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December 2, 2015

While there is nothing wrong with traditional crickets and mealworms, many reptile owners seek a diverse diet for their pets because of perceived health benefits. This has caused live food suppliers to offer an increasing variety of species.

“Pet stores offering variety in feeders can help customers promote health and longevity in insectivorous pets. Variety keeps them healthy, happy and prevents hunger strikes due to boredom,” said Brian Birchall, owner of Mulberry Farms, a live feeder insect supplier. “Each individual feeder has its strengths and together they re-create the nutritional diversity they crave and thrive on.”

A Can of Worms

One species that is growing more popular black soldier fly larva, known as the Phoenix worm, Calciworm and Reptiworm.

“Feeding Calciworms to your reptile significantly reduces the dependency on gut loading and dusting,” Eric Stein, marketing coordinator at Timberline Live Pet Foods, said. “When used correctly with our Vita-Bug feeder insect line, gut loading and dusting can be eliminated. Although Calciworms contain naturally high levels of calcium, and a desirable calcium to phosphorus ratio, they shouldn’t be used as the staple food item. A diverse diet should be given to reptiles, using crickets, mealworms and superworms as the main courses [and] saving waxworms and Calciworms as supplemental items.”

Timberline offers some of their live foods in convenient, no-mess packaging.

“Timberline is developing a new line of in-store cricket display cases that will make the storage, maintenance and sales far more efficient and cost effective for retail stores,” said Stein. “Timberline also always recommends our pre-packaged retail items including cupped worms in various counts and our Reptile Lunch Boxes – the easiest way to stock and sell crickets.”

Mulberry Farms offers several less common feeders, including butter worms, hornworms, dubia roaches and lobster roaches. The company is best known for producing silkworms.

“Silkworms are high protein, nutritious, moist, soft-bodied, easy to eat, highly palatable and good for stimulating a feeding response when animals are on ‘hunger strikes,’” said Birchall.

According to Birchall, butter worms are high in calcium and require no care when refrigerated.

“Hornworms are relished by many species,” said Birchall. “They are easy to keep at room temperature in their pre-packaged container. When warm they grow very fast, so can become too large for some animals to feed on.”

More Bugs to Bite

Pet stores with a healthy percentage of reptile keeping customers should consider offering more feeder species.

“We offer a variety of live foods from insects to rodents,” said Geoff Marshall, store manager at the St. Petersburg, Fla. location of Pinellas County Reptiles. “Our insects include superworms, giant mealworms, mealworms, butter worms, waxworms, Phoenix worms, silkworms, hornworms, crickets, fruit flies, isopods and discoid roaches. We breed many of our feeders–rodents, crickets, roaches and isopods–and we’re expanding breeding this year to supply growing demand for waxworms and European nightcrawlers.”

Jabberwock Reptiles in Winchester, Mass., offers a similar list of live foods for reptiles.

“We offer several live insects including crickets, dubia roaches, mealworms, superworms, waxworms, hornworms and flightless fruit flies,” said owner Stephen Ayer. “We also sell live mice, rats and feeder lizards. These are usually sold to people with a finicky snake that won’t eat frozen rodents. Crickets and dubia roaches are our best sellers.”

“We offered dubia roaches (Blaptica dubia) as an alternative to crickets and our customers took to them,” said Ayer. “They aren’t loud like crickets, live longer and are nutritious. We offer products that big box stores don’t carry to differentiate ourselves from the competition.”

Try it. You’ll Like It

Convincing customers to try new live foods – especially potentially disgusting ones – requires education from store staff.

“Our live foods promote themselves. All we do is explain the nutritional value of live foods and offer good quality,” said Marshall “We tell customers that feeding the same feeder insects continuously is not the best option.They should offer a variety, like their animal would get in the wild.”

“We offer promotions for frequent customers,” said Marhsall. “We advertise Feeder Fridays and offer an additional 10 percent off our already low prices for all feeders purchased on Fridays. We have an insect club too, which allows anyone who would like to prepay for insect feeders to get an additional 25 percent off.”

And never underestimate the value of a free sample.

“‘Free with purchase’ samples or special smaller quantity sampler packs get customers to try new feeders,” said Birchall. “Once they see how their animals respond they are likely to buy more.”
Ayer’s experience matches that advice.

“To convince customers to try unfamiliar live foods such as the hornworms or roaches, we explain the benefits of these feeders. If they’re still reluctant we offer free samples to see if their pet will like it,” said Ayer. “Often the customer returns and says their bearded dragon or other lizard loved the new insect! And the customers weren’t as disgusted by these new insects as they thought they might be.”

A free sample may generate a purchase, but offering quality feeders creates a steady customer

“Pay as much attention to the quality of the feeders as possible,” said Ayer. “It takes more time and energy to do it right, but customers want the highest quality food for healthier pets. One compliment we receive is that our crickets live longer than crickets from big box pet stores. This keeps customers coming back even if they have to go out of their way to get to our store.”

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