Giving the Cat Aisle a Boost

Although selling supplements requires retailers to become well educated on a complicated topic, those with a strong knowledge base can see great returns.


Consumables are an important part of any retailer’s bottom line—not only because they mean multiple purchases, but also because they create customer loyalty. When customers find a brand they like and know they can get it at a particular store, it is likely that they’ll return. But it’s not often that a new product category emerges that can be considered a consumable. The food, cat litter, and treat categories are all long established and well known. Still, in recent years savvy retailers may have noticed a newcomer: pet supplements.

According to Maureen O’Neill, executive director at Wapiti Labs, there are about three million cats that currently take vitamins and supplements. With 38.9 million cat-owning households, many of which own three or more cats, there is also plenty of room for growth. “Of all those cats, sixty-four percent are house cats,” says O’Neill. “That says to me that people are looking at the cat just like a lot of people are looking at dogs—they’re a part of the family.”

Supplements first became popular in the human market. Then, as has been the case with so many product trends, humanization caused pet owners who were taking these products themselves to look for similar products for their pets. “The humanization of pets is letting them live longer and therefore they are now developing some new age-related deficiencies,” explains Oscar Tenorio, project manager at Vetimed. “And high-quality supplements can provide the necessary ingredients to meet those deficiencies and let them live longer and healthier lives.”

This, compounded by the natural and holistic trends, created a greater awareness among pet owners that supplements are available and demand has grown. That means retailers who have held off on bringing cat supplements into their store would be wise to give this category a second look.

A Complicated Category
It’s easy to understand why retailers may have held off. The supplement category is a complicated one, with a steep learning curve. “Retailers are in kind of a tough position because one of the things that’s happened in the category in the last three or four years is there’s been a huge explosion in the number of and variety of supplements available,” says David Grover, owner of Pet Kelp.

This means retailers have more brands and products to sort through. “[Retailers] have to know that not all supplements out there, even though they have the same ingredients, are created equal,” adds Tenorio.
Lack of category-wide regulations adds to the confusion, as does the nature of supplements—unlike many categories sold at retail, its difficult to set up a good-better-best scenario with health products, which aren’t manufactured with that marketing strategy in mind.

“I think there are a number of retailers who really kind of struggle with supplements,” says Grover. “They’re not sure how to approach it, they’re not sure how to merchandise it, they’re not sure how to price it, and they’re not sure how to sell it to their pet owners, so those retailers tend not to do anything with it.”

He says retailers should consider four factors when building a supplements department: who the store’s target consumer is, the role the category will play in their store (and how much support they plan to give it), the ingredients and manufacturing processes involved in the products they want to stock, and what’s on trend.

The first factor is likely something most storeowners already know, but determining how price sensitive, health oriented and holistically minded clients are will tell a retailer what price points to consider, which ingredients will be most popular with their audience and how proactive they will need to be to establish loyal supplement customers. This understanding will also help retailers decide how much they want to invest in building and marketing the category.

From there, it’s a matter of education. There are several places retailers can turn for information. A local distributor has likely already parsed through the products in the marketplace when deciding which options to carry. The National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) also reviews products and puts out a variety of educational sources. Retailers should also lean on manufacturers, which are often willing to help retailers educate both staff members and customers with handouts, seminars, DVDs and other sales tools. Many manufacturers even offer free samples, so staff members can offer personal testimonials, which are one of the most powerful sales tools that exist for selling health care products.

Acquiring this information in order to decide which products to stock will also benefit retailers and their staff on the sales floor. Many pet owners need help choosing among products and deciding the best way to add supplements to their pets’ diets. Those who take the time to understand supplements will be better able to educate both their staff and their customers about the benefits of the products they’ve chosen.

Product Placement
There are a couple of tactics retailers can take for merchandising and selling supplements. Although this is a growing category and demand for these products is on the rise, retailers will reap the most benefits by giving careful consideration to how they merchandise them.

A retailer can stock cat supplements in an aisle with other animal supplements, or it may choose to stock them in the cat aisle. If a retailer chooses this option, it’s generally recommended that the supplements be placed near cat food, since they are often fed with food and are seen as added nutrition. Locating the products in the cat aisle allows customers to find them easily, and it helps pet owners make the connection between the products and their nutritional or health benefits.

To help attract new customers to the category, retailers can merchandise supplements on an endcap or front table. They can also stock them behind the counter or near the register, where the cashier can recommend them to customers purchasing food as an add-on sale. These high-traffic locations, where the products have a good likelihood of being seen, can be an especially good spot for products that are new on the market or to the store.

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