A Matter of Choice
by Debbie Ducommun
June 1, 2012
Offering a full assortment of diets to meet a range of needs affords retailers the best opportunity to get small pet owners in the store.



When finances are tight, pet owners might put off buying a new cage or another toy for their pets, but they have to keep buying food. Because the demand is steady, food sales fuel the pet industry. This is true for the small-pet category as much as it is for dog and cat products.

It is important for retailers to be knowledgeable about the foods available for small animals in order to offer the best selection for shoppers. Small pet owners won’t shop at a store that doesn’t carry the food they want. Some pet owners want the best food available and are willing to pay premium prices. Other pet owners want a less expensive food that still meets their pet’s nutritional needs. Offering a spectrum of products ensures that all customers will find a product to buy.

A common way of presenting options to customers is to use the good, better, best strategy of merchandising a range of products of different quality and prices. Store staff then needs to be able to explain to customers why one line of food is more expensive than another, and how those differences might benefit their pets. For instance, one difference between types of foods could be the ingredients. Premium brands often include ingredients that are more expensive, with the goal of supporting or improving the health of the pet. Another difference can be the amount of protein in a food. Ingredients high in protein, such as meat and fish, tend to cost more than ingredients lower in protein, such as grains. Therefore, a food higher in protein will often be higher in price as well.

Retailers can use their knowledge of the ingredients in different diets to help pet owners decide which food is best for their individual pet. For example, growing pets need more protein to build muscles and organs than adult animals that are done growing. Therefore, customers who own young animals should be steered toward diets that will provide the amount of protein their pets need.

If the customer objects to the higher price, employees can explain that the lower protein food will not meet the nutritional need of the pet. After adulthood, feeding a diet lower in protein can help control obesity and reduce the risk of kidney disease in some animals. Keep in mind that the relative protein content of the diet seems to be more important in animals that grow larger and for a longer time.


More Choices

Manufacturers are offering more choices than ever in their small-pet diet lines. Oxbow Animal Health will release a new line of foods that will make it even easier for retailers to help their customers choose an individualized feeding program for their pets, especially for those with specific health concerns. Amy Chamberlin, product development and nutrition specialist with Oxbow Animal Health, says the company’s new Natural Science line consists of premium fortified foods for adult rabbits and guinea pigs, as well as five hay-based supplements with focused support in five categories of wellness for many species of small pets, including rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, rats and others. The supplements are formulated with herbal ingredients meant to support health and wellness in pets in five categories: digestive support, joint support, urinary support, immune support and a multi-vitamin.

“The Natural Science foods are a great option for rabbit and guinea pig owners interested in incorporating novel, premium ingredients into their companions’ daily diet, as they contain three varieties of hay, as well as several unique ingredients [such as yellow pea, tomato pomace and canola] not available in conventional feeds,” Chamberlin says.


Get Familiar
In addition to carrying a variety of different lines of food, retailers can also increase food sales by learning more about the individual needs of their customers’ pets. This will allow retailers to better guide shoppers in their purchases. It will also help to develop a stronger relationship with customers. People love talking about their pets, and the opportunity to do so while at a pet shop will give them a positive experience and encourage them to shop there again. PB


Debbie Ducommun has a B.A. in animal behavior and has worked in the animal field since 1982. She is the author of the book Rats!, the booklet Rat Health Care and, her most recent book, The Complete Guide to Rat Training: Tricks and Games for Rat Fun and Fitness.