Natural supplements and healthcare products have proven to be great sellers in recent years, as a growing number of consumers have sought to either address or prevent various health conditions in their pets. The trend reflects pets parents’ desire to not only extend their pets’ lifespan when possible, but also improve the general quality of their lives. However, the market is now overflowing with options, making it harder for consumers to determine what they need and which products are best suited for their pets—a confusion that may lead many shoppers to abandon the quest altogether.
The good news is that retailers can offer a solution. Experts say, retailers have both the power to decide which products are worthy of shelf space and, hopefully, the knowledge required to help match the right product with the right pet—and the combination is exactly what the market needs to keep sales humming.
According to market research firm Packaged Facts, sales of pet supplements and nutraceutical treats overall are beginning to moderate after years of double-digit sales growth. Over the years, manufacturers have introduced more supplements than retailers have the space to merchandise or the time to research. The flurry of product introductions, of course, has also meant that customers—and retail buyers—have plenty of options. However, Packaged Facts points out that the boom in the supplements market will also make manufacturers work harder to compete and force retailers to research and identify the best buys among the many products vying for space on their shelves.
One segment of the supplements market that is standing out among the rest, however, is the natural category. Ranking high on pet parents’ list of demands is their desire for products that they can trust—and for many consumers, that means going with “natural” options.
“With all of the problems there have been with dog food recalls and tainted food/treats, people want to be sure their pets have products that will do no harm,” says Jolee Molitor, marketing director for Wapiti Labs, Inc., which makes all-natural elk supplements for pets.
Among the most appealing aspects of natural products for many is that they are known to exclude ingredients believed to be harmful to pets. In fact, the descriptor “natural” is often considered synonymous with safer and more healthful. Manufacturers point out, however, that retailers need to be particularly judicious when choosing natural products to stock.
“[Pet parents] are looking for products that are truly ‘natural’ and for companies that have a corporate commitment to keeping things natural for pets and their owners,” says Molitor.
There is no government oversight or legislation to guarantee that a “natural” product label is accurate and honest, so retailers that don’t want to risk their reputations by selling substandard products must do their due diligence before choosing supplements to stock.
Glenn Davis, business manager at Herbsmith—which offers Chinese herbal supplements for pets—says natural has become a buzzword reflecting quality, but the association is worth questioning. “The word natural is not regulated by any government like the word organic is, so in theory any manufacturer can put the word natural on any label.”
This lack of quality and authenticity control, combined with the sheer volume of products on the market, can make the shopping experience confusing and, ultimately, unproductive for consumers. Overwhelmed shoppers will often leave a store empty handed. The onus, therefore, is on retailers and their sales associates to be educated on every product in the assortment.
“When pet owners are looking for supplements, they’re either looking to resolve an issue or to avoid ending up with an issue by providing preventative nutrition for their pet,” says Harald Fisker, president of Grizzly Pet Products. “Here, the knowledgeable independent pet professional has a unique opportunity to help the customer choose the best for the pet in question, and thereby provide very important customer service, which in itself will bring that customer back in other situations, too.”
Of course, pet owners are known for their pro-active quest for information that keeps them abreast of the latest in pet product innovation. In fact, the educated consumer is a much-discussed phenomenon in the industry. Conscientious pet owners seem to be well-read on everything pet related, from gourmet foods to eco-friendly toys. However, despite pet owners’ reputation for being informed, Davis points out that most consumers are actually not thoroughly educated on labeling and ingredients or on every product on the market—particularly as it relates to the growing field of supplements, which churns out new research findings daily.
“If the consumers aren’t educated, it becomes that much more important for the retailer to be educated and knowledgeable about their product presentation, so they can [say] to the consumer with authority, ‘Yes, this would be a good supplement for your pet, and here’s exactly why,’” he says. “But you’re not going to get that without educating yourself on your products first. Position yourself as the source of knowledge.”
One of the most effective ways to secure that knowledge is by working with manufacturers themselves. Naturally, retailers will have to extend their research beyond the marketing information that companies provide in order to be able to objectively assess products for value and quality. However, manufacturer representatives can be informative and helpful.
“Retailers should do business with companies that have a good training program that trains both the retailers and, in turn, provides information for use when they educate their customers,” says Molitor. “This includes product knowledge, category knowledge and up-selling of products.”
Equally important to a retailer’s success in the category is its ability to assemble a selection of products that meet its clientele’s needs and demands—from quality and performance to function and price range.
