The saying that cats have nine lives may be a myth, but today’s cats are living increasingly longer lifespans, largely due to better healthcare and the many health and wellness products now available. According to the ASPCA, the average lifespan of an indoor cat is 13 to 17 years, and many cats live much longer—which can mean serious business for pet retailers.
Just like people, as cats age a variety of health issues become more prevalent. “The senior pet segment is up; so the need for products within health and wellness has also increased,” explains Brian Reardon, business unit manager at ProLabs., which offers over-the-counter healthcare products, including feline dewormers and ear mite products.
However, preventing health problems before they come up is just as important, and prevention starts long before a cat begins showing signs of aging or decline. This means retailers need to proactively educate cat owners about the importance of preventative health care. Even customers who are already well-informed about the need for early action are likely to have questions and need help choosing the best items for their pet. That goes for all of the many options included in the healthcare category—from supplements to specialty shampoos and dewormers to flea-and-tick products.
“The customer expects the retailer and the sales associates to be knowledgeable and experienced with the product and to help steer them in the right direction—to products that will actually make a difference,” says Stephen Thomas, owner of Thomas Labs, manufacturer of Pet-A-Zyme FUS PLUS—Feline Ultra Supplement, an enzyme- and vitamin-based supplement for cats’ overall health.
So, what should retailers know?
“Retailers need to have an understanding of regulated products versus non-regulated products,” says Reardon. “Regulated products are approved and governed by agencies such as FDA, USDA and EPA.” Examples include dewormers, as well as flea-and-tick products.
Supplements, on the other hand, are largely non-regulated—which means retailers need to do their due diligence when choosing which products to stock. “Even with extensive testing and positive results on the safety, efficiency and effectiveness of a health supplement, many times, manufacturers are prevented from labeling products with specifics or positive claims about how well the product has performed,” says Thomas.
Oscar Tenorio, products line manager at PureLife 4Pets, a pet supplement company focused on high-quality ingredients, agrees that it’s important for retailers to understand that difference. “The famous declaimer is that they’re not intended to prevent, cure or diminish [a condition or disease],” says Tenorio, who recommends that retailers take advantage of the various sources of information available to them.
For example, retailers may not be aware of the National Animal Supplement Council (NASC) seal. NASC, a non-profit industry group, requires manufacturers to meet strict requirements before being allowed to post the seal on their products’ packaging. The criteria considers both the manufacturing processes used to create the products and all the marketing claims the company makes.
“The NASC is great for consumers just to make sure what they are buying is safe to use, has been processed under quality control guidelines—that it’s a good product,” says Tenorio.
Another major factor retailers should consider is a brand’s history. Retailers are well within their rights to ask about any recalls, how long the brand or product has been around and what kind of data the company has to back up its products.
Mike Melia, vice president of sales and marketing at supplement-manufacturer The Missing Link, explains that his company has been around for over 20 years and has quality-control procedures that include testing before, during and after manufacturing. He recommends retailers go beyond just looking at company-provided information to get a sense of what customers are saying about the products. “[Manufacturers] can say whatever they want on their own website,” he explains.
Vets, dog trainers, groomers and other pet professionals may be good resources, and customer reviews may be helpful as well.
Once a retailer has chosen which brands to stock, it is essential to make sure the store’s staff is knowledgeable about those products.
Since information on healthcare products can sometimes involve medical terms and scientific explanations, store employees may have trouble understanding everything provided. But if staff members don’t understand these products thoroughly, it is going to be hard to inspire confidence in a consumer who is trying to make a health decision for their cat. That, in turn, can lead to significant underperformance, even from excellent products.
A Wellness Section
The other sales killer retailers need to be aware of in this category is having an overwhelmingly wide product selection. For example, a customer who has a cat with skin issues may have to choose between a shampoo, an ointment, drops, pills and powdered supplements, says Melia—many of which are roughly the same price. “All of a sudden, [the customer] has to make a decision, ‘Where am I going to spend my hard-earned money?’”
“I personally think, especially in the retail market, too many choices is the kiss of death,” Melia says. “When you confuse a consumer, they normally just don’t buy.”
Having too many products can also clutter the shelf; that, in turn, can make it even harder for a customer to choose one option—which, again, pushes them out of the store instead of to the register.
Reardon agrees that retailers should keep supplement offerings concise. “Retailers only have so much shelf space to allocate to product categories, so selecting products that offer different levels of support depending on the need can allow for less product duplication and a broader range of solutions for their customers.”
Thomas recommends a slightly different way of optimizing a store selection—limiting the number of brands, so that the store can maximize its selection. This will help create a more cohesive look on the shelf, since items can then be stocked by manufacturer.
He also suggests that stores keep supplements within the food aisle, preferably near the premium foods. “The premium-food-buying customer is the target market for health and wellness supplements,” he explains. That’s the same customer who wants the safest toys and the most thorough veterinary care—they are really focused on the long-term health of their cats.
New in the Healthcare Aisle
WormEze, from Durvet Animal Health Products (durvet.com), is a palatable liquid wormer, for cats and kittens six-weeks of age or older, that removes large roundworms—ascarids, Toxacara canis, Toxocara cati and Toxascaris leonine. It can be administered in cat’s food or drinking water; pet owners simply administer one full teaspoon (5 ml) per 6 lbs. of body weight, then repeat treatment in 10 days.
Advanced Cetyl M Joint Action Formula for Cats, from Response Products (responseproducts.com), contains a fatty-acid blend with cetyl myristoleate that supports joint health and function and Seacure, a natural, pre-digested fish protein concentrate to support immune system health and function. This all-natural formula provides an effective, great tasting seafood-flavored supplement.