The Picture of Health

Healthcare products and supplements are often an overlooked category that stores can use to differentiate themselves from larger competitors.


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There are really only two times in the life of a cat that retailers can sell healthcare and supplement products—before a cat gets sick and as a potential remedy or treatment once the cat is exhibiting symptoms. In other words, these products can be useful any time in the cat’s life, and that equates to a ton of sales potential in this category for retailers.

Still, the category is one of the most complex and diverse in the pet arena, and therefore, it requires a careful, well-thought-out strategy to maximize sales. The category comprises a wide variety of products including dietary supplements and remedies that address a broad range of health-related issues. Retailers need to understand the healthcare and supplements segment and plan appropriately—and when they do, they can reap long-lasting rewards.


Good Health Starts With The Basics

Most cat owners who shop in independent pet stores today understand the value of good nutrition. They are careful about choosing a diet for their feline friends and have at least a rudimentary understanding of what makes for a healthful diet. Pet parents are looking for high protein content and try to avoid fillers and additives. So, it is a natural next step for retailers to explain how even balanced diets can sometimes be improved by adding a supplement to a pet’s routine.

“Feline supplements help fill in the gap in commercial cat food by helping ensure that your cat is getting the proper nutrition,” says Robert M. Collett, DVM at Designing Health, Inc., which manufactures The Missing Link supplements, including the Ultimate Feline Formula. The Ultimate Feline Formula is made using a blend of whole-food and whole-food concentrate ingredients, designed to deliver the optimal nutrients cats need to stay healthy. It includes a combination of balanced omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, dietary fiber, phyto (plant) nutrients, naturally occurring antioxidants, and trace vitamins and minerals.

Collett points out that there are many choices on the market, so retailers need to research feline supplements before stocking them. “You don’t want to buy cat supplements made from ingredients produced in a country with lax regulations and standards,” he explains.

Many pet owners do not grasp the regulatory difference between preventatives like supplements and remedies or treatments. They may not know that manufacturers of supplements such as glucosamine and chondroitin legally cannot claim to prevent, cure, or diminish a condition or disease. Because of these nuances, the supplement and remedy is an arena where independent pet retailers can effectively differentiate themselves from larger pet specialty chains by helping to educate the consumer. It is a chance not only to demonstrate expertise, but also to really gain cat owners’ trust by explaining the in-depth research the store does into which supplement brands it carries and why.

For example, Designing Health conducted independent research with a sample size of 540 cats to test how effective its supplement was at helping to improve 16 common cat health concerns, including hairballs, feline acne, arthritis and low energy levels. Being able to present or at least mention those findings can go a long way toward validating supplement use with a cat owner who is on the edge.

However, it is also worth pointing out to pet owners the difference between supplements and products such as dewormers, ear-mite treatments and flea-and-tick products that are regulated by governmental bodies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and/or the Environmental Production Agency (EPA).


A Healthy Education & Display

The store may even want to go as far as to separate these two categories on their shelves. While both should either be within the healthcare section or the cat aisle, they can be displayed in two obvious groups, with signage or other point-of-purchase materials that explains the differences for those busy times when a sales person may not be available. Most stores, however, will want to carry both preventatives and remedies or treatments.

Still, the best-sellers list is almost always in flux—while there are some products that have managed to stay on the list for a while—such as omega 3 and 6—and glucosamine, products within this category are closely aligned with the human supplement market, which is also always changing and evolving.

Heidi Nevala, president and founder of Natura Petz, says that her company’s most popular products so far have been created to help address bladder and kidney infections, as well as stone support (Sticks & Stones product); digestive issues (Yummy Tummy); detoxifying and cleansing (Shake Ur Grove Thing); a diabetes adjunctive (Dia-Beat-It); and weight management (Super Model in a Bottle).

Natura Petz manufactures pure organic, 100-percent all-natural pet supplements and nutraceuticals derived from the Amazon, Andes and Pacific Ocean, which Nevala says are some of the world’s largest and most sophisticated natural plant and marine “pharmacies.” Each of the company’s products have names geared to appeal to pet owners and stand out on the shelf, such as Dia-Beat-It and Bionic Body.

In addition to the most popular products, Nevala says that she’s seeing an exciting focus toward herbals and supplements that not only support whole body wellness but that also repair and rehabilitate. “Many of our customers use herbs and supplements themselves and apply that same wellness belief system to their feline companions,” she explains. “They see the need for specially formulated supplements to augment their cat’s nutrition and to help target common health issues that cats deal with.”

Specially formulated supplements can sometimes be more important to cat owners than retailers realize—most cat owners more readily trust products formulated specifically for cats. They understand that there are key differences between dogs and cats, and they expect healthcare products to be tailored to one or the other. So, they are often suspicious of products that claim to work for both.

Retailers should be aware of consumer preferences for species-specific products and take that into consideration when designing their healthcare sections and choosing specific products to stock. It is also something that retailers should be sure to educate their staff on—if the store carries any products formulated for both species, they’ll need to make sure their team can explain why the product works just as well for both cats and dogs.

Natura Petz was founded when Nevala rescued five Bengal kittens that had been abandoned at a grooming shop, so cat formulas have always played a significant role in the company’s product lines. Still, Nevala stresses customer education and the importance of a well-informed staff. She says staff should be able to listen to issues that shoppers are facing and know when to suggest there might be something more serious going on.

“As a retailer, you can deliver value and instill confidence in your customers when you’re able to equate behavior with potential health issues and make product suggestions,” says Nevala.

For example, a cat going out of its litter box might be displaying much more than bad behavior since it is a common reaction when a urinary tract infection occurs. “Sharing that type of information with [your] customers, informing about natural options and encouraging them to schedule a vet visit helps a customer take action,” she says.

When a store takes the time to educate staff on feline health, and to research and stock only the best products, then communicate that hard work to its customers, everyone benefits—the store has a healthier bottom line, cats have healthier lives, and pet owners have healthier relationships with both their pet retailer and pets.

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