Renewed interest in small rodent pets by Millennials is bringing major changes and new revenue prospects for retailers.
Just because gerbils, guinea pigs and other rodents are small doesn’t mean they can’t bring big amounts of joy to pet owners. While rodents are typically considered children’s pets, more and more adults are finding that smaller animals fit in better with their modern lifestyle.
“A consistent trend over the last few years has been the increasing popularity of small pets with Millennials,” says Claire Hamblion, marketing manager for Supreme Petfoods. “Those pets are often more integrated into their owner’s lives—travelling with them and being generally pampered in the same way that dogs and cats have been.”
Small rodents are ideal pets for many young adults due to their size and habits. Not only do they take up less space (perfect for apartment living), they also require less attention than a cat or dog, which is great for busy pet parents. Plus, small rodents are generally less expensive to buy and maintain.
This demographic shift from children to adults provides both a new opportunity for retailers to drive category sales and a challenge to rethink approaches to merchandising and marketing.
Similar to the health and humanization trends in more traditional pet categories, today’s owners of small rodents are increasingly interested and willing to invest in their pet’s quality of life.
“Modern pet parents want to provide the best quality of life possible for their pets. Small pets such as rats, mice, hamsters and gerbils are no exception,” says Lucas Stock, communications manager for Oxbow Animal Health. “Across the board, today’s pet parents are more educated and invested in their animals than ever. They pay close attention to labels and most are willing to show loyalty to high-quality products that deliver on their promises and meet consumer expectations. For this reason, it’s more important than ever for retailers to carry products they trust and believe in.”
One of the biggest areas of innovation in the small rodent category is food. Today’s pet parents don’t want to settle for foods full of fillers or low-grade ingredients. “There is an increasing demand for premium products and for nutrition to mirror trends in human nutrition—a natural diet, avoidance of sugars and grain-free are just some of the features on owners’ wish-lists,” says Hamblion.
Supreme Petfoods offers a wide range of species-specific food for small pets. The U.K.-based company’s Science Selective line, for instance, has recipes for guinea pigs, chinchillas, rats, mice, hamsters, degus, ferrets and rabbits. Each formula is made with each rodent’s unique needs in mind. All recipes also contain zero added sugar, which can damage pets’ teeth and cause digestive issues or skin problems.
“Our products are made by a team dedicated to meeting the needs of small pets, and we also produce extruded foods for these species,” says Hamblion. “The crunchy texture is very palatable and offers the same complete nutrition in every nibble.
As all the ingredients are compressed under heat and temperature, they don’t have to be bound together by sticky sugars or molasses, which increase the sugar content of the diet.”
In addition to being good for pets, Supreme Petfoods’ products are also good for the environment. At every step of production, the manufacturer looks for ways to use local ingredients, reduce CO2 emissions and use recycled materials in packaging. Additionally, the company does not use palm oil in any products due to its contribution to wildlife habitat destruction in places like Indonesia and Malaysia.
“Pet ownership is very much about the experience and if we can make that really positive that can only be good for the channel,” says Hamblion. “Ease of use and reassurance that you are doing the right thing are big factors and we expect ‘green’ credentials to become increasingly important.”
Happy and Healthy Habitats
Bedding and living spaces are also a key area of innovation in the small rodent category. Unlike dogs or cats, rodents spend a majority of their time in a single habitat, such as a cage, pen or hutch.
“Habitat essentials include soft, comfortable bedding; hay for burrowing; hideout accessories; and healthy treats for bonding between pet parent and pet,” says Stock. “Oxbow is proud to offer premium options across each of these categories to support the mental, physical and nutritional enrichment of pets.”
Oxbow’s Pure Comfort line of natural bedding, for instance, is made with 100 percent pure, never-printed paper, which creates a soft, hygienic and safe living space for pets of all sizes. Plus, it is 99.9 percent dust-free and delivers strong odor control and moisture absorption for easy cleanup.
In addition to bedding, Oxbow also offers a variety of fun accessories to keep pets entertained and encourage their natural instincts to hide, forage and dig. The Timothy CLUB Bungalow, for example, provides small rodents with a comfortable and edible place to getaway. Like other Timothy CLUB products, it is made with high fiber, 100 percent timothy hay and contains zero chemicals, wire or thread.
Finding success in the small rodent category doesn’t end with product selection; retailers also need to be strategic about merchandising strategies to reach Millennial owners.
“There’s one big thing that all retailers need to get right to succeed with small pets and that’s merchandising,” says Hamblion. “Our research has shown that shoppers find the small pets category confusing—they have to scan across shelves, up and down and even across aisles to find the products that they want. Frustration often leads to basket abandonment.”
Highly visible and well-organized displays are always effective, says Stock, who recommends utilizing endcaps and clip strips whenever possible. He also advises retailers who offer live animal sales to take advantage of the habitats to exhibit products.
“One of Oxbow’s favorite ways to support partners is through our Preferred Store Program, which offers product support for in-store feeding needs,” he adds. “Most new pet parents prefer to keep their animal on the food they’re currently eating, so there’s great benefit on utilizing a premium food for in store feeding purposes.”
Social media, too, can be a powerful tool for reaching small pet owners, especially young adults. “We encourage retailers to use their social media channels as a platform for advertising new products and specials,” says Stock. “Focused product posts are one great—and free—way to educate customers about your small rodent set, including any new and exciting products.
Of course, retailers’ most valuable sales tools are their salespeople. That’s why it’s crucial to keep employees up to date about the latest products and pet wellness news via manufacturer websites and other resources. “Education, education, education—we just can’t say it enough,” says Hamblion. “Today’s owners of pocket pets are well informed about their pet’s needs and so the retail team really has to be able to listen and use their additional knowledge to make great recommendations.” PB