September 5, 2017

Food only goes so far in providing essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients. It’s a big reason why people visit the health food store to stock up on pills, powders and enhancers.

The same is true of daily avian diets: while they may be fortified with many natural ingredients for proper metabolism and health, they can’t possibly deliver every necessary nutrient. That’s where a trip to a pet store can come in handy for bird owners—provided the store stocks the supplements they seek and can guide their purchase decisions.

“Just as it’s common for people to take a daily multivitamin, pet owners are realizing that, if they want to have a happy and healthy companion for many years to come, they need to make sure their bird is getting enough vitamins and minerals in their daily diet. Supplements are really the best way to ensure that happens,” said Julie Fain, digital marketing and communications coordinator for Vitakraft Sun Seed in Bowling Green, Ohio.

Mary Wyld, owner of Wyld’s Wingdom, a Norfolk, Virginia-based company that distributes pet bird supplies internationally since 1986, agrees.

“Birds face many of the same kinds of issues we face as they get older, and so they need additional nutrients to support their systems,” she said.

Health Enhancers
However, the supplement subcategory is often given short shrift by retailers, Mitch Rezman insists. He and his wife, Catherine Tobsing, are the owners of Windy City Parrot, a Chicago-based bird boutique founded in 1993 that sells most of its avian supplies online, including its hottest-seller in this space, Hagen Group’s HARI Prime brand concentrated vitamin, mineral and amino acid supplement.

“The good news is that there are many different types available today beyond merely nutritional supplements, including products for plumage and digestive health,” Rezman said. “The bad news is that bird supplements are not as emphasized as they should be in pet stores.”

Rezman added that big box pet retailers may only carry a handful of such goods in their stores. By contrast, his establishment stocks 94 different bird supplement SKUs—from bee pollen and probiotics to kelp and candida/yeast remedies, as well as powders, drops, sprays, cuttlebones, mineral blocks and products designed to help with breeding or intensify feather colors.

One of the newest items to hit this channel is Oasis Naturals Vita E-Z Mist, the first and only spray-on avian vitamin supplement.

“Vita E-Z Mist is distinctive in its delivery method, as it allows for vitamins to be sprayed directly onto the bird’s fresh foods or dry diet,” said Jane Morehouse, graphics manager and product research and development coordinator for Hayward, California-headquartered Kordon LLC, launched in 1964 and known for its Vita-Drops products. “The mist dries very quickly and is suitable for both seed mixes and formed or cubed crunchy diets. For owners who don’t want to put anything in their bird’s water supply, this is the perfect answer.”

Other liquid-based supplements commanding shelf space nowadays include eCotrition’s Vita-Sol multi-vitamin drops, which can be dissolved in water or dropped on seeds, and Wild Harvest Multi-Drops for all birds, by Spectrum Brands.

“We often advise our customers to mix these liquid supplements in with a quart of water and keep it in the fridge, as the product may dissolve better that way than putting it directly into the water dish,” Rezman said.

Sprinkling Supplements
Wyld is particularly excited about today’s specialty supplements that address hormonal and behavioral issues like feather picking, aggression and anxiety.

Avitech’s AviCalm powder can be sprinkled on food to help upset birds calm down,” she said. “And Nekton has a variety of supplements to consider.”

Fain says retailers should also carry egg food products.

“Birds enjoy variety in their diet, which is where egg food comes in handy, providing extra protein and vitamins,” said Fain, citing Vitakraft’s Quiko Classic Egg Food as a worthy example. “It’s also versatile—it can be served as a dry crumble right out of the bag, moistened with water, or moistened and mixed with chopped greens, veggies or fruits for even greater variety.”

Other powders that have gained traction among retailers include Zoo Med’s Avian Plus Vitamins, loaded with amino acids; Designing Health, Inc.’s The Missing Link Ultimate Avian Formula, which provides omega fatty acids, dietary fiber and phyto (plant) nutrients; and Pretty Bird’s Natural Gold Supplement, packed with enzymes and probiotics to promote healthy digestion.

Move the Merchandise
Supplement wares don’t exactly sell themselves, so be prepared to promote these products through a combination of efforts.

“The key here is good staff education and passing that education on to the customer. We train our employees to ask careful questions of our patrons,” Rezman said. “We’ll ask if the bird has had a blood panel workup at the vet, if the bird looks healthy and what the feather sheen looks like under light in order to guide them toward an appropriate daily diet and necessary supplementation.”

It’s equally important to make these goods more visible and accessible.

“I would place them at eye level—if they’re on a top or bottom shelf, consumers won’t see them,” Wyld suggested. “Also, you need to have an easily identifiable area for supplements in your store, not just one or two products stuck in here and there. Using signage, shelf talkers and product literature like brochures in this area is helpful, too.”

Proper positioning matters, Morehouse says.

“Any nutritional supplement that provides a hanger-card or tabbed box that can be hung should go on a clip strip directly alongside the packaged bird diets,” Morehouse recommended.

Lastly, it’s smart to include one or more supplements in your bird starter kits.

“If you offer bundled cage and product deals for new bird owners, include a basic supplement such as a multivitamin or egg food in the bundle to introduce them to these products from the very beginning,” Fain said.

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