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September 7, 2016

There is a reason people prefer the real thing to items like imitation crab meat, silk flowers and cubic zirconia: You simply can’t improve upon nature. If birds could talk, they’d tell you the same thing if you filled their dish with artificially flavored edibles loaded with fillers. It’s little wonder, then, that natural products are so popular today across several bird supply categories, including feed, toys and accessories, industrial professionals say.

Simple, Sustainable and Sellable
“The natural category is growing rapidly in the pet bird market due to an increase in consumer awareness of health benefits provided by natural foods,” said Stephanie Carbaugh, marketing and design assistant for F.M. Brown’s Sons, Inc. “Pet birds are recognized as important members of the family and, because of that, owners want to provide healthy food for their pets to keep them active and healthy. If stores provide natural food and treats, it encourages owners to shop there more often for those products.”

Caterina Novotny, Prevue Pet Products’ director of sales and marketing, agrees, noting that it’s usually easier to sell natural products that can tell a “natural” story by virtue of their unadulterated authenticity.

“Consumers have come to demand more natural foods and products for themselves, and this carries over to their pets,” Novotny said. “Thankfully, there is not an education hurdle to overcome; for those consumers who seek out natural items, they will naturally gravitate toward products that satisfy the health and nutritional needs of their winged companions.”

Better Choices to Put in the Bowl
The better-for-birdy movement is certainly in full flight in the feed and diet category, as evidenced by robust sales for products like Higgins Premium Pet Foods’ Sunburst Gourmet line, enriched with DHA, Omega fatty acids and digestive probiotics; Harrison’s Bird Foods’ diverse series of organic bird diets; ZuPreem’s FruitBlend with Natural Fruit Flavors; Lafeber’s Premium Daily Diet, containing natural ingredients such as ground non-GMO corn and soybean meal and flavored with natural sweeteners such as molasses; and Goldenfeast’s Premium Exotic Bird Food, which blends more than 50 natural ingredients in many of its formulations.

Tim Norsen, national sales manager for Vitakraft Sunseed, Inc., says natural diets typically have a premium price point, but more consumers are willing to pay for the nutritionally advantageous benefits.

“The price gap is smaller than it used to be, which has led to more consumers moving from traditional to natural diets,” Norsen said. “They are also more readily available and no longer are niche items that were hard for the consumer to find. As such, the retailer should give these products prime space on the shelf to aid in visibility and improve sales.”

Vitakraft has tapped into the natural demand by continuing to expand its SunSations line—which now includes a Macaw formula with big chunks of fruit—and updating several products and line additions in 2016, such as the recent rollout of Sunseed Small Hookbill Safflower Formula, a mixed seed and pelleted diet that’s sunflower-free and nutritionally fortified; Oven Baked Crunchy Bites, available in real apple, real veggie, real carrot and real cran-orange; and Quiko Swingin’ Crunchy Donut with Egg, a tasty treat loaded with grains, seeds and eggs.

Indeed, bird treats don’t have to be guilty pleasures any longer, thanks to options like F.M. Brown’s new Tropical Carnival Natural line, which includes Mixed Coated Peanuts, Oat Spray Foraging Treats, Baked Crisp Treats, Orange Slices Treats, and Sweet Potato Yummies Treats. The company also recently introduced ZOO Vital Biscuits, which come in an assortment of ergonomic shapes, textures and densities to provide exercise while eating.

Non-edible Naturals
Owners are increasingly gravitating to cage trinkets and accessories free of plastics, artificial dyes and chemical coatings, choosing instead products with components sourced from nature.

Prevue Pet Products’ Naturals line of toys, for example, boasts sustainable materials in their natural state and original shapes, without dyes—from coconut shells, mangrove wood and banana stem rope to cotton rope, hevea wood and sisal fiber. The latter two materials are prevalent in the Naturals Rope Ladder, for instance.

Avian Naturals prides itself on safe and simple toys, including its Petite Pagoda, which features bamboo shreddings and seagrass rope, and its Shreddin Smore, layered with light and dark seagrass mats and soft pine foot pins. Planet Pleasures also makes a line of healthy toys, including its Nature Cluster, composed of cuttlebone, coconut shell husks and oyster shells; a Pineapple Foraging Toy, consisting of palm and sisal; and the Bird-E-Lier, constructed of corn cobs, talisay seeds and various soft woods that are artfully hand-strung together with sisal and knotted to a coconut shell.

Getting the Register to Ring, Naturally
As customers increasingly want the genuine article, manufacturers are more than eager to cater to their consumer inclinations for a purer product. The trick is how to ensure healthier sales of these wares.

“Having a section of your store dedicated to natural products that are fun and nutritious will draw attention to the ingredients in the food and what makes them natural,” said Carbaugh, who also suggests using signage and point-of-purchase displays to educate customers about ingredients.

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