Promoting Pet Wellness on A Retail Platform

In late 2010, The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) released a statement saying that they believed that nutrition impacts overall pet health and that a discussion about nutrition should be considered the 5th Vital Assessment and thus discussed by a veterinarian at a typical pet wellness check-up.

Since then, the word “wellness” has definitely been trending in the pet world and consequently has prompted many retailers to focus on products that promote overall health and well being in their stores.

According to Chip Sammons, the owner of the Holistic Pet Center in Clackamas, OR, his store is registered with the State of Oregon as, “The Health Food Store for Pets”.

“Thus as such, I consider it to be a wellness center,” said Sammons. “My goal when we opened the store back in 1988 was to only stock products beneficial to pet health – no bad ingredients — and that’s the way it still is with every item we stock.

“A ‘Wellness Center’ could be just a marketing concept with whatever natural products seem to fit, or, it could (and should) have particular criteria which denotes why specific products have been chosen for that section.  For me, that criterion is no artificial preservatives, no by-products, no sugar, no nitrates and no artificial colors or flavors, no Genetically Modified or irradiated items.

“It begins with stocking food that must meet this criteria, and then dog and cat vitamins. I have my own line called Vetline Veterinary Vitamins, which we have made in an FDA certified laboratory in Oregon. They are made from all food-grade ingredients and have been on the market for 24 years. We also wholesale them to other stores.”

In order to remain “in the know”, Sammons attends a lot of Employee Wellness Fairs and is constantly visiting schools and dog groups to share his ideas about pet wellness. Further he has his own radio show called  “Pet Nutrition and News with Chip Sammons,” on KPAM 860 AM from 8 – 9 PST on Saturdays which has proved to be a great way of messaging the public at large.   (Or at kpam.com – “Listen Live.”).

Andrew Kim, chief executive officer and Mark Boonnark, chief operating officer, co-owners of Healthy Spot stores in Santa Monica, CA and previous winners of the PPN Outstanding Natural Pet Store Award  also concurred that they consider their store to be a fully-fledged wellness center.

“After all, shouldn’t all the food, treats and supplements in a pet store focus on pet health and general wellness?” said Kim.

“ We have a strict criteria that has to meet the Healthy Spot wellness standards.  We believe wellness starts with nutrition and should be the focal point of any wellness center.

“Because we have made a heavy investment in the design and branding of our store feel we can better differentiate ourselves by creating our own in-store displays rather than utilizing what manufacturers have to offer. However, we do work closely with our manufacturing partners to hold seminars for staff and demos for clients in stores on a frequent basis.”

Susan L. Parker executive vice president and chief operating officer of Cutter’s Mill stores in Norristown, PA explained that apart from the regular supplement, dental, and grooming aisles in their company’s stores, they also have what they call the Earth Animal Solution Center.

“This section features a full line of holistic wellness items and an interactive display that allows customers to input their pet’s conditions and receive product suggestions and information.

“The most popular wellness items requested by customers are hip and joint and skin and coat supplements,” she said.

She added that it’s her company’s philosophy to also promote the need for regular veterinary check ups.

“In each store, we have a QR-code based Neighborhood Resource Guide, that allows customers to use their smart phone, or our iPad, to look up vets, trainers and groomers in their area.”

According to Laura Simms, director of public relations and special initiatives for Stella and Chewy’s based in New York City, NY., the company markets both their food and treats and wellness products.

“We’ve received feedback from pet owners over the years telling us that they found our type of diet after their pet had experienced a health issue,” she said.

 

“What we now focus on is reaching out to both owners and veterinarians before pets have health issues.

“Our freeze-dried products are easy to market because they are easy to use have a good shelf life as well as palatability.  The freeze-dried foods are convenient especially when traveling or being outdoors. And the manufacturing process really locks in the flavor, making them irresistible for pets.

Our frozen raw products are a tougher sell because frozen pet food is still a new concept for most pet owners.”

According to Jill Gainer, publication relations spokesperson for Nature’s Variety, headquartered in Lincoln NE, a natural diet like the company’s Nature’s Variety Instinct or Prairie is always a great selection when people are trying to provide overall health and wellness through a change in diet.

“However, diet selection is often determined by what problem the consumer is trying to solve,” she said. “For example, if a dog or cat has an issue with skin and coat, a retailer might recommend our Instinct Raw Diets.  If a pet has an issue with food sensitivity or allergy, then a limited ingredient diet such as Instinct Limited Ingredient would be best.

“Supplements are probably the hardest sell, as sometimes it takes longer to see results so it makes it harder to justify the cost and convenience,” confirmed Gainer.

“Limited Ingredient Diets (LID) is a fast growing category, and so are Raw Diets.  LID diets in any form (kibble or cans) sell well because they are likely to alleviate or eliminate allergies, skin issues and food intolerances symptoms very quickly.

Darlene Frudakis, president of PetAg in Hampshire IL said that even if a retailer has limited space, a wellness center in a store is possible.

“It is a great way to draw the attention of today’s health conscious consumer. We live in the age of convenience, consumers want easily locate where they can purchase products that will preserve and prolong their pets lives.”

PetAg manufactures and markets products in wellness categories such as newborn health, with infant formulas for pets, such as Esbilac® and KMR® to feeding apparatus and supplements necessary for the right start in life such as Bene-Bac® plus with pre and probiotics to populate the gut of the newborn animal with beneficial bacteria necessary for ongoing health and wellness. The company also has a wide range of adult care products for skin and coat, joint health, weight control, energy, pre and probiotics as well as exercise and fitness chews under the brands of Chunky Chews® for bigger breeds and aggressive chews and Rawhide Brand® chews hat include low calorie fresh USA Jerky which comes packed in environmentally-conscious biodegradable packaging.

The company also offers consumers pamphlets with helpful tips on infant pet care, adult and senior pet care as well as weight control tips. They can be downloaded from www.petag.com and are also distributed to retailers.

According to Jusak Bernhard, who with Jeffrey Manley, co-owns three TailsSpin stores in Savannah, Pooler and Macon GA, a good knowledge of pet wellness requires extensive time and effort, time and effort in research and development of relationships between retailers and their vendors.

“The time and effort set aside, therefore, affect payroll and schedule.   However, we feel that this is time and money well spent because in order to succeed and compete in such a flooded market, we find that providing well-versed knowledge on pet wellness and customer service are quite important and necessary.

“We maintain and have developed close relationships with local pet vendors, such as veterinarians, trainers, groomers, and organizations.  Through them, we have acquired deep and expansive knowledge in pet care and their well being.  Through our research and their guidance, we have assembled a great selection of products.

TailsSpin is also very involved and has worked closely in establishing exercise areas within our jurisdiction, for our customers and their pets.  This year, TailsSpin helped establish Savannah’s first ever city-run dog park, resulting in a three-acre-shaded and fenced-in exercise area.

Finally Barbara Denzer, vice president of Cardinal Pet Care in Azusa CA, the manufacturers of Pet Botanics Omega Treats suggested that retailers should put together their own special pet wellness kits.

“Such kits could include a variety of different types of products or they can be focused on one product category. For example, you can put together a variety of four or five different natural or holistic treats offer them at a special price and call it the ‘Pet Wellness Treat Pack’,” she suggested.

“This will allow customers to try different healthy treats to see which one their pet likes best. I think treats are an overlooked part of the wellness package. People love to give their pets treats, which is great, but just because something is a treat doesn’t mean it can’t be good for a pet too.”