August 2, 2017

They say you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. The same can be true of honey sticks, fruit and nut yummies, baked birdy biscuits, and millet morsels: offer a healthy selection of savory snacks for birds and chances are their owners will flock to your store for more of these avian indulgences. Because let’s face facts: daily diets may be steady staples in your set, but they can be downright dull when compared to the excitement often generated among shoppers by tasty treats.

The reason for this is simple: treats are thought of as more of a reward or gift for a pet, a way to evoke more attention and affection. In short, they make the pet feel good, which makes the owner feel likewise.

“Treats have grown in popularity as people have begun to see their animals more often as members of the family and not just pets. Just as they would for their child, people are more likely to purchase treats as a reward for their bird’s good behavior, to celebrate a milestone or just to show their love,” said Julie Fain, digital marketing and communications coordinator for Vitakraft Sun Seed in Bowling Green, Ohio, which was the first pet food company to use nitrogen gas flushing as a natural preservative and to reduce the risk of insect infestation in its treats and foods.

“However, treats that serve a useful purpose for companion birds beyond being just a special reward are a popular draw for pet parents, too. Certain situations such as times of stress, illness, or boredom can lead a bird to excessive preening and feather plucking,” Fain said. She notes that treats like Vitakraft’s Triple Baked Crunch Sticks were designed to help curb this behavior by keeping companion birds active and occupied with mental and physical stimulation.

Transforming the Treat

The biggest trend in treats today continues to be the push toward better-for-the-bird edibles. “People are continuing to seek out bird treats that are fortified, species-appropriate for their companions and made with more natural and recognizable ingredients instead of chemicals,” said Fain, adding that spray millet is a good example of a natural product that continues to be a popular avian treat.

“A big reason why Caitec’s Oven Fresh Bites, also known as Baked Birdie Munchies, have attracted a large following is because this baked treat contains all-natural ingredients,” said Bill McGrath, consumer product analyst with Baltimore-based Caitec Corporation, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. “We’ll also be introducing several new Oven Fresh Bites treats later this year in new and different flavors.”

John Riley, manager at Kookaburra Bird Shop LLC in Carrollton, Texas, agrees that today’s bird owners are bird2increasingly on the hunt for snacks containing natural, organic and healthier ingredients and which forego artificial colors and preservatives.

“Humans are eating more natural products themselves,” Riley said. “They’re choosing foods from local farmers markets and growing fresh produce in their own backyards. They’re also feeding freshly cut up fruits and vegetables to their birds.”

How does a neighborhood pet store compete with this Mother Nature treat tactic?

“You need to encourage your customers to serve fresh fruits and vegetables as part of the bird’s regular diet rather than as a treat. At the same time, promote packaged treats you sell in your store that can be used to bond and interact with your bird,” suggested Riley, who says this can be accomplished by carrying treats like ZuPreem’s new line of Real Rewards snacks (available in Trail Mix, Tropical Mix, Garden Mix and Orchard Mix options for medium and large birds).

Variety: Spice of Life

At Paterson Bird Store in Totowa, New Jersey, owner Philip Jasper says the key to healthier sales of bird snacks has been product diversity.

“Sales of fruit and nut snacks and treat sticks have been strong and steady for us,” said Jasper, who first opened his doors 33 years ago. “What’s helped boost interest is offering a greater assortment of treats, which I recommend.”

Ignore this advice at your own peril, he cautions.

“Treats serve a very important function in your set,” Jasper said. “Owners want to feed their pets fresh and natural things that taste good and contain healthy fruits, vegetables and nuts, and they like to try fun and new products.”

Catering to demands for the fun and new means keeping tabs on other treat tendencies. One popular trend involves snacks that combine a treat and a toy in one product—like L’Avian Plus’ Crunch & Fun Parrot Treat, featuring a hidden toy surrounded by real fruits and nuts.

Another trend involves treats that require some TLC prep at home, such as Higgins’ Worldly Cuisines Gourmet Bird Food Appetizer that cooks up in your microwave; San Francisco Bay Brand’s Fruit Mania, featuring dehydrated fruits and bee pollen that return to their natural state after stirring in warm water; and Harrison’s Bird Bread Mix, which can be baked in a pan or muffin tin.

And the push continues for products that blend stimulating colors and flavor profiles, as exemplified in Brown’s Extreme! line of bird treats.

Treats in Stores

To maximize treat sales, try peppering them throughout your store using clip strips and endcaps, if yours is a bird boutique. If you’re a supplier of multiple pet products, it’s probably best to mix in snacks with the rest of the avian supplies, according to Riley.

Treats tend to be an impulse purchase, so it helps to have them displayed at eye level near the regular diets that pet parents are coming into the store for more often, Fain suggests.

“Good signage is a must, and shelf talkers can be helpful, but nothing is more effective than merchandising treats on or near the counter at checkout,” McGrath said.

Jasper concurs.

“You want to place impulse items like a new treat right on the checkout counter to attract the eye and remind shoppers to pamper their pet birds,” said Jasper, who most recently positioned a new papaya mango nut mix treat near the cash register, a strategy that’s paid off in more robust sales of the product.

Lastly, educate customers that “treats are not meant to replace everyday avian diets that are more nutritionally balanced,” Riley said. “They’re best given in moderation.”

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