All About Ingredients
Key qualities consumers look for continue to be ingredient quality (with a focus on organic ingredients, in many cases), whether or not a food is complete, brand and veterinary recommendation or endorsement.
“With these priorities in mind, we continue to see consumers seeking out foods they perceive as natural and premium, as well as foods that come highly recommended from various sources, including veterinarians, fellow pet owners, and online reviews,” said Lucas Stock, communications manager, Oxbow Animal Health. Oxbow manufactures various small animal fortified foods, including Organic Guinea Pig pellets.
Tim Norsen, national sales manager, Vitakraft SunSeed, Inc., said he’s witnessed only minor changes to small animal diets over the past few years. Vitakraft offers Vitakraft Sunseed’s Vita Prima Sunscription Rat, Mouse and Gerbil Formula and Dwarf Hamster Formula and SunSations’ Pet Rabbit Formula, Chinchilla Formula and Guinea Pig Formula.
“Consumers continue to prefer quality, nutritionally balanced formulas and opt for all-natural whenever possible,” Norsen said.
On the whole, manufacturers are doing an admirable job of taking consumers’ opinions and desires to heart. In your average small animal aisle, shoppers nowadays see a strong focus on complete, uniform foods that provide pets their daily required amounts of key nutrients without a lot of filler ingredients or species-inappropriate mix ingredients.
“Providing healthy, species-appropriate foods is not just in the best interest of the consumer and his or her pet, it’s in the best interest of brands as well,” Stock said. “A healthy pet with good longevity and a good-quality of life is a much better customer than one that performs poorly due to poor or incomplete nutrition.”
According to Kathleen Kintz, digital marketing specialist, NPIC, makers of N-Bone brand ferret chew treats in chicken, salmon, and bacon flavors—soon to also be offered as soft treats—pet food makers are also focusing much more on the needs of each species.
“There are specific foods for guinea pigs and rabbits that might seem similar, but are distinctive,” Kintz said. “Many foods also include fruits and vegetables or even flowers to set them apart from the crowd. Ferret food is becoming even more specialized as consumers seek out foods created to cater exclusively to ferret digestive systems.”
“Right-sizing” foods to avoid waste or gluttony appears to be an emerging trend, too. For example, Ecotrition offers a Perfect Portion line of foods in packages that contain pre-portioned meal chunks, including its Essentials Blend Guinea Pig Diet compacted cakes.
In addition, manufacturers continue to look beyond the basic diets of the past to high-fiber formulas that almost always include vitamin and mineral supplementation, probiotics and omega-3s.
“This is especially true for pet specialty retailers who have seen premium diets perform well and grow over the past decade,” Norsen said.
Another growing trend is products that provide maximum meat content and meat that is easier to digest then kibble. Case in point: Evanger’s for Ferrets: Maximum Turkey for Ferrets, which provides complete and balanced ferret nutrition with a fresh, single-source protein, but without added carbohydrates, grains, fillers, wheat or soy.
Overall, selling and merchandising foods has become easier today because modern small animal pet owners are highly-educated and well-versed when it comes to knowing the importance of a high-quality food in their pet’s diet.
“More consumers are doing their research on foods, whether it is for them or their pets,” Kintz said.
Nevertheless, having an educated sales staff can make a world of difference, even in the age of Internet research.
“Many customers will come in looking for a particular product, but even these customers will likely benefit from some guidance,” Stock said. “Providing this knowledge can go a long way toward not only today’s sale but the loyalty and trust that will lead to sales tomorrow as well.”
Big Sales With Small Animals
As with any specialty department, product variety should be sufficient to make your store relevant in the eyes of the consumer. As improvements to packaging are made, retailers should also be increasing merchandising by brand as opposed to species, creating a cleaner looking and more profitable department.
“This is a high margin category and almost always worth the investment in shelf space,” Norsen said, who recommended carrying live animals and using the food products you sell within your cages and setups.
It’s also a good idea to partner your promotion and merchandising efforts with education. For instance, run a promotional featuring both foods and hays to reinforce two major components of a complete diet.
“These items can be combined in an endcap setting or bundled together with a discount,” Stock said. “Also, take advantage of product training materials and opportunities that manufacturers provide.”
Additionally, consider promoting an exclusive food offer to social media followers, who will appreciate not only the deal, but the exclusivity of it.