Offering Supplemental Support
The supplements category is enjoying increased attention and sales activity as dog and cat owners are starting to better understand the benefits these products can bring to their pets.
As many pet foods have evolved to become more holistic in their benefits—for example, incorporating ingredients that help support digestion or skin and coat health—dogs and cats have reaped the benefits from these high-quality formulas. This might cause some to assume their pets are getting all the nutritional support needed, particularly if the animal isn’t exhibiting any symptoms indicating problems. But the truth is, even the best diets could use a little support. In this respect, supplements perform a key role.
Consumer awareness of pet supplements is on the rise, thanks to folks incorporating supplements into their own daily routines and transferring this experience to their pets, says Michele Kaminski, director of marketing for Pet-Ag, Inc. Headquartered in Hampshire, Ill., the company manufactures nutritional products under various brands for all animal species.
However, some misconceptions persist, adds Kaminski.
“What we see is that pet owners are often looking for a short-term solution to a specific problem,” she explains. “But most supplements are based on long-term, preventative health, which often tends to inhibit compliance in giving supplements regularly to pets. It’s that quick-fix attitude many consumers have.”
Ted Hayes, president of Life Line Pet Nutrition, Inc., a Gig Harbor, Wash., manufacturer of natural supplements for dogs and cats, says another issue is that pet owners often overlook supplements until their pets encounter health concerns or deficiencies. In reality, he explains, owners should be supplementing with a quality omega-3 fatty acid throughout their pet’s life.
Even so, there are encouraging indications that owners are becoming more proactive in how they approach pet wellness, says Lindsey Stluka, sales and marketing for Herbsmith, an Oconomowoc, Wis.-based manufacturer of health-supporting and condition-specific supplements for dog, cats and horses.
“People are starting to figure out that most kibble doesn’t contain the micronutrients needed to keep their dog or cat in peak condition, so they’re starting to fill in the gaps,” she says, noting that joint and digestive support supplements, in particular, are drawing a lot of interest from pet owners, as are skin and coat supplements.
Supplements in Demand
James Brandly, marketing coordinator with TropiClean Pet Products, a Wentzville, Mo., developer of pet products, says the supplements arena is growing every year, citing Packaged Facts figures (U.S. 6th edition) indicating pet supplement sales have realized a compound growth rate of nearly four percent annually, with sales hitting $580 million last year. Also according to Packaged Facts, pet owners are looking for condition-specific, solution-based supplements, says Brandly.
Stluka says Herbsmith is advising pet specialty retailers to consider adding supplements designed for supporting senior health and cognitive function. She also suggests incorporating vision and antioxidant supplements into the assortment, along with probiotics.
Chad Tillman, national sales manager of Grizzly Pet Products LLC, also says that pet specialty retailers “should really begin considering carrying an antioxidant product” to support the immune system and target free radicals.
“Most modern pet foods, even super-premium foods, contain ingredients that can lead to an increase of free radicals. An antioxidant supplement designed for boosting the immune system can help fight these,” says Tillman, adding that other primary concerns pet owners have are around skin and coat health, allergies and joint support.
Located in Woodinville, Wash., Grizzly Pet Products specializes in all-natural pet products for dogs and cats derived from Alaskan wild salmon, Alaskan wild pollock and wild Antartic krill, including supplements and ultra-premium foods and treats.
Dog and cat owners are also looking for products that are easy to use, preferring not to struggle with dogs—and especially with cats—to dose them, says Kaminski, describing this effort as the stuff of nightmares for both pet and person.
“So, they’re looking for forms that are easy to give by the pet just licking a great-tasting gel or a form that can be combined with regular food,” she says, drawing from Pet-Ag’s custom research involving more than 1,000 dog and cat owners.
“The research also indicated that health concerns as pets age are of great concern, with about 60 percent of those owners using a supplement using more than one [to address multiple issues],” Kaminski. “This indicates the importance of retailers offering a full line of supplements.”
Figuring It Out
The volume of pet supplements available to consumers is mushrooming, contributing to confusion about what product might work best for their pet. Pet specialty retailers face particular concerns when trying to figure out what to carry, especially since their customers are relying on them to provide safe, effective products. This dilemma is compounded by the fact that, as this category picks up steam, more manufacturers are entering into it, often for the first time.
“Manufacturers are always seeking to grow sales by expanding into new categories or in some cases crossing over [from the human market to the pet market],” says Kaminski. “The issue is that not all of these manufacturers have the expertise for formulating and making supplements, nor do they have an understanding of selling in the pet supplement market.”
Additionally, says Stluka, many pet owners mistakenly believe that the supplements industry is more tightly regulated than it is, and that all product claims are legitimate and verified, which isn’t universally true.
“Instead, it’s really up to the manufacturer to make a quality product,” she says. “And it’s definitely up to consumers to advocate for their animals.”
Stluka says they “always recommend” consumers purchase supplements carrying the NASC (National Animal Supplement Council) Seal of Quality on the packaging. Brandly agrees.
“Quality is another requirement in the supplements arena,” he says. “The NASC Quality Seal indicates that its members have gone through a rigorous audit, designed to help minimize and control risk; statistically track all product information; keep the consumer educated with correct labeling information; and make the consumer aware of any possible ingredient complexities with caution and warning statements.”
The “swift-growing influence” of NASC—a private organization that works with the FDA—has dramatically changed the supplements industry for the better, says Tillman, ensuring that unproven claims don’t appear on packaging or in sales material, and that the guaranteed analysis of products are accurate, along with regulating every aspect of manufacturing and holding producers to manufacturing best-practices.
“Every consumer should check all supplements for pets to verify it is a NASC-certified product,” he asserts.
Don’t discount the importance of consumer education—that need will always be there, says Hayes. Pet specialty retailers should also thoroughly understand the specific needs of each customer’s pet, as every situation is different, says Kaminski. Inquire about the pet’s age, what food the cat or dog is eating, if the pet is exhibiting any physical or behavioral symptoms, what environment the pet is kept in and exposed to and how much interaction it has with other humans and/or pets, she says.
Be as targeted in your questions as possible, advises Stluka. “For example, instead of asking if the pet has anxiety, ask what situations make the pet anxious. Is it only when thunderstorms and fireworks come around? If so, great, it’s likely a short-term calming aid will help,” she explains. “However, does the pet have bad separation anxiety or is he always nervous? In that case, perhaps a long-term anti-anxiety supplement would be a better fit.”
Finally, retailers should take advantage of the education offered by manufacturers, along with utilizing other resources so they can provide their customers with the knowledge required to evaluate the worth of whatever supplement they’re considering.
“There are no legal distinctions between the mere presence of a substance and an adequate amount of a substance in a product,” says Stluka. “It’s up to the informed retail store to educate their clients about the difference between therapeutic levels of active ingredients and just a pinch of an active ingredient so it can be listed on the label.”
Stores making this effort, along with carrying only those products offered by reputable, time-tested pet supplements manufacturers, not only experience stronger customer loyalty but stronger sales as well, as customers return again and again for the solutions that effectively support their pet’s wellbeing.