June 1, 2016

Like plain old vanilla and chocolate, seeds and pellets once were pretty much the limit when it came to bird food offerings in bygone days. Fast forward to 2016, however, and it’s as evident as the vast array of colorful bags, boxes and bins that contain them that commercially prepared avian edibles have evolved, packed with greater flavor and nutrition and fashioned with different textures and healthier ingredients than ever before. And that’s got pet store owners—and their feathered friends—squawking their approval.

“Pet bird owners have become increasingly aware of the physical and mental benefits of complete avian diets as the primary source of calories in their companion birds,” said Jesse Fallon, M.S., D.V.M., veterinarian consultant with Caitec Corporation in Baltimore. “Manufacturers have catered to this increased demand from consumers by providing more complete diets as opposed to simple seed mixes.”

Indeed, many of today’s bird food brands boast complete diets, which have been demonstrated to reduce the risk of vitamin deficiencies, metabolic diseases and obesity in pet birds, resulting in a longer life expectancy and improved quality of life.

Healthy Sells

At Denise’s Parrot Place in Mercer Island, Washington, the popularity of complete diet foods is evident from strong sales of Harrison’s organic maximum nutritional formula as well as Goldenfeast’s Goldn’obles ring-shaped extruded complete nutrition formula—the store’s two biggest sellers.

“We have a loyal base of customers who trust our expertise and product referrals, and we continue to recommend these and other premium foods because we know they’re better for birds,” said Peter Gopping, manager for Denise’s Parrot Place, adding that shoppers don’t mind paying more for quality brands with better ingredients. “The modern customer is better researched and more well-versed, but they also rely on our educated staff.”

Denise’s also makes and bags its own complete diet blend, consisting of a healthy base of cooked beans and grains along with other carefully selected natural ingredients.

Variety that’s on the House

Offering an exclusive house brand of custom feed appears to be a growing trend that’s progressed beyond merely offering bulk bins of beak-friendly staples.

At Bill’s Birds in Davie, Florida, for example, owner William Kalichman has been carefully selecting, mingling and bagging a variety of custom mixes containing human grade nuts and dried fruits and veggies, including up to 100 different personalized blends for individual customers, mixed and packaged on the spot.

“Yes, we carry quality commercial products like ZuPreem Fruitblend pellets, but we pride ourselves on our custom mixes that eliminate the fillers found in many big brands and reduce waste,” Kalichman said, noting that his most in-demand in-store mixes are “Vita Parrot,” featuring bananas, papaya and pineapple; “No Waste Parrot,” loaded with sunflower and safflower seeds, peanuts and pellets; and “Small Parrot,” replete with coconuts, bananas, cracked corn and other goodies. “It’s a lot of work for us, but it’s worth it because we’ve established a niche as a specialty store offering one-of-a-kind, healthier bird foods. Plus, we cross-merchandise other bird products, leading to a bigger basket.”

Kalichman encourages fellow retailers to follow in his footsteps by offering custom mixes, so long as you’re committed to providing a large variety of clean, fresh, high-quality ingredients, which can be sourced from local suppliers you should vet carefully for the purpose of establishing strong, trusted relationships.

Better-for-the-Bird Brands

Custom house blends and private label foods can certainly help your register ring, but you don’t want to overlook profitable offerings by mainstream manufacturers, either, say the experts. Of course, a “one-size-fits-all” approach won’t work in this space, so it pays to have different subcategories of feed represented, including species-targeted brands (like Pretty Bird’s Species Specific line), premium/gourmet products and organic/nutritionally complete offerings.

If you want to stress the latter in particular, there’s a wealth of choices available today, notably: Volkman’s Avian Science Super series, available in 11 different species-appropriate blends; Mazuri’s Small Bird Diet or Parrot Diet; Vitakraft’s VitaSmart formulas for parakeets, cockatiels/lovebirds and parrots/conjures; and Harrison’s Adult Lifetime organic maintenance formulas. Scarlett offers the Nutra line, which features a blend of seeds, fruits and nutritious pellets for a range of bird species.

Many owners are willing to pay top price for better edibles, which is why words like “premium” and “gourmet” on the package often get attention and are worthy of joining your inventory if it’s a trustworthy product. Among them are Hagen’s Tropimix foods for cockatiels/lovebirds and small and large parrots, which is filled with exotic grains, Tropican granules or sticks, legumes, fruits and nuts; Prestige Premium budgie or finch food by Versele Laga, extruded pellets rich in vitamins, minerals, amino acids and frutco-oligosaccharides; F.M. Brown’s Sons Tropical Carnival ZOO-VITAL line of formulas containing whole grain rice instead of wheat, corn or soy; and Kaytee’s Gourmet Recipe, available for cockatiels, parakeets or parrots and containing a premium blend of fruits, vegetables, nuts and grains.

Lastly, try to devote shelf space to at least a few foods offered in interesting sizes, shapes and treat configurations. Garden Goodness Avian Entrees by ZuPreem consist of variably shaped pellets with apples and carrots. Oven Fresh Bites by Caitec, the first line of baked parrot/bird food, offers oatmeal and sunflower meal textures and baked-in bits of nuts, fruits and vegetables. Lastly, Lafeber makes a tasty array of Fruit Delight Avi-Cakes for small and large birds bursting with dates, cranberries papaya, mango, pineapple and wholesome grains.

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