Don’t let their dimensions fool you. Weighing in at a lean four pounds (or under), the lanky-framed ferret may be relatively light in the hand, but they can be a real heavyweight at the cash register. That’s because it’s hard to ignore the ferret’s cuteness quotient, thanks to an irresistibly twee appearance and plush albino or sable fur that’s just begging to be touched.
Indeed, if you thought the ferret craze that began a few years back was just a fad, think again. This is a trend with legs—and a long thin tail—as demonstrated by the increasing influx of ferret-focused products that continue to hit the market, notably edibles.
Today, foods continue to be products dedicated specifically to ferrets with high protein content and fat to fuel their high energy needs, said Gail Shepard, director of marketing for ZuPreem in Shawnee, Kansas. ZuPreem makes the popular Premium Ferret Diet, which comes in no-corn and grain-free varieties.
“Ferrets are obligate carnivores and need good quality protein,” Shepard said. “Chicken and poultry are the primary resources. Because manufacturers are focusing on the specific nutritional needs for ferrets, these pets are living longer and seem to be healthier than previously.”
Angie Schmitt, brand manager for Kaytee in Chilton, Wisconsin, agrees that digestive balance continues to be emphasized in ferret nutrition products in 2016, but says it goes way beyond simply meeting recommended protein and fat requirements (typically 40-42 percent protein and 20 percent fat).
“Ferret parents are now looking to super premium diets that not only meet the basic nutritional needs of ferrets but also address their desire to safely incorporate flavor variety that is both grain and gluten free,” Schmitt said. “Ferrets love variety and now they can have it without having to eat the same base diet every day.”
Kaytee’s Revolving Menu diets, for example, are formulated to allow the safe introduction of flavor variety without unwanted digestive upset. Ferrets can rotate between two high protein meat-based formulas—Fortified Ferret Diet, with either real turkey or real chicken—for maximum flavor variety, Schmitt noted.
Paul Juszczak, director of sales and marketing for Wolcott, New York-headquartered Marshall Pet Products, said merchandise that’s healthy, organic and made in the USA are among the top ferret subcategory trends. To cater to these consumer inclinations, Marshall offers Select, a new premium ferret diet with fresh chicken, rich in omega-3s and amino acids.
Other daily formulas consumers clamor for include Mazuri Ferret Diet, an extruded, high energy, nutrient dense, palatable dry diet; and Vitakraft’s Vita Prima Sunscription Ferret Formula, a nutritionally fortified diet loaded with probiotics, DHA, omega-3s, vitamins A, D, E and calcium.
Ferrets Cannot Live on Daily Diets Alone
Owners love to reward their furry friends with tasty nibbles, which is why it pays to carry a healthy assortment of ferret treats. Notable SKUs in this space include Marshall’s Bandit line of ferret treats that are high in protein but low in sugar, available in banana, bacon, chicken, and peanut butter flavors; Kaytee’s Tropical Fruit & Yogurt Dips and its Fiesta Raisins, Rose Hips & Papaya Treat Jar; and N-Bone Ferret Chew Treats and Ferret Soft Treats available in chicken, bacon, or salmon from NPIC.
A wider array of ferret habitats are available today, too, from starter enclosures like Living World’s Ferret Habitat and A&E Cage Company’s Ferret Cage Kit to expansive domiciles for multiple ferrets, such as Prevue Pet Products’ four-level Feisty Ferret Home and Midwest Homes for Pets’ Ferret Nation Double Unit Cage—essentially two connected cages stacked together.
Few pet wares capture the shopper’s imagination like toys and play products, and when it comes to ferrets, there are plenty of these to choose from nowadays. Standout examples include Super Pet’s Hanging Sleeper Hammock, Midwest Homes for Pets’ hanging Cozy Cube, Marshall’s Ferret Octo-Play, Lixit’s Critter Space Pod, and Ware’s Three Story Ferret Condo.
The Right Space in the Right Place
Many pet stores today blend ferret products in with the small animal category, which creates merchandising and selection problems for consumers, some experts caution.
“While this seems logical at the store level, ferret owners are unique and so are the needs of their pets,” Shepard said. “Consolidating into the small animal section makes it harder to find ferret products on the shelf. This category also has a lot of accessories, treats and supplies unique to the category.”
Shepard recommends that, if you opt not to create a separate ferret section, “ensure that signage and POS materials are in place to direct ferret owners and to help them find the food and supplies they need.”
Often the strongest and most reliable method of promotion is the tried-and-true retailer testimonial.
“Telling your customers ‘we feed and recommend’ a certain product goes a long way,” Schmitt said. “Take time prior to implementation to educate store personnel on the features and benefits of the promoted or highlighted items so they can successfully educate your customers.”
Showcasing these items in your live ferret cages and habitat setup kits is a smart tactic, too.
“The simplest and easiest method for merchandising innovative new products is using them in your store with the animals,” Schmitt said. “Consumers see this as a standing endorsement from the store. If they see the store ferrets playing with a new toy or enjoying a new diet, it will spark their interest in obtaining the product.”
Juszczak believes that new ferret wares are best spotlighted by placing them in an end cap or feature section within your store.
“This will catch the potential buyer’s eye and also draw them to the section,” he said. “Brand new products should be strategically situated near the front door with carefully worded signs and short, easy to read messages.”
In general, ferret products should rotate around your store as new merchandise becomes available, Juszczak continued.
“Arranging the display by use rather than by category can increase sales in more than one category,” Juszczak said. “For instance, if the displayed items are ferret habitats, include other cage accessories such as bedding, feeding and litter items.”
The secret to effective merchandising of these products is to continue to be unpredictable, which keeps customers engaged.
“You want consumers to expect new items, new ideas, and specials—especially on everyday items,” Juszczak said. “Today’s customers are educated and know that quality comes from companies that have been around for a long time. Stocking high-quality products will keep them coming back.”