Pet nutrition remains top of mind for pet store shoppers everywhere. While sustaining a healthier lifestyle is a popular and challenging resolution many pet owners make for themselves, many are also permanently resolving to help their pets live healthier lives. As a result, pet owners are closely monitoring their animals’ diets, with a willingness to administer a variety of solution-based dietary supplements to bolster those diets.
The increased focus on pet nutrition—particularly natural remedy and supplement products—gives independent retailers the opportunity to become experts in the category. However, with pet supplement and remedy manufacturers constantly introducing new formulas and reinventing existing products, it may be a challenge for retailers to keep up. Continuous education on new delivery methods, ingredient trends and the basic knowledge of common ingredients is essential for retailers looking to maximize sales in the category.
“It’s harder to sell this category, but the profitability is certainly really good, and the possibility of helping an animal is much greater,” says Susan Weiss, president of Ark Natural Pet Products. “Retailers have to do their homework—they can’t just read the CliffsNotes.”
Over the last few years, manufacturers have made great strides in product improvement and innovation. Palatability and methods of delivery remain a top concern for pet owners, causing many manufacturers to focus on creating products that are easy for consumers to give their pets. While capsules and powders have been a mainstay in the category, soft chews and liquid formulas are becoming increasingly popular.
“[Consumers] want quality, fully functional supplements in convenient delivery systems that are highly palatable, easy and pleasant to administer,” says Jim Boyd, national sales manager, North America at NoviPet.
NoviPet’s line of supplements, which includes a multi-vitamin, joint support, and an omega-3 and -6 formula, are soft chews packaged in a pharmaceutical-like blister pack to maintain freshness. “Our unique delivery system produces highly palatable products, so the supplement is consumed—that way the pet gets the optimum value of the ingredient,” Boyd says.
Licks Liquid Vitamins is another company utilizing a unique delivery method. Amy Paris, the company founder and CEO, carefully considered various delivery methods—in an effort to give animals optimum value of ingredients—when developing Licks, a highly palatable joint and heart liquid supplement that can be added to a dog’s water or food bowl, or directly licked from the packet.
“Our biggest claim to fame is that our product has a 98-percent absorption rate,” Paris says. “We also use a chicken flavoring that is very aromatic. It doesn’t have a lot of taste, but dogs like the smell. We really worked on finding a flavor profile that dogs like to make the medicine go down easier.”
Making the medicine go down easier may be challenging for some pet parents, particularly the growing population of small-breed owners, says Weiss. Last year, Ark Naturals Pet Products converted its popular capsule products, Happy Traveler and Gentle Digest, into a soft chew.
“If you have any of the bigger breeds, using a capsule is not an issue. The issue is really trying to get the small dogs to swallow it,” Weiss says. “[The soft chew] is the same product, but it’s dispensed in a way that is easier for the little guys.”
Chris Bessent, D.V.M., at Herbsmith, Inc., says while palatability still matters, educated and committed consumers are finding easier ways to administer supplements in traditional forms, like capsules and powders.
“With the advent of raw and moist food that people are feeding their pets these days, it becomes a great vehicle to have supplements [like powders] go into it as well,” she says.
In addition to convenience, consumers continue to look for products that mirror what they are using for themselves. Manufacturers are increasingly introducing solution-oriented products. “More manufacturers are following the trends from the human side,” says Harald Fisker, president at Grizzly Pet Products.
Multi-vitamins, as well as products with omega-3 and -6, and glucosamine remain a staple in the category, as humans have seen the benefits of these products in their own lives. Manufacturers continue to invest in these popular products, and the market is seeing an increase in remedies and supplements for “active” dogs.
Last year, Grizzly Pet Products introduced an Active Dog Formula of its popular Joint Aid 4 Dogs supplements. “It benefits from an array of mostly natural ingredients working in synergy with the more traditional joint ingredients such as glucosamine and chondroitin,” Fisker says. “The Active Dog Formula combines absorbance enhancers with higher inclusions to give the fastest support to the real active dogs with strong digestive systems.”
On the flip side, manufacturers note that digestive support remedies with probiotics and prebiotics have also gained traction. “We have seen a large increase in probitoics and prebiotics,” says Rosie Walker, sales manager at Herbsmith Inc.
Herbsmith added the Microflora digestive support supplement to its product line last year. “It has probiotics, prebiotics, digestive enzymes and herbs that are really soothing to the gut,” Bessent says.
While soothing the body has been a major focus in the category, manufacturers are also finding ways to soothe the mind. “[The] calming [trend] came out of nowhere, it wasn’t big until about six months ago,” says Paris.
Noting the huge response to calming aids prompted Licks to develop its own calming formula. Its Zen formula contains a proprietary blend of ingredients to help promote calm and relaxed behavior in dogs to reduce anxiety.
Staying abreast of the latest trends is just one component to success in the category. Knowing the benefits of common ingredients, understanding how a product is administered and advising consumers about the correct dosages for an animal’s weight can help retailers guide customers toward the right products for their pets.
“As long as retailers are willing to educate themselves and their customers, it will only be a category that grows in their retail location. It’s a great avenue for improving the quality of life for dogs while increasing sales,” Walker says.