It’s no secret that bird ownership isn’t nearly as popular as that of cats and dogs—according to the American Pet Products Association, only 5.7 million of the 84.9 million pet-owning households own pet birds. While it’s a comparatively small number, the research indicates that bird-owning households typically have three to four pet birds.
As such, bird owners represent a special niche of pet owners. Even though they may not be as populous as dog and cat owners, these customers are just as passionate, and with that passion comes the desire to provide top-of-the-line nutrition. To that end, pet parents are seeking out well-rounded, nutrient-filled diets that feature wholesome and healthful ingredients.
“Customers want to feed their birds like they feed their other family members,” said Gary Rubin, global marketing director of TOPS Parrot Food. “That means they are looking for healthy, nutritious foods for their parrots and are gravitating toward USDA organic certified products without fillers, sugars or artificial ingredients.”
Organic food, in particular, seem to be one of the biggest trends emerging, for its nutritional, environmental and overall health benefits. These foods are typically grown with cleaner ingredients and less harmful chemicals on ethical farms.
“Organic foods are grown without pesticides and other chemicals that adversely affect our environment and tend to be higher in nutritional value then their conventionally grown counter parts,” said Jessica Hunt, front desk and LTL coordinator of Volkman Pet Products. “As with any of our pets, our bird’s health is a top priority—why not give them a healthier option when we can?”
Perhaps more than any other creature, domestic birds have nuanced nutritional needs. While these animals are independent in the wild and able to forage for what they need, they don’t have that same freedom when they’re living in a cage.
“Companion birds have basic dietary needs specific to their breed, age and breeding condition,” said Hunt. “In general, they need a good seed blend supplemented with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables. You can also add cooked meals and sprouted grains. Variety is a key component to ensure that your bird is getting well nutrition.”
However, the caveat to bird nutrition is that their diets need to provide some sort of mental stimulation element, as well. When birds are out in nature, they’re more independent and it’s easier for them to be in touch with their instincts. Wild birds have the two-for-one advantage of foraging around looking for food, which gets in their mental stimulation, while domesticated birds don’t have the same luxury.
This can be combatted with flavorful, mixed diets, as, “a variety of foods each day keeps them engaged mentally and also healthy physically,” said Rubin.
To help pets reach their nutritional and mental needs, both companies offer a comprehensive mix of products. Volkman offers its Nature’s Feast Naturals line, which covers everything from 1 lb. grits to in-shell nuts, dried fruit, mealworms and more, and its Featherglow line, which includes two different cooked meals to add variety and extra nutrition to your bird’s diet. Additionally, the company offers a Parrot Treat and Fruit & Nut Goodies in its Featherglow line, which are packed with dried fruits and nuts.
For its part, TOPS offers pellet and seed mixes, in addition to a line of organic parrot food that features organic certified treats and the Tesoro Treat line, which comes in three flavors and is a healthful snack that’s designed to be eaten daily.
Here’s the paradox retailers face: Considering the relative few bird owners, there’s a hesitancy to dedicate large areas of valuable floor space to this niche group, but inadequate space could give the impression that birds’ needs are an afterthought.
To that end, retailers should ensure that both they and their associates are up-to-date and fully educated on the ins and outs of bird nutrition, as this will help streamline the products that are carried in store. Additionally, in-depth employee knowledge compensates for a lack of square footage as it assures bird owners that while they may not have the most space in the aisle, they’re still at the right place to get the food and treats their birds need.
Additionally, bird owners are an inquisitive bunch—much like cat and dog parents. They’re looking for salespeople who reflect their passion and care for birds, which builds confidence and trust in the store.
“Employee knowledge is important when it comes to guiding customers toward bird nutrition products,” said Rubin. “Customers, particularly new bird owners, will ask questions about which foods they should consider. It’s always helpful when store team members are knowledgeable about the products and can provide information on which foods are better suited for parrots and which contain unhealthy ingredients like corn, sugar or artificial colors.”
In terms of merchandising, “store signage is another key element that will help guide customers to the right foods for their companion parrots,” continued Rubin. This includes marketing materials that come on behalf of the pet store and the manufacturer.
While retailers have the ability to get creative with displays and maximize space by utilizing endcaps, manufacturers can do their part by creating appealing packaging that offers “sneak peeks” into the products it holds.
“Packaging and end cap displays are ways for pet retailers to best merchandise bird nutrition at retail,” said Hunt. “Having a window in the package allows the pet parent to touch and feel the formula before even taking it home.” PB