Manufacturers of natural pet supplements and remedies report soaring sales driven by consumers determined to secure their pets’ well-being.
The economy may still be sluggish, but you would never know it from talking to sources in the natural supplements and remedies sector of the pet retail industry. Ask manufacturers in this product category how their businesses fared in 2010 and the answers are often upbeat and enthusiastic.
“We haven’t missed a beat in 14 years,” says Susan Weiss, president of Naples, Fla.-based Ark Naturals, which manufactures and distributes a line of wellness and remedy products for dogs and cats. Ark Naturals, she says, has experienced double-digit growth each year since its founding in 1996.
“There are many products in the pet retail marketplace claiming to be natural, but to survive in the highly competitive natural supplements and remedies sector, a company’s products have to have a lot of credibility,” says Weiss, adding that the company was named one of Florida State’s 50 “Companies to Watch,” an honor given to companies that are helping to fuel the state’s economy.
The pet supplements and remedies market continues to boom because of the strong health trends impacting human products. Many consumers, for instance, have become aware of the unhealthy effects of chemicals on their bodies and environments, and so they have begun to seek alternatives, not just for themselves, but also their pets.
“We know that most consumers view pets as members of their family,” says Carol Kisill, product manager of the Fort Worth, Texas-based Tomlyn Products. “This is especially true when it comes to pet health. Many consumers have concluded that natural and homeopathic remedies are the keys to keeping their pets healthy and happy.”
In business for 30 years, Tomlyn Products offers a comprehensive line of veterinarian-formulated pet wellness products, including natural supplements, as well as skin and coat, and digestive health products.
Digestive health has been a particularly popular segment of the supplements and remedies category–and there is a good reason for this, says Michelle Thomas, eastern regional and veterinarian sales manager for Ham Lake, Minn.-based Wapiti Labs, Inc., a manufacturer that offers herbal supplements that blend elk velvet antler and other traditional Chinese herbs to bring balance and support for the health of dogs and cats.
“Digestive-support supplements are popular because poor food quality makes pets prone to poor digestion and diarrhea,” she says. “Pets sneak and eat food they aren’t use to digesting, which causes gas, bloating, diarrhea and vomiting. I have a toddler at home, so I can attest to the fact that, with children in the house, the table scraps pets eat greatly increase.”
Another key segment of the supplements and remedies category comprises products designed to support joint health.
“Joint supplements are popular because they enable a consumer to provide relief for their arthritic dog at a fraction of the cost of currently available drugs and without all the possible side effects,” explains Sinead Imbaro, president of Olympic Olympic Brands, Inc., a Miami, Fla.-based manufacturer of NutriFlex brand joint supplements. “Over time, consumers can save hundreds of dollars on vet bills.”
Promoting the Category
Retailers and manufacturers in the pet supplements and remedies market say that education is the key to boosting sales. Consumers can be overwhelmed by the multitude of choices, so it’s important that the retailer provide guidance.
“If a consumer is impressed by a retailer’s knowledge and sees results from their recommendations, they will come to view the retailer as a trusted source of information and refer others to him,” Imbaro says. “As the consumer becomes educated, the retailer must be prepared with educated answers to any questions they pose.”
There are a variety of methods retailers can use to educate consumers about pet supplements and remedies. For starters, they can develop brochures and flyers, and put packets of information on their websites that provide useful information about supplements and their benefits.
Weiss warns, however, that it is not enough just to rely on a brochure. “A pet retailer won’t gain the confidence of their customers, if they have to refer to a brochure to answer questions,” she says. “It gives the customer the perception that the retailer doesn’t know his product line or doesn’t really care if he does.”
Manufacturers are also doing their part to raise consumer awareness of the product category. “We believe we need to be proactive in getting the word out,” says Lynn Stachnick, product manager for North Andover, Mass.-based Nelsons, manufacturer of Rescue Remedy Pet, an all-natural stress reliever.
The company, she adds, has a formal educational program that includes in-house retail training, consumer lectures and demonstrations and webinars that are available throughout North America.
Of course, one of the most important things that a manufacturer can provide for the retailers selling their products is information about those products and the ingredients they contain.
“The manufacturer should have a toll-free number a consumer can call,” says John Phillips, president and CEO of Bedford, N.H-based Wholistic Pet Organics, a vendor of human-grade animal health products. “Retailers carry hundreds of different products, so they can’t be expected to be knowledgeable about every product.”
Merchandising the natural supplements and remedies category is not something that retailers should do half-heartedly if they want to achieve success. “The pet retailer’s merchandising should be done in such a way that the consumer becomes convinced the retailer’s store is the ultimate destination for pet supplements and remedies,” says Weiss.
Should natural supplements and remedy products be treated to special merchandizing or its own designated section on store shelves? Not necessarily. Stachnick advises retailers not to separate homeopathic remedies from the traditional pet products stocked on their shelves.
“Having our product alongside other behavioral products or supplements is crucial to getting into it the hands of pet owners who may not typically shop in a store’s homeopathic or herbal section,” she says.
Education, marketing and merchandising will help to maximize the sale of pet supplements and remedies, but the sector, no doubt, will continue to have the Midas touch in 2011 and beyond.
“We will need to continue working hard, but we expect to see a strong period of sustainable growth for our sector for this year and beyond,” Imbaro says.
Ron Chepesiuk is a Rock Hill, South Carolina-based freelance business writer.