When humans try a new food, chances are it’s going to taste like chicken. When reptiles try a new food, chances are it’s going to taste like bug.
Except when it tastes like South American cockroach, which many herps, apparently, prefer to your garden variety cricket or mealworm.
The latest critter craze among reptile-geared pet stores is the Dubia roach, which offers a better bang for the owner’s buck than crickets, says Richard Allen, owner of Reptile Rapture, a Madison, Wis.-based retailer. In addition to offering more protein and bulk than virtually any other insect feeder — one medium-sized roach is equivalent to six live crickets — these bugs don’t make noise, climb smooth surfaces, fly or create a lingering odor.
“They also don’t die off as easy as crickets, and they won’t breed in your house like the common cockroach,” Allen said. “For chameleons, monitors, bearded dragons and other reptiles, this is like a steak dinner compared to a little shrimp appetizer-sized cricket.”
Going Down Easy
Another trending reptile food category are soft pellets, which are garnering more attention today, as evidenced by the popularity of brands like Exo Terra’s soft pellets for iguanas, bearded dragons, Greek and Russian tortoises, aquatic turtles and Southeast Asian rainforest tortoises.
Steve Sotelo, Exo Terra division manager, Rolf C. Hagen (USA) Corp., in Mansfield, Mass., says soft pellets are highly palatable and digestible, with the correct amount of moisture to attract reptiles.
“The moisture level of the pellets is similar to their natural food sources, and the textures won’t scare the reptile from trying the diets,” Sotelo said. “We’ve also avoided excess moisture so the diets are more stable and there are less indigestible fillers.”
Allen says easy-to-eat foods like soft pellets are increasingly popular at pet stores like his.
“You used to have to get the food wet with water to soften it up, but these new foods, which you can squish with your fingers, make it simpler,” Allen said.
Herp Happy Meals
Exo Terra has also introduced a new way of dispensing reptile food, in the form of Cup Diets. Offered in handy 5 or 12 ounce varieties for adult or juvenile iguanas, forest tortoises, European tortoises and bearded dragons, each prefilled cup is meant to provide a convenient single serving portion and sustain the reptile for up to 48 hours.
“Highly efficient and digestible diets are the trend of the future,” Sotelo said. “This ultimately leads to less waste from pets along with the correct formulation to ensure a healthy and long-lived reptile.”
“Enthusiast level food” is another growing trend in the industry, said Jeff Leardini, associate merchandise manager with San Diego-based Petco Animal Supplies, Inc., which recently launched a partnership with Repashy Superfoods to carry its Crested Gecko Diet 3.0 product, ideal for all fruit-eating geckos.
“Even beginner customers are looking for the products that have been industry tested by breeders and other reptile enthusiasts,” Leardini said. “Customers also want a product that is natural. The trend in dog and cat food went to natural, more healthy food options. Among reptiles, we’re seeing that pets that enjoy food that is more natural and full of thhealthiest ingredients are more active and colorful and live longer.”
Zoo Med’s new line of Crested Gecko Foods for fruit- and insect-eating geckos, available in 2 and 10 ounce sizes and in adult and juvenile varieties, offers a powdered formula containing the same nutritional content the animal would find in nature that may be fed dry or mixed with water.
They also offer a new Pacman Frog Food that’s specially formulated to meet the dietary needs of South American horned frogs and other large frog species such as Pacman frogs, Argentine horned frogs, ornate horned frogs, fantasy frogs and pixie frogs. This convenient product, available in 2 or 10 ounce containers, can be easily mixed with water and formed into dough to be fed to juvenile and adult frogs as an insect and rodent replacement food.
Can’t Fail Retail Tips
Whether you’re introducing a new food product or continuing to stock a tried-and-true edible item, among the keys to sales success are to offer free samples of every variety possible, use those products in your store with your reptile-for-sale stock and demonstrate to customers how to prepare and serve each brand, Allen suggested.
“Animals sometimes won’t eat a lot of new products you introduce to them, so it’s smart to test it out in the store before making a major stocking commitment,” Allen said.
Ashley Rademacher, animal care and education coordinator for Zoo Med Labs, Inc., in San Luis Obispo, Calif., agrees that, “retailers should take a little extra time to familiarize themselves with new foods so that they can help customers understand how to use them.”
She advises hosting and promoting scheduled food preparation demonstrations on site and directing customers to helpful tutorials online, including instructional videos such as the series offered on the company’s YouTube channel.
Additionally, George L. Wagner, owner of Pirate’s Cover Pet Shoppe in Portage, Ind., says it’s important to display packaged and live reptile foods in close proximity to your herps and their habitat products.
“Keep them at eye level to catch the customers’ attention, and try to display a variety of different kinds of foods,” Wagner said