In 2019, approximately 11 percent of American households had pets other than dogs or cats, which translates to nearly 14 million out of the 69 million pet-owning households, according to Simmons data cited by market research firm Package Facts. Fish (5 percent) are the most popular “other” pet, followed by birds (3 percent), reptiles (2 percent) and rabbits (1 percent).
Although the coronavirus pandemic has had a major impact on the economy, pet stores have been listed as essential businesses and consumers are generally slow to adjust their spending habits for their pets, which are increasingly being categorized as members of the family. And even if pet care budgets might have become limited in 2020, small animals such as hamsters, birds, reptiles and aquatic livestock have the appeal of being very affordable compared with keeping a dog or cat.
When it comes to the aquatic sector, small- and medium-sized tanks are seeing steady sales among dry goods, and are backed by quality brands like Aqueon, Marineland and Ultum Nature Systems, while bettas and other GloFish species continue to drive the livestock market, according to retailers and wholesale distributors.
“The pandemic effect has been unusual,” stated Joe Hiduke, sales manager for 5D Tropical. “There was a period of about a month with significantly reduced sales, but now we’re about a month into near record sales. Demand is crazy high, while supply is near an all-time low due to challenges with incoming shipments from other countries. Frankly, every species of fish has been popular. If it swims, it’s selling right now.”
To ensure the well-being of their aquatic livestock, aquarists will be seeking water treatments and other health products from retailers, and that’s where brands like API, Tetra and Ultum can be a factor. Among the popular API products that are smart to stock are the brands Melafix, which is an all-natural product that treats infections; Freshwater Master Test Kit to measure the four most important levels in an aquarium; and Perfect Start to ensure the water in a new aquarium is clean and crystal clear.
Tetra’s SKUs are as varied as the aquatic livestock that consumers are keeping as pets. From its Whisper line of water pumps to its HT submersible heaters, the brand has everything an aquarist would need. Tetra also produces GloFish kits, nutrition, lighting, décor and accessories.
Known for its rimless glass tanks, Ultum’s lineup also includes nutrient-rich liquid aquatic plant fertilizer and its line of DELTA canister filters, which deliver high flow rates, quiet operation, flexible media selection, as well as easy setup and maintenance.
Those cute critters that are commonly called pocket pets, which feature such species as rabbits, gerbils, hamsters, ferrets and guinea pigs, have always been categorized as “gateway pets” for children. Of late, they have recently been the subject of affection by millennials looking for a companion animal to pamper while also continuing to be attractive to households due to their being relaxed, low maintenance pets.
Similar to Hiduke’s statements regarding aquatic livestock, Fish Mart president Laura “Peach” Reid explains that the demand for small mammals at times is more than the current supply chain can provide.
“Some people are tending to their aquariums more, or are even getting another aquarium to keep some varieties of GloFish, while families with children may favor a hamster, guinea pig or ferret,” said Reid, a recipient of both Pet Age’s 2017 Women of Influence Award and 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award, Reid has worked at Fish Mart, the Northeast’s largest domestic and import distributor of aquatic livestock, plants, invertebrates, reptiles, small animals and birds, since its inception in 1974. “But there have been shortages of bird and reptiles, and we have seen increased demand for just about all the small animals–hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, ferrets, chinchillas and mice and rats.”
As the demand for small animal pets steadily grows, so does the need for tailored products. Among the most popular SKUs tailored for the various types of exotic pets are food and treats by Supreme Petfoods, ZuPreem and Sunseed’s New Prima. Brands like Kaytee, Prevue Pet and Oxbow Animal Health provide consumers with a wide range of natural chews, innovative habitats and activity centers. Bedding that provides reliable odor control while being cozy for the companion animal is essential, and that category features Healthy Pet, Kaytee and FiberCore among the top brands. While the Avian Organics line manufactured by California-based Volkman Seed Co. was an award winner at this year’s Global Pet Expo, the Volkman Pet Products brand serves the small mammal sector with its variety of breed-specific gourmet recipes and pellet diets, made even more attractive to consumers thanks to the company’s eye-catching packaging.
For consumers who are seeking ferrets and their supplies, Marshall Pet Products has been known as a breeder that also offers a vast array of ferret-related items, including cages, toys, travel accessories, litter and odor control products.
Based on the 2020 Packaged Facts report, “Reptile Products: U.S. Pet Market Trends and Opportunities,” reptile products are projected to grow from $495 million in 2019 to between $550 million and $650 million by 2024, depending on the depth and duration of coronavirus pandemic-triggered impacts on consumer finances and housing situations. These figures include food and non-food supplies for pet reptiles including snakes, lizards and turtles as well as amphibians.
“When pet care budgets are limited, reptiles may gain in appeal in being very affordable compared with keeping dogs or cats, with most reptile owners viewing their reptile setups as a reasonable initial expense,” noted the market research firm in a May press release. “The reptile business may also get a bump because of the heightened levels of comfort and affection pet owners are finding in their pets due to being home bound and social distancing, and because kids are a key factor to the household ownership of reptiles, and children now more than ever need to be meaningfully entertained.”
With herps needing more sensitive care than others in the small pet category, it’s important for consumers to have access to proper nutrition and an appropriate environment for their companion animals. Zilla and Zoo Med top the list of manufacturers that produce a variety of terrariums, enclosures and other hard goods that cover the most popular reptiles and amphibians. When it comes to specialized nutrition, Timberline, known for its proprietary Vita-Bugs and CalciWorms, has a strong track record for being a reliable supplier of live foods. Reptiles by Mack, which has been breeding reptiles since 1985, has its own line of frozen rodents called Mack’s Natural Reptile Food, with frozen mice and rats that are available in singles, boxed and bulk options.
The lone pet area that’s seen a noticeable decline in companion animal ownership over the past decade is the avian category. Despite a drop in bird ownership, avian products are going to have a place in pet stores as consumers will need a source for the essentials—food, treats, cages, foraging toys, feeders and health supplements. Carrying inventory from A&E Bird Co., King’s Cages, Greenfeather Bird Supply, Vitakraft, Kaytee and ZuPreem will cover all the bases when a customer seeks something for a parakeet, finch or dove that’s either a longtime companion or an addition to the household.
Small animals will always have a place in U.S. households. With the endless assortment of products for the numerous species of birds, critters, reptiles, amphibians and aquatic livestock, it’s in a retailer’s best interest to have stock on hand. While the revenue might not compete with those for dogs and cats, word of mouth and being the go-to store for quality small animal supplies goes a long way with today’s pet-owning public.