Small animals have long been the go-to choice for people who want a playful pet companion that doesn’t take up quite as much space as a cat or dog, as well as for parents with young children who strive to teach their kids responsibility, care and compassion. Whether first-time or lifelong small pet owners, consumers in this space are doing more online shopping and research than ever before, while also seeking guidance from traditional pet stores regarding care and behavioral needs, not to mention which small animal products will provide the most convenience, safety, and the highest quality of life for their furry little friends.
Maintaining Balanced Diets
While an enticing taste is important, small pet owners also tend to prioritize a balanced, natural diet that supports their pet’s health.
“With owners becoming increasingly health-conscious about their pets, we are seeing more customers looking for healthy products that have good nutritional value and are not too high in sugar,” says Claire Hamblion, marketing director at Supreme Petfoods, noting that the company’s Science Selective range caters to this customer trend, since it is veterinary-recommended and contains no added sugar.
Similarly, new Field+Forest food by Kaytee uses wholesome ingredients, carefully curated from fields and forests to support a healthy diet. It is natural with added vitamins and minerals and made without unwanted sweeteners, fillers or artificial preservatives.
“Natural, healthy, premium products that support ancestral and instinctive behaviors continue to be relevant trends that have influenced small animal food production and marketing,” says Erin Lenz, senior brand manager at Kaytee Small Animal. “To support the mental and physical health of domesticated small animals pet parents are looking for healthy, natural and enriching food and hay that offers a variety of unique tastes, textures and experiences.”
As all small animals are unique, each small pet parent is in search of something different when it comes to the food that will best support their pet’s health, lifestyle and behavioral needs. Instead of taking a one-size-fits-all approach, retailers should make sure that they are always stocked with a diverse selection of nutrition products that support the varying needs of different small animal species.
Stocking The Shelves
A known must-have for the small animal aisle is hay, which, in addition to being a requirement for small herbivores, has health benefits like providing fiber to help wear down their growing teeth and support digestive health. However, while hay is certainly essential, it must be used to complement, not replace, a balanced diet, according to Hamblion.
“Each species will have different nutritional needs and preferences, so it’s important for retailers to stock a range of species-specific diet options,” she says. “The Science Selective range has been designed to meet the specific nutritional needs of many different species including rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets, degus, hamsters… the list goes on!”
Lenz adds that New Field+Forest by Kaytee’s Premier All-Natural Hay is grown without pesticides and harvested at the peak of freshness specifically for small pets. High-fiber premium cuts of timothy hay, and a naturally grown together blend of timothy and orchard grass hay offer a unique and enriching foraging experience with a variety of tastes and textures, which helps promote healthy digestion and prevents selective eating.
“In terms of small pet hay, consumers want fresh, high-fiber hay grown specifically for small animals without pesticides,” says Lenz. “Pet parents want to provide their small pets with mental and physical stimulation as they graze. In addition to aiding in digestive and dental health, offering a variety of hay mimics the variety a rabbit, guinea pig, or chinchilla would find in the wild.”
Hamblion also notes that as millennial pet owners tend to seek out established and trusted brands, retailers will benefit from stocking products from brands with a reputation for high-quality pet care. Stocking a range of price options in order to meet the needs of customers with budgetary constraints, while also providing premium products to cater to the increasing number of highly educated millennial owners, will prove beneficial for retailers trying to gain the loyalty of this key demographic.
While online and at-home shopping remains popular, this does not negate the importance of implementing best practices for sale and marketing in the store.
“It’s worth placing well-recognized products at eye level and organizing products vertically and horizontally along shelves to help people locate and purchase items with minimal effort,” says Hamblion. “Displays combining educational materials and products can also be very effective and we also offer a wide range of point-of-sale materials for retailers.”
Additionally, research has found that people with small pets are often multi-pet owners, Hamblion says. These owners will typically need to purchase several different products at once. When species-specific diets from the same brand are in several different pages on a website, or in different areas in a store, this can make it difficult for owners to locate the products they’re looking for. Stocking brands together, and organizing them intuitively, allows owners to more easily locate products. This leads to a better customer experience and provides more time for browsing, which helps to increase sales both online and in stores.
Springtime is traditionally when small animal sales are the strongest, as this is when new pet availability is greatest, according to John Gerstenberger, vice president of product development at Ware Pet Products. With that said, retailers should steer consumers toward doing their due diligence as opposed to giving into impulse purchases.
“Brand and product manufacturers and retailers can work collaboratively to help provide education on the importance of care when adding a new small animal pet to the family,” he says. “Having a pet (big or small) is a responsibility, so education through marketing greatly helps customers make educated decisions about the products they seek out.”
It is no secret that the pandemic has brought an increase in pet ownership, including small pets, so this niche market has seen the same increase in sales that the pet industry has overall. Not only are owners spending more money on their pets, but their priorities are also shifting further toward the natural and organic nutrition space, including for treats and chews, which many small pet parents view as the healthiest option.
“In recent years, we’ve definitely seen an increase in products that are natural and/or organic,” says Gerstenberger. “At Ware, we’ve created products that appeal to natural materials and even use natural vegetables (i.e. beets, etc.) to create color in our products verses using chemicals or synthetics.”
Healthy treat and snack options are also seeing a spike in popularity. As many owners become more health-conscious, they are becoming less willing to give their pets snacks that are sweetened with artificial flavors and a lot of sugar. For example, Supreme’s high-fiber Selective Naturals Loops treats have seen great recent sales, Hamblion says, as they are made from naturally tasty ingredients including apples, cranberries and carrots, which make them delicious for small pets without any added sugar.
Gerstenberger adds that chews are a great upsell opportunity for retailers to offer a more enjoyable and healthy variety for their small animal pet customers, and increase the likelihood of repeat purchases.
“The biggest consumer trends in purchasing continue to be natural, organic, and healthy,” he says. “We are constantly challenging ourselves to create new product innovations that provide natural solutions and appeal to the pet-parent customer on the shelf, which offers great benefits for the pet as well.”
In the small pet space, premium products that help produce a well-rounded, natural and unique diet, including snacks and treats, are of the utmost importance. Stocking high-quality products from established, well-respected brands will help retailers make the most of these trends, Hamblion explains.
“By ensuring that staff are fully trained on the unique selling points and overall benefits of these premium products, retailers will be able to achieve even better sales.” PB