Natural supplements can strengthen a pet’s natural defenses against germs, pollutants and stress, as well as help fight disease.
Step into the nutrition aisle of any drugstore and you are bound to find quite a few shelves stocked with hundreds of dietary supplements for people, including multi-vitamins, probiotics and tablets that fill a specific deficiency in the diet. The growing popularity of supplements is due to the widening knowledge that in order to maintain optimum health, bodies need more nutrients then they get from food alone, and it is best to obtain these nutrients from natural sources. This fact is also true for pets, which has led to the rising popularity of supplements in the companion animal market.
“The trend of the pet industry continues to push toward the natural side,” says Melissa Stephany, marketing manager at Herbsmith Inc. “Pet owners have increased their demand for holistic options in an effort to avoid the negative side effects that often come with the traditional ways.” Herbsmith offers a variety of herbal blends that address allergy, stress, joint and immunity issues.
Even though manufacturers of commercial pet foods have made incredible strides in providing high-quality food choices that put common kibble to shame, nutritional supplements can further bolster a pet’s natural defenses against germs, pollutants and stress, as well as help fight illness. Retailers who promote the use of pet supplements send a message to customers that their stores are dedicated to providing products that help pets live longer, healthier lives. Adding these items to shelves won’t hurt a retailer’s bottom line either.
What is a Supplement?
There are two types of supplements. A health supplement is a product intended to support the maintenance of normal biological structure and function in animals. An example of a health supplement would be glucosamine, which helps build strong joint cartilage. A nutritional supplement is a product intended to provide nutritional value as a component of a complete and balanced diet. Vitamin and mineral products are examples of nutritional supplements.
According to industry observers, the most popular supplements for pets incude glucosamine and chondroitin, multi-vitamins, and omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids. Glucosamine is an amino sugar that helps build strong joint cartilage, while chondroitin helps to keep cartilage healthy by absorbing fluid into the connective tissue. These supplements are absorbed by cartilage cells and stimulate joint function and repair. Pets prone to or suffering from arthritis, osteoarthritis or hip dysplasia can really benefit from these supplements.
Multi-vitamins contain a daily allowance of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and fatty acids. They come formulated for different pets and different life stages. For example, a multi-vitamin formulated for a puppy will be different than one formulated for a senior dog. A good multi-vitamin can help fight disease, maintain proper system functions and boost energy levels.
Omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acid supplements help maintain a healthy skin and coat. These fatty acids cannot be produced in the body and must be obtained from either food or a supplement. If a pet’s coat appears dull and dry, or it experiences hair loss, greasy skin or skin inflammation, an omega supplement can help.
Probiotics and prebiotics, which help a dog digest food and absorb nutrients, are also gaining popularity in the pet market. These are living microorganisms that have a positive effect on the intestinal flora where different bacteria reside. When the large intestine is colonized by this “good bacteria,” there isn’t any room for bad bacteria and pathogens, such as salmonella and E. coli.
If a customer complains that their pet is suffering from lack of energy, a dull coat or a sensitive digestive system, or if the pet seems to be susceptible to infections, it may benefit from one or more of the above-mentioned supplements. Puppies, kittens and older animals, even those that seem to be in good health, may benefit from multi-vitamins, antioxidants and probiotics. Retailers that can provide these supplements to pet parents will aid in the health and wellbeing of their customers’ pets.
There are a lot of manufacturers producing supplements, so how does a retailer choose a good selection for the store? One way is to make sure to select high-quality products that have met regulation standards.
“Most people think that supplements are unregulated or poorly regulated, but this is not the case at all,” explains William Bookout, president of the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC). “Supplements are actually regulated at three levels. At a federal level, they are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration Center for Veterinary Medicine. There is also state oversight, which is typically done through the department of agriculture or the state chemist’s office. And additionally, there is self-regulation, through an organization like the NASC. So in the animal industry, supplements are typically more regulated than they are in the human industry.”
The National Animal Supplement Council was established in 2002 to establish a unified, consistent voice for animal health and nutritional supplement companies. The goal of this non-profit industry advocacy group is to create responsible and nationally consistent labeling and claims guidelines, and to provide consistent quality and production process controls for the industry. This is accomplished by working with the federal and state regulatory agencies.
“The National Animal Supplement Council comprises a great group of animal supplement companies that are all working toward a common goal –to do what’s best for our animals,” says Stephany [Herbsmith Inc. is a member of the NASC]. “In order to be an NASC member, a company must adhere to very strict guidelines in manufacturing, sourcing, quality control, marketing, labeling and adverse-event reporting. In order to retain the NASC Quality Seal on their products, these companies are audited regularly to ensure that all guidelines continue to be met.”
Retailers can also become members of the NASC. “Support from downstream business partners, meaning the people who actually sell the products to customers, is extremely important,” says Bookout. “Retailers can have a high degree of confidence in NASC-audited members, and can therefore have a higher degree of confidence that they are offering quality products to customers. Retailers should also stay out of regulatory trouble because they are selling items that meet quality and labeling standards.”
As “associate members” of NASC, retailers commit to selling approved high-quality supplements that have met the council’s quality and labeling standards. There is no fee for this participation, and retailers will receive all types of free educational materials, including newsletters and email updates. Retailers are also welcome to attend NASC’s annual meeting, and they are always free to contact the council with any questions.
While selling supplements with the NASC Seal of Quality does not guarantee increased sales at retail, Bookout does feel that the seal helps provide consumers with a higher degree of confidence that they are purchasing products that comply with quality and labeling standards. For retailers, stocking these products is the best way to support efforts to improve the quality of animal health and nutritional supplements and help ensure their continued availability.
On the Shelf
Supplements are great items to have on the store shelf because they don’t take up much space and they generate repeat sales. When choosing items to stock, only select a few of each supplement; having too many glucosamine choices will only confuse customers, deterring them from purchasing the item. Keep in mind that some pet owners have trouble giving their pets tablets, so be sure to offer liquid, powder and chewable options. Displaying pill pockets next to supplements will help create add-on sales.
Retailers interested in stocking supplements in their stores should contact popular manufacturers, most of which are willing to provide free education. “Many of the leading supplement companies . . . have been working very hard to educate stores and their customers through literature, webinars, in-store training, etc.,” says Stephany. “The stores that are seeking all of these educational opportunities seem to be leading the way in the holistic movement and are establishing a great trusting relationship with their customers.”
Once retailers have a good supplement section and have educated themselves about the category, boosting sales in the store is as easy as starting a conversation at the register with pet parents who are purchasing a food or treat item. Ask them if their pet takes a daily multi-vitamin, and tell them about the health benefits these supplements provide. If a customer complains that their pet has a dull coat or is having mobility issues, recommend a supplement. Once that customer hears about the many benefits supplements provide, they won’t be able to resist the purchase–and they’ll be back on a regular basis to replenish their supplement supply.