Pet Health Is Serious Business
The supplement aisle has become a big profit center as shoppers increasingly turn to pet stores for solutions to common health conditions in dogs and cats.
Over the past 15 years, sales of vitamins, minerals, and nutritional and herbal supplements (VMHS) in the human market have surged, with the global market expected to reach more than $220 billion over the next five years. The industry has grown from a quiet rumble to a deafening roar.
Industry experts point to an aging population with an increased awareness of the importance of preventative healthcare, as well as the rise of the self-directed consumer, as leading causes for that growth—and those things are not expected to go away anytime soon. In fact, the number of Americans 65 and older is projected to reach over 98 million by 2060, rising to nearly 24 percent of the population.
These empty nesters have already had a significant impact on the pet industry, as their children have moved out and they have become pet parents instead. So it should come as no surprise that the trends they are driving in the wider consumer marketplace have echoes within the pet industry.
And, as most pet professionals know, it’s never long before what shoppers want for themselves crosses over and causes demand for those same products for their pets.
A Healthy Business
All of the pet supplement and remedy companies interviewed for this article reported significant growth in sales numbers—in fact, one company reported that it saw 75 percent growth in sales of products in this category in 2017.
There are no signs that growth is likely to slow, so pet retailers who haven’t taken the time to educate themselves on the wide range of product solutions available in this space should consider themselves behind the curve. They’re missing out on what has the potential to be a very rewarding category.
How rewarding? Well, Susan Goldstein, who runs a health food store for animals in Westport, Conn., in addition to being co-CEO of Earth Animal Ventures, says that her 1,200-square-foot store does $800,000 a year in supplements alone. “I feel very strongly that [selling supplements is] a good business decision,” she says.
That doesn’t mean that being successful in the category is easy, though. Goldstein is quick to note that it takes studying and a willingness to engage with the shopper to talk about the history and individual needs of their pet and figure out the best products for the animal. “If you put that kind of an investment in, you have an opportunity to have a very, very strong business model for supplements,” she says.
Earth Animal Ventures focuses on supplements and remedies for what it considers to be the nine most common conditions that pet parents experience on a day-to-day basis with their dogs and cats, from joint health to anxiety to natural flea and tick treatment options.
This approach is an important one. While regulations often prevent companies from making specific claims about what their products can do, products should be aligned as solutions to common problems pet parents see.
Deborah Brown, vice president of Pet King Brands, Inc., which offers the ZYMOX and ORATENE product lines, also takes this approach. “ZYMOX offers remedy solutions that address the top medical conditions that affect pets most: skin allergies, hot spots and painful ear infections,” she says. “It’s estimated that 85 percent of pets with allergies will battle infections of the ears and skin—often recurring.”
The company’s ORATENE product line provides solutions to manage bad breath (a common pet owner complaint), as well as easy-to-use brushless products for good oral health. Both lines were previously only available through a veterinarian; they’ve been made available more recently through retailers, “due to consumer demand for safe, effective products without a trip to the veterinarian,” Brown explains.
Stocking the Shelves
When evaluating which items to stock, retailers should keep in mind that it’s important that they and their staff understand the common problems pet owners are looking to solve and how the items on their shelves can help alleviate those issues. But beyond simply looking for solution-focused products (since most of the products on the market today hopefully fall into that category), retailers should seriously consider product quality.
Chad J. Tillman, national sales manager at Grizzly Pet Products, offers three criteria retailers can use to evaluate quality. “NASC [National Animal Supplement Council] Certified Supplements first,” he says. “Then supplements from long-standing and proven companies, as well as the market leaders.”
NASC is a nonprofit industry group that was formed in 2001 with the goal of protecting and enhancing the health of companion animals and horses throughout the U.S. According to the organization’s website, the NASC Quality Seal program was initiated as part of their ongoing effort to improve and standardize the industry. In order to display the Quality Seal, companies must adhere to NASC’s quality standards and submit to an independent audit to ensure compliance.
Tillman’s company, Grizzly Pet Products, offers an array of NASC-certified supplements, including products for skin and coat (Grizzly Salmon Oil), joint support (Grizzly Joint Aid) and an antioxidant (Grizzly Krill Oil).
Beyond looking for the NASC seal, retailers should take the time to verify quality in other ways. As Tillman suggests, looking at companies that have been in the market for a while and proven their quality over time, as well as those that have risen to the position of market leaders, can also help retailers ensure they’re stocking quality items.
“Now, more than ever, pets are considered part of the family. Just as people are paying greater attention to nutrition and ingredient labels, they’re also investing time researching the products they select for their pets,” explains David Rizzo, Zuke’s director of operations.
That means it’s crucial that retailers educate themselves and their staff about the kind of information that pet owners are likely to find on their own. When it comes to supplements and remedies, retailers have a choice—they can help to educate customers, providing valuable information, or be seen as unknowledgeable and drive shoppers elsewhere.
However, retailers shouldn’t limit themselves to products inside of a bottle. When it comes to pet supplements, products that include ingredients that offer health benefits cross over into food toppers, treats, chews and more.
Zuke’s is one example of a company thinking outside the bottle. The company’s lineup of Enhance Functional Chews are botanically based functional chews that are crafted to help support dogs’ daily health. The lineup is available in Calming, Digestion, Fresh Breath, Mobility, Shiny Coat, Cognition and Immune Support. They are all grain-free and manufactured in the USA in small batches.
“When it comes to supplements, the hardest part for pet owners can be getting their dogs to actually eat them,” explains Rizzo. “So, we took special care in making our functional chews palatable to dogs.” Treats and chews with supplements and key ingredients can be a great way to make the experience of keeping a pet healthy a bit more fun for everyone involved.
Celebrating the Season
Once they’ve decided which products to carry, retailers should give serious thought to where they place products and when to promote them. Experts agree that supplements are now a destination category, not an impulse buy, but that has led many retailers to simply set up an aisle or section and stick all of their supplement products there.
Instead, retailers should think about the solutions those products offer and how they complement other items on the sales floor. For example, Brown says, “Many retailers have experienced great success by placing a floor display of the ZYMOX Dermatology products near the pet food that caters to those pets with sensitivities.”
This kind of cross promotion can be very powerful.
“A pet with allergies is typically allergic to many things, and a pet owner will often feed a special diet, such as one with limited ingredients. ZYMOX can’t cure allergies, but the products can provide solutions to the complications of allergies, such as itchy skin, hot spots and ear infections,” Brown explains. “When a pet owner finds products, like ZYMOX, that provide relief, it helps ease their emotional pain and provides welcome relief to the pet.”
Seasonal promotions can also be a helpful tool for maximizing sales of supplements and remedies, Goldstein explains. “As an example, if you’re living on the East Coast and it’s starting to get really cold, learn what supplements can tackle the seasonal diseases.”
Heading into the holidays, products that are good for anxiety are likely to do well, since this time of year is often so stressful for humans and animals alike. Some pets may be left at home while their owners travel; others may be stressed by traveling with their owners. Anxiety products can be helpful in either situation.
“I also will invent a ‘product of the month’ when I feel there’s an interest,” Goldstein says about her retail business. “As an example, for Fourth of July, I had my liquid herbal remedies or my flower essences for anxiety. They were out there with a little American flag.”
With a combination of smart retailing, astute product selection and good education, retailers can create healthy sales of healthy products while helping improve the lives of the animals their customers own. When it comes right down to it, isn’t that what it’s all about? PB