Ask the experts and they’ll tell you that today’s bird shop has to be more than just a “pet store;” it should be a health foods store of sorts, too.
That’s because consumers shopping for avian goods are increasingly preferring better-for-you brands and ingredients that promote bird well-being and longevity. And few wares are as “health”-minded as supplements—those powders, drops, sprays and other merch designed to fill nutritional gaps boost a bird’s immune system and curb undesirable behaviors the way Mother Nature intended.
“This is often a forgotten category on store shelves, but one that’s very necessary,” said Mary Wyld, owner of Wyld’s Wingdom, a Norfolk, Virginia-headquartered company that’s been distributing pet bird supplies internationally since 1986. “What a bird chooses to eat from a prepared diet may not provide what they need due to their picky eating habits. Therefore, extra supplementation is often needed, which is why it’s so important that retailers offer a wide variety of these products.”
Jane Morehouse, graphics manager and product research and development coordinator for Hayward, California-based Kordon LLC—parent company of Oasis Pet Products, known for its Vita Drops and Vita E-Z Mist supplements—echoes that thought.
“With the popularity of the pelleted or cubed diets, many people mistakenly believe everything their bird needs is in the food and that supplements are no longer needed,” Morehouse said. “But we also know that birds can be picky eaters. And if a packaged diet is aged or has been exposed to heat, the vitamin level may be compromised. You may need to introduce extra nutrition by using supplements.”
The good news for retailers: it might actually be easier to sell supplements nowadays than in years past.
“The reason is that, as a society, we’ve become much more focused on supplementing our own diets with things like probiotics. Plus, we’re more aware of the need for premium nutrition for our pets,” Morehouse added.
Bree Modica, nutrition and regulatory specialist with Zoo Med Laboratories, Inc.—the 41-year-old manufacturer of Avian Plus vitamins and mineral supplements—has witnessed a few noteworthy drifts in this space recently.
“There’s been an increase in sales of bird health and wellness supplements, including those for immunity health, skin and plumage health, and digestive health. These differ from nutritional supplements in that they claim to provide an additional benefit above and beyond what proper nutrition provides,” Modica said. “Also, liquid and powdered nutritional supplements that can be added to drinking water seem to be gaining momentum.”
Modica cites one of her company’s bird products, AvianSafe instant water conditioner, as an example.
Wyld identifies two other movements underway: supplements boasting ingredients that are organic and/or less processed and probiotic products. A prime example of the former is Twin Beaks’ Herb Salad, providing 20 medicinal herbs in the form of dried leaves, roots, bark and flowers. As evidence of the latter, consider Harrison’s Avian Probiotic powder packets and Oasis Naturals’ Pure Probiotics daily blend.
More cuttlebone products and tastes are hitting the market, too. For instance, Zoo Med recently debuted its Banquet Cuttlebone, made with real cuttlebone powder and available in banana and tropical fruit flavors. And Penn-Plax’s “eco-friendly” E2 Cuttlebone comes in mango and banana flavors.
Egg food also remains a popular supplement subset. Standouts include Vitakraft’s Quiko Classic, loaded with vitamins A, B12, D3, E, and biotin; Volkman Featherglow Gourmet Eggfood, ideal for breeding, stressed, ill or molting birds; and Higgins’ Protein Egg Food, enriched with plant-based and balanced DHA Omega-3 and -6 fatty acids.
In-store Supplement Strategies
Be forewarned: supplements likely won’t “sell themselves,” and they aren’t reliable impulse purchases without some nudging. In other words, it’s incumbent on you and your staff to evangelize these goods to your patrons, many of whom lack knowledge of these products.
“It takes a skilled salesperson at your store to ensure better supplement sales. You have to train your staff carefully so they can explain the value of these products and recommend where appropriate. Every shopper who purchases bird food might end up purchasing a supplement if they knew it would benefit their bird,” said Michael Massie, owner of Stacy, Minnesota-based Pretty Bird International, Inc., maker of Natural Gold Supplement for Birds, which features a unique blend of essential amino acids, micronutrients, probiotics and enzymes.
Ros Gibson agrees. As owner of Birdcamp, an exotic bird boutique in New York City, she can testify to the importance of being well-versed about supplements.
“You have to be really knowledgeable about them so that you can accurately answer a customer’s questions. Say a person comes in your store and says ‘my bird is acting funny’ or is having health problems. You have a responsibility to guide them to the right products and to know what you’re talking about,” said Gibson, whose best sellers in this category include Avitech’s AviFlax Gold, a milled flax product, and Cal-D-Solve, a high-performance calcium/magnesium supplement, also by Avitech.
To motivate your crew toward higher supplement SKU rings, consider having a sales contest.
“Whoever sells the most in a specific period of time gets a reward,” Massie suggested.
Massie says ideal placement for supplements is in two areas: on the front counter near the register, serving as a last-minute reminder to shoppers, and in the bird food section, which can lead to secondary sales of supplements and improve your odds of cross-promoting both products.
“But avoid separating food and supplements too far away from one another on the shelves,” Modica cautioned. “I’ve seen retailers have food to the left, supplements to the right and toys in between. This tells customers that food and supplements are completely separate when we want to tell them they are complementary.”
The bottom line: “Do not overlook this category,” Gibson said. “Take it seriously, and aim to be a one-stop shop for all their bird needs, including supplementation.”