Toys and treats for pet birds might once have been viewed as supplemental to birds’ health—a fun or tasty reward. These days, however, manufacturers in these categories are placing a greater emphasis on the impact these products have on bird nutrition and overall well-being.
Tim Norsen, director of sales for pet specialty for Vitakraft Sun Seed in Bowling Green, Ohio, said he’s seeing more and more treats that focus on extending and enriching the lives of birds while adding diversity to their diets.
"In general, treats have become healthier, with reduced sugar and fewer artificial colors," he said. "These include meal additions and toppers as well as more humanized mixes."
Vitakraft’s Crazy Good Cookin’ blends are a prime example of this trend. They allow bird owners to cook up a treat for their pets, adding variety and a supplemental boost to their diet.
Dean Reyes, director of marketing and sales at Miami -based The Higgins Group Corp., maker of Higgins Premium Pet Foods, noted that trends that have influenced the company’s companion bird treats lineup include natural and limited ingredients, non-GMOs and the sustainability movement.
Higgins Premium Pet Foods’ Sunburst Freeze Dried Fruits offer pet birds a crunchy treat that has no added sugars, has limited ingredients and is GMO free, and the product is available in blends of strawberry/banana and pineapple/mango.
Let Them Play
Along with nutritious treats, toys also can be key to a bird’s well-being. They come in many different types: some are strictly for physical activity, ladders, swings, chains; some provide an outlet for destructive behaviors, wood, rope, calcium base; and some provide a method for treating.
Jason Savitt, president and CEO of Chicago-based Prevue Pet Products, said the company’s natural toy line has expanded significantly to meet the needs of bird owners and provide more choices for all sizes of birds.
"From a large selection of cuttlefish chews to stimulating toys made of coconuts, all-natural hardwoods, natural fiber ropes, fabrics, papers and sea shells, Prevue consciously designs all of our activity toys to stimulate and encourage birds to safely nibble on, bite, grip, nest, play with and tear apart their toys—all in good fun," he said.
Bird Fever, a bird and supply store in Indianapolis, offers a vast selection of foraging toys of different textures for the tiniest birds all the way to the largest feathered friends, reported Mark Roth, general manager.
"We work with our customers to find the right toy for the right bird," he said. "The biggest thing I struggle with is when a customer says they won’t buy any more toys because they get destroyed, but these toys are meant to be destroyed—chewing is a natural behavior."
Working with Customers
Roth often explains that toys should last a few weeks and then be replaced, and talks to customers about why toys are good for birds. When he hears someone say their bird doesn’t play with toys, he likes to ask why, and then talks about the benefits they are missing out on.
"[Bird] toys haven’t been around all that long, so if you get a customer with a bird who is 30 years old or so, they may have never had them or find their bird doesn’t like a toy at first glance so don’t buy another," Roth said. "It’s really that they don’t know what to do with it, and I explain you need to start with a simple toy and move them up to where they should be."
Educating customers on bird treats and chews is particularly helpful for customers who may not understand why these items are beneficial for their pets, he added.
"We help customers learn about the different treat offerings and encourage them to try [them]," Roth said.
Savitt recommends that pet specialty retailers offer a large variety of activity toys for all sizes of birds, as well as create in-store displays that showcase the products and how birds interact with them.
"It’s important to educate customers on different types of toys and chews and their importance to the health and happiness of the specific species in question," he said. "The ability for retailers to inform and recommend specific products is their key advantage over online stores. It is a retailer’s expertise that will offer pet parents guidance [and] assurance while making them loyal customers."
One Stop County Pet in Brattleboro, Vt., dedicates a 20-foot aisle to bird items, mixing in treats, chews and toys.
"We find that bird owners don’t want to walk all over the store to find what they need, so keeping everything in one area inspires further purchases," said sales associate Michelle Hughes.
Norsen suggested that retailers refresh their assortments of treats, toys and chews on a rotating basis.
"Most consumers treat them as impulse items and react strongly to sales and promotions," he said. "These are generally higher-margin items, which allows for promotion even when manufacturer discounts or sales are not active."
He also recommends retailers hold special sales on weekends throughout the bird department to drive interest and loyalty.
When it comes to treats, Reyes said some simple changes can spark customer interest in them.
"First, merchandise your bird treats above your bird foods. This encourages customers coming in for a food purchase to impulsively take a treat as well for their pet," he said. "Second, offer a variety of different treats and display them by brand for a better visual presentation. Lastly, promote your bird treats by offering them for a limited time as part of a promotional tie-in with a bird food purchase. This can lead to repeat purchases and is generally low cost and low risk."