“If a store has a fairly limited space for displaying supplements, that space must be used effectively, so supplements that produce fast and visible results are the best choice,” Fisker says.
Quality and efficacy are top concerns for pet parents, so retailers need to choose their assortments wisely and with as much reliable information as they can garner about natural supplements, their ingredients and whether these products can back up their claims. Of course, the selection process comes with the usual challenges inherent in navigating the waters of a unregulated and relatively new product category.
It is helpful, therefore, that many manufacturers are choosing the self-regulatory route by voluntarily applying for the National Animal Supplement Council’s (NASC) seal of approval. The seal indicates that the company has subjected its products to NASC testing and met the organization’s criteria for quality, accurate labeling and other factors. It can be helpful gauge for retailers looking to vet their options.
“There is a way for a retailer to weed out obviously poorer-quality products in their product research, and that is to look for the NASC seal of approval prior to carrying the product line,” says Davis.
A Comprehensive Assortment
However, with so many natural supplements being introduced on the market, retailers—particularly those with a small footprint—may still have trouble narrowing down the choices. Buyers may want to start, then, by focusing on a sub-segment responsible for driving much of the category’s sales—products catering to older dogs.
“Veterinary medicine is so good at treating disease and preventing disease that we have fortunately developed a population of geriatric pets,” says Davis. “These pets have special needs for joint and health support, such as quality joint and bone supplements, antioxidants and nutritional supplements in general geared to the older pet.”
Of course, retailers should also keep in mind the phrase: prevention is the best medicine. Molitor points out that it is important for retailers to cover pets’ supplements needs from a holistic standpoint. “It helps to recognize that, as with the key products from Wapiti Labs, it is more than just helping one area of the body such as the joints; it is looking at the body as a whole,” she says. “Look for products that help the entire body—immune system, eyes, liver, etc. As with people, just because something isn’t hurting or we can’t see a physical ailment, that doesn’t mean that an area doesn’t need support.”
What’s on the Market: Natural supplements
Lincoln Bark’s (lincolnbark.com) Treat Smart are functional and nutraceutical soft treats for dogs. They can be used as training treats or crumbled over a dog’s food for added flavor and nutrients. Treat Smart snacks are made in the USA using holistic, human-grade ingredients. They also contain chia seed—which is loaded with protein, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, phytonutrients, amino acids and antioxidants. Treat Smart contains no corn, soy, wheat, preservatives, additives, artificial colors or flavors. It is available in four flavors: Chicken Liver, Duck and Pea, Roasted Peanut and Salmon.
NaturVet’s (naturvet.com) No Scoot Supplement Soft Chews (65 ct.) are designed to relieve and prevent anal-gland impaction, which can lead to itching and swelling that causes dogs to “scoot.” The fiber in the chews helps support healthy anal-gland function and supports normal bowel and anal-sac function. The formula is also available as supplement powder. It is made in the U.S., and it carries the NASC Seal of approval. It comes with a 100-percent money-back guarantee.
PetsPrefer Soft Chews for Dogs, by Vets Plus, Inc. (vets-plus.com), is a line of functional treats including: Joint, Probiotic, Calming, Skin & Coat, Breath and Senior. Developed by on-staff veterinarians, these soft chews contain 95-percent natural ingredients. They are manufactured in the USA. and carry the NASC Quality Seal, with 100-percent satisfaction guaranteed.
Richard’s Organics Nutrient Pastes, from SynergyLabs (synergylabs.com), is a tasty, high-calorie, low-volume dietary supplement. It is intended for animals that require extra calories and vitamins in their diet. Richard’s Organics Nutrient Pastes are used to provide supplemental calorie and nutritional intake in dogs and cats. Richard’s Organics Nutrient Pastes are also great for sporting and working dogs, as well as pregnant or sick dogs and cats. Richard’s Organics Nutrient Pastes don’t contain petroleum and are made with natural ingredients like: omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, soybean oil, cod liver oil, calcium, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin C, vitamin B12, vitamin A and magnesium, among others. There is no artificial coloring.
Okinawan Happy Dogs (okinawanhappydogs.com) Long Life is an herbal powder supplement containing turmeric and milk thistle, which naturally boost the body’s antioxidant enzymes superoxide dismutase (SOD) and glutathione that neutralize free radical. Together with other high-quality herbs, these powerful antioxidant enzyme stimulators target specific areas of health such as vision, brain, oral, joints, skin and kidney health to name a few. Made in the USA, this natural product is free of gluten, GMOs, artificial preservatives and coloring.