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July 1, 2015

“The good news is that manufacturers continue to churn out a diverse assortment of worthy items in this category. The bad news is that you’ll have to find room on your already overcrowded shelves to carry some of these key products.

Filling a Niche

“Today’s pets are living longer lives, thanks to proper nutrition and care and more pet owners are taking their small pets to the vet than ever before,” says Lucas Stock, communications manager with Oxbow Animal Health, known for its Critical Care powdered supplements and Natural Science Digestive Support supplement. “As these pets age, veterinarians also see more chronic health issues that need support. Fortunately for pets and their owners, manufacturers have started to answer the call by formulating products to support these age-related health and wellness needs.”

While complete and balanced fortified foods provide the vitamins and minerals required for the general day-to-day health of most small pets, no one food can meet the needs of every individual animal. The right supplements, however, can provide individualized support for chronic, recurring health issues common with these animals.

In past years, owners of small mammals such as rabbits, guinea pigs and chinchillas had a difficult time finding targeted nutritional support for many health and wellness-related concerns. But it wasn’t long before attention-getting supplements, often in liquid, powder or treat forms, hit the market and filled an important niche. Today, ample subcategories abound, including joint support, immune boosters, skin and coat supplements, pain management products, digestive aids (like prebiotics and probiotics) and multivitamins.

Targeting Today’s Trends

Kathleen Kintz, digital marketing specialist with pet product manufacturer NPIC in Plano, Texas, said made-in-the-U.S.A. and grain-free products are particularly hot sellers in this space.

“More and more supplements are being made in America, as consumers become more wary of foods, treats and other merchandise made in other countries,” says Kintz, whose company produces N-Bone Ferret Chew Treats, a tasty supplement that helps promote dental health.

“A wider offering of natural-based products now mimics that same trend in human use items. Consumers are becoming more demanding in terms of wanting a simple, natural option that has less impact on the environment while still offering good value and performance,” says Jane Morehouse, product research and development manager with Oasis Pet Products, a division of Kordon LLC, makers of Vita-Drops liquid vitamins and Oasis Naturals probiotic and multivitamin products.

Tabitha Cromer, marketing manager with Tomlyn Veterinary Science, which produces Nutri-Cal for Ferrets—a high-calorie nutritional gel with a concentrated source of vitamins, minerals and energy—agrees that quality ingredients sourced within our borders matter.

“Retailers need to look closely at the ingredients before bringing in new products. Many companies are not offering the best ingredients, which, in turn, makes the products less effective,” says Cromer.

As is true of real estate, location is crucial when trying to capture the attention of shoppers on the lookout for small animal goods.

“We recommend placing supplements alongside daily nutrition staples such as foods and hays,” said Stock. “But keep the supplements at eye level and separate from treats, as you don’t want consumers believing that the supplements are treats, especially when you take into account their extremely high palatability.”

Careful ordering and monitoring of these wares is important because by overstocking you run the risk of exceeding the expiration date and by understocking you may disappoint customers.

“Keeping a regularly replenished complete line of supplements allows consumers to make a commitment to your store as their supplement source,” Morehouse says.

Being Wiser About Wellness

Educating shoppers on the benefits of supplements and medications is a wise business builder.

“But you first have to understand the specific, individual needs of a customer’s animals. This is often easily accomplished through a quick conversation in the aisle,” says Stock. “Ask the customer about their pets—their ages, health history  and specific health and wellness needs. If you know that a customer has a pet with a history of digestive issues, for instance, recommending a digestive supplement becomes a logical and easy step.”

You also might want to reach out to local veterinarians who specialize in exotics; they can be valuable resources and cross-referral partners.

Additionally, consider hosting seminars and classes in your store, perhaps led by an area vet, designed to educate consumers about small animal health and introduce them to the medication and supplement products you sell.

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