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Navigating Wild Bird Products

Erik J. Martin//May 5, 2014//

Navigating Wild Bird Products

Erik J. Martin //May 5, 2014//

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Just as birds of a feather flock together, bird supply buyers will flock to stores that carry the best products for their needs, especially wild bird-loving consumers.

Consider that 40.5 million U.S. households engage in backyard bird watching, and the market for wild bird feeders and seed is currently estimated at $5.5 billion in North America, according to the 2013 Wild Bird Feed Industry Research Foundation Benchmark Study. The study further reports that nearly one out of three purchasers anticipate spending more on wild bird feed and feeders this year, and 49 percent of feed buyers purchase regularly at least every two to three months.

“People are traveling less and spending more on improving their homes,” James Kelly, associate brand manager with Woodstream Corporation, manufacturers of Perky-Pet and NO/NO brand products, said. “[An outdoor] bird feeder is a natural extension of your home.”

Need for Seed

With increased interest in feeding and watching fine-feathered outdoor friends, consumers are also willing to invest in better-quality feed, Ed Mills, president and co-founder of Global Harvest Foods, Ltd., the Seattle-based maker of Audubon Park-brand wild bird supplies, said.

“We’re seeing a growth in our sales of premium blends of bird seed, and we attribute this to the population of bird feeders becoming more educated,” Mills said. “Costs have come down, millet is readily available again, and the quality of blends has improved. Additionally, smartphone technology has made information more readily available to [wild bird watchers].”

Mills said there’s been a stronger push lately toward bird-specific foods, such as nut and fruit blends that offer better nutrition, and “no waste” blends that have been developed to be free of waste and products that cause unwanted plant growth under feeders.

Hang It and They Will Come

When it comes to feeders, the basic designs continue to be tubes, hoppers and trays, each offered in wider varieties. Among the most popular feeder types today are turn-of-the-century-inspired Mason jar feeders, with antique embossed glass jars that attach to a steel feeder base for a timeless look, and wooden feeders made from high-grade cedar and bamboo.

Squirrel-resistant feeders are equally popular. The Baffler, by Perky-Pet, for example, protects against squirrels with a weight-activated base that tilts to close off its feeding ports, and with a dome that tilts and wobbles to throw bushy-tailed critters off balance.

Merchandising Tips

The wild bird food category is one that has typically been hard to merchandise in a way that presents customers with a clear, quality choice, Mills said.

“Value blends and premium blends sit next to each other on the shelf, and many times it’s hard for a consumer to decipher what the difference is and why they should pay more,” Mills said. “It’s important to create a clear step-up strategy to move consumers up the continuum and promote the selling of more quality blends.”

Cheryl Eberle, bird category manager for Bradley Caldwell, Inc., said it’s smart to offer at least two lines of food, a straight seed value mix along with a better quality feed.

It’s also important to merchandise bird feeders in a way that is visually appealing so that consumers can see the decorative aspects of the products.

“Make your feeder assortment 80 percent basic and 20 percent decorative,” Eberle said. “You don’t have to be deep, but you but you need a variety of feeders.”

When retailers put feeders on display, and out of the box, they see an increase in not only feeder sales but also bird food sales, Mills said.

“Getting product off the shelf and into high-traffic areas during key times of the year, like when spring breaks, will increase category sales, too, and encourage new consumers to get into the hobby,” Mills said.

Other Strategies

Many retailers nowadays are successfully building displays around the attraction of a particular bird species.

“It has always worked for hummingbird displays, but more [consumers] are actively feeding to attract a particular bird,” Eberle said.

Kelly recommends offering products at different price points, with the largest selection of feeders in the “sweet spot” of $10 to $20 for hummingbird feeders, and $10 to $25 for seed feeders. In addition, tailor your assortment to your region and the season.

Also, don’t fall into the trap of lumping wild bird supplies in with indoor bird products.

“They truly are two completely separate categories,” Mills said. “Separate the two, emphasize visually appealing feeders that consumers feel will look attractive in their backyard space, and follow that up with an eye-popping bird food planogram that makes it easy for the consumer to shop.”

Cater to Smarter Shoppers

Susan Parker, general manager with Scarlett, a producer of wild bird foods, underscores the importance of informing and edifying patrons on how to select the right supplies.

“For example, feeders should be placed about 3 feet away from windows and a safe distance from cats,” Parker said. “Feeders should also have the proper support and be monitored regularly to ensure that food and water are replaced as needed.”

Kelly agrees that retailers can take advantage of a great opportunity to educate consumers within their stores about wild bird feeding.

“We recommend that you use header cards, shelf talkers and other forms of signage informing the consumer about the different styles of feeders, what types of food to put in the feeders, and where to position your feeders for optimum bird viewing and feeding pleasure,” he said.