Norway, vitamin C, and other clinically tested ingredients,” Simon said. “This new formulation will give your dog a better coat, and help with skin rashes, allergies, eye health, muscles, bones and, of course, the immune system.”
In general, retailers are seeing a lot of interest in supplements for senior pets. Eric Mack, owner of Purrrfect Bark in Columbus, N.C., said that aging pets are a hot topic at his store.
“People are home a bit more now and noticing some of their older pets having issues,” he said. “Joint health is still a really big part of that, but senior-focused supplements in general are really popular.”
Claudia Loomis, executive vice president of Cherrybrook Pet Supplies, a small chain of pet stores in New Jersey, agreed. She said that supplements that can assist senior pets—particularly with cognitive deterioration—are trending.
“Because we specialize in natural and holistic foods, our customers’ pets tend to be healthier with fewer chronic health problems,” she said. “Even so, the one thing that our pets cannot escape is aging.”
Optimizing the Assortment
For pet specialty retailers, curating an optimal assortment of pet supplements is important to ensure that all customers’ needs are met.
“Retailers can optimize their selection of products by touching on all areas of vitamin and mineral deficiencies a dog is confronted with as they become older,” Simon suggested. “Specialized supplements have become as important to dogs as specific supplements are to humans.”
Retailers aiming to put together an optimal assortment might have to do some research and learn all they can about the options available, Loomis said.
“There are brands that offer full lines of supplements—from puppy vitamins to uro support to geriatric supplements,” she said. “But we have found that in order to offer a comprehensive selection, we have to bring in one to two products from one company and a few from another. We also carry many single products that are specific to one chronic condition.”
Mack said it’s important that retailers find one company that fits their standards and that covers a wide variety of types of pets. But after creating a solid lineup there, he would suggest filling in the remaining space with better or more unique brands—or specific items for specific concerns.
Making wise choices does boil down to research, concurred Regina Flight, pet brand manager for NOW Health Group in Bloomingdale, Ill.
“The supplement category is growing, and you should do your research on the products that you bring into your stores,” Flight explained. “You want to carry a line that is trustworthy, and the manufacturer has a good reputation. It’s OK to ask a lot of questions about the brands.”
The research will be time well spent, as a knowledgeable retailer makes for the best customer experience, Bernhardt said.
“Success in supplements comes from being as educated as possible on the ingredients, benefits and clinical studies behind any product,” she said. “There is no more powerful sales tool than being able to recommend a product confidently and accurately to a customer. One additional tip is to be choosy about the products you carry. Resist the urge to have something on the shelf purely because it’s trendy. Make sure the science behind it supports all the claims.”
How a retailer displays and promotes its assortment of supplements will impact the store’s sales in the category.
While pet supplements may already be on shoppers’ radars, eye-catching signage can help close a sale, Mack said.
“Have supplements in a visible spot with a clean presentation,” Mack suggested.
At Cherrybrook Pet Supplies, supplements are merchandised directly across from food aisles, Loomis said.
“It’s a natural discussion to have when discussing nutrition,” she explained.
Simon agreed that displaying supplements near the food section is the best way to promote their benefits. It also helps facilitate conversations and answer important questions.
Simon said that retailers will sell more supplements if they take the time to educate consumers on the benefits of supplement support, including a longer, more vibrant and overall healthier life.
Ann Hudson, vice president of marketing for Whitebridge Pet Brands in St. Louis
What are some of the most common reasons consumers seek supplements for their pets, and how can retailers best support pet owners shopping this category?
Maintaining a healthy body is important for many people, a concept that easily transfers to pets. According to Packaged Facts’ report Pet Supplements in the U.S., 8th Edition, pet supplement sales rose an estimated 21 percent in 2020 to reach nearly $800 million, quadrupling the rate of growth observed in 2019, making it one of the fastest-growing categories in pet. Brick-and-mortar is focused on private label, but online offers an opportunity for smaller brands, since owners rely heavily on reviews to make choices for their own pets.
It is a do-it-yourself category, and pet owners are typically trying to solve for three primary health issues, according to Packaged Facts: 52 percent are shopping for hip and joint, 26 percent skin and coat, and 18 percent for digestive aids.
Products for skin, digestion and mobility are found in the supplement aisle, but the same active ingredients are also in food and treats. Dogswell simplifies the science. By merging the benefits of proven actives with chews, treats, and wet and dry food, it is a holistic feeding solution.
Dogswell Jerky is supplemented with active ingredients to solve all four issues, but we are jumping into the supplement space with the launch of Alaskan salmon oil and all-natural Hip & Joint Chews that contain boswellia, MSM and coconut oil.
Crazy idea, but maybe retailers should merchandise functional food, treats and supplements together and create a Hip & Joint section in the store. A brand like Dogswell offers the same functional benefits in multiple formats. It is the No. 1 need of dog owners and a whole new way to look at the category.