Bird owners today want more variety and food selection for their pet birds, and they are more open to listening to pet specialty retailers’ advice, especially those that take the time to explain the importance of a proper diet for their feathered friends.
"The wellness trend for pets is still growing, especially in bird food," said Gary Rubin, global marketing director at Top’s Parrot Food, a manufacturer in Beaverton, Ore. "Parrot owners are increasingly looking for healthy, natural food for their companions and moving away from processed foods that contain sugars, artificial ingredients and fillers."
However, the nutritional needs that consumers are looking for aren’t always focused 100 percent on the food, said Emily Freeman, senior associate brand manager of Chilton, Wis.-based Kaytee, a brand made by Central Garden & Pet.
"Feeding time is not just about food, but also about getting your bird moving and thinking," she said. "Providing mental and physical stimulation is necessary for optimal health. Pet bird owners can place one serving of food in two or three bowls around the cage. With this method, the bird needs to work a bit harder and move a bit more during feeding time."
While Kaytee’s diets are nutritionally complete, Freeman noted that added variety is still recommended as fresh fruits and vegetables are important for nutritional diversity and are an easy way to provide foraging opportunities.
Food options that deliver both nutrition and variety are something that many bird owners look for, according to industry insiders. Shawnee, Kan.-based ZuPreem, a brand made by Premium Nutritional Products, aims to do just that with its product lines, said Gail Shepard, director of marketing.
"These different product lines offer different textures, shapes, colors, flavors and aromas," she said. "Research indicates that the eye is the main sensory organ in birds because birds have acute ultra-violet color perception. The colors in the pellets and the ZuPreem mixes entice birds to readily eat the food. Brown pellets seldom appeal to many birds, especially those trying to convert to a healthier pelleted diet."
Because birds in the wild and pet birds feed differently, ZuPreem’s nutritional philosophy is that most pet birds have similar nutritional needs.
"Birds in the wild have a much greater range of food available, and their nutritional composition can vary from season to season," she said. "Pet birds are generally given consistent nutrition each day, so species-specific dietary needs are not warranted."
Still, ZuPreem’s natural line does have a low-iron guarantee of less than 100 parts per million (PPM) for bird species that are predisposed to iron-storage disease, including birds such as toucans, aracaris and mynahs, Shepard said.
Top’s Parrot Food manufactures U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Certified Organic and all-natural bird food, so its product line of pellets, seed mixes and treats fits perfectly for bird owners who are seeking healthful options, Rubin said.
"We have seen a huge uptick in the number of customers coming to us looking for a way to improve their nutritional offerings," he said.
Bring Bird Owners Into the Store
There are several ways pet specialty retailers can promote the bird foods on their shelves.
Showing customers the value of the foods they are buying from an independent store is a strategy that Mel Toellner, owner of Songbird Station, a bird shop in Columbia, Mo., uses. The store’s staff encourages customers to compare the size and weight of kernels in their own hand to what’s being sold in the big-box retailers.
More traditional methods have also proved successful for Songbird Station.
"We have found that our Songbird Station newsletter and in-store seminars are our best promotional efforts to draw people in to see and learn about our seed and other bird food products," Toellner said.
In-store events are a great way to attract interest in bird foods.
Rick Horvitz, owner of Golden Cockatoo, a bird shop in Deerfield Beach, Fla., recently coordinated a meet-and-greet event at the store with one of Top’s Parrot Food’s social media influencers, Marlene Mc’Cohen, to launch a new product the company is making with her.
"The crowd was fantastic," he said. "Marlene stood in line for five hours greeting fans, and the store did three times their normal sales that day."
Offering good, better and best options to consumers can also be a strategic way to market bird foods, according to Gary Rubin, global marketing director of Top’s Parrot Food, a manufacturer in Beaverton, Ore.
Retailers should have a dedicated bird food section that offers selection and a variety of products to entice bird owners to shop in-store, said Gail Shepard, director of marketing for ZuPreem, a brand made by Premium Nutritional Products in Shawnee, Kan.
"Traditional pet specialty retailers are losing out because so many stock products can also be found at mass retailers like Walmart, Target or grocery," she said. "And as bird aisles shrink, many bird owners are choosing to purchase online. But with online shopping, the bird owner is missing the heart of the shopping experience for their bird. They are not getting their questions answered, help with a referral to a veterinarian, breeder [or] groomer, [and] tips and education that a traditional retailer can provide."
Information Goes a Long Way
With pet bird owners more likely to heed nutritional advice from pet specialty retailers, it’s crucial that store staff is equipped with knowledge of pet birds’ nutritional needs so customers are able to select the right diet for their pets.
Vanessa Mayorda, an assistant manager at Simbad’s Birds & Pets, a pet store in Miami, said customers often ask questions about how to choose the best bird food for their feathered pet.
"Many of those who come in still don’t know how to best feed their bird and sometimes just buy what’s on sale or what’s easiest to grab," she said.
The store’s staff has been well trained to talk about the benefits of both seed and pellets in crafting a proper diet.
"This is a friendly store, and we will start talking to customers about their food choices and explain to them why something would be best for the bird they own," Mayorda added.
Mark Roth, general manager of Bird Fever, a pet supply store in Indianapolis, noted that it can be difficult to teach an old customer new tricks, as some "old-school" customers who have had birds forever normally won’t listen to new information.
"The newer people, though, you can point in the right direction, and you can try to subtly bring up some advice to the older owners," he said. "Most younger bird owners are open to learning. It’s an evolving field, and we’re trying to educate them as best we can."
At Bird Fever, the store staff preaches variety, Roth added, as new research has proven that if you feed a bird all pellets or all seeds, it’s not as beneficial.
"The problem is people give up too quickly when trying something new," Roth said. "They may feed the bird something one day and if they don’t eat it, never try again. People need some patience."