• NAVC Brands

Pet owners beg for nutrition advice

Your clients struggle to navigate the saturated marketplace of pet food and treats. Are you missing an opportunity to help them?

Pet owners beg for nutrition advice
The primary channel for the purchase of pet food is mass merchants, grocers and drug stores, whose shelves and websites don’t emphasize senior foods.

The majority of pet owners are very interested in pet nutrition and — spoiler alert! — they want to learn about it from their veterinarian. Our work with Trone Research and Consulting found that more than 6 in 10 pet owners believe that properly fed pets have fewer health problems and therefore lower veterinary bills. They also say they care about their pets’ nutrition just as much as their own. Millennials are even more interested in the subject than baby boomers, so expect the trend to continue for some time.

More than 50% of pet owners want to learn about 27 of the 40 nutrition topics covered in our research. What they are most interested in discussing with you are:

  • Nutrition for healthy pets.
  • Which ingredients or ingredient ratios they should look for or avoid in pet food and treats.
  • Which pet foods and treats are considered healthy.
  • Which pet foods and treats are “good,” “better” or “best” from a budget perspective.

Start a Conversation

The most critical takeaway from the list above is the connection to healthy pets, not pets with medical issues, which means the information can be provided during wellness visits. The top three subjects that clients want you to bring up without them having to ask are:

  • General nutrition.
  • Treats.
  • Nutritional supplements.

So, don’t wait until your patient has a health issue before you start educating the owner about nutrition. Today’s clients want to be proactive about their pets’ health, and they expect you to do the same.

Pet owners, especially millennials, are influenced by a variety of sources when they choose pet food, but a veterinarian’s recommendation holds the greatest weight. Some clients also are open to learning from your staff members, from handouts, and from posts on your website and social media channels.

Do you provide this type of information to clients? If you do, then you’re ahead of the curve because pet owners say very few of you do. Nutrition education appears to be a huge missed opportunity that clinics should address in-depth with pet owners.

Keep in mind that the topics of interest to pet owners do not necessarily relate to the products you sell. Clients appreciate you all the more when you provide insight. When you offer opinions about pet food, snacks or supplements that you don’t stock, your clients are likely to feel more confident in you and think you have their pets’ best interest at heart. Your willingness to share recommendations solidifies their trust and loyalty in you.

Six out of 10 pet owners who receive nutrition information from their veterinarian expressed positive reactions that our previous research predictively linked to increased loyalty.

These reactions include:

  • I was satisfied with the amount of information provided.
  • It made me feel like my veterinarian was there for me.
  • It helped me feel educated about my pet.
  • It made me feel that my veterinarian took the time to communicate with me.
  • It made me feel that my veterinarian was transparent with me and kept me informed.
  • It increased my feeling that I provide the best care for my pet.
  • It made me feel that my veterinarian has empathy and compassion.
  • It increased my perception that my veterinarian takes a proactive approach to my pet’s health care.
  • I learned everything I wanted to know about the topic.

Nourish Your Website

Most veterinarians don’t proactively provide the nutrition information that pet owners desire, according to our research, so clients go online to learn. The sources they find most helpful might surprise you and should motivate you to take another look at your clinic’s website.

The most helpful online sources for pet owners are websites such as PetMD, Pet Health Network and Google. Veterinary clinic websites are tied with those of professional organizations such as the American Veterinary Medical Association, with retailer websites like Petco and PetSmart, and with manufacturer websites. When pet owners find Google to be more helpful than your clinic’s website, it’s time for you to do something. Tailor your communication topics to meet pet owners’ needs and preferences.

Don’t Ignore Senior Care

A subset of pet owners with a know-it-all attitude toward nutrition is likely mistaken about the health of older pets. Our research indicates that half of senior pets are fed regular adult food. Millennials, Gen Xers and boomers all do it, but they shouldn’t shoulder all the blame. The primary channel for the purchase of pet food is mass merchants, grocers and drug stores, whose shelves and websites don’t emphasize senior foods.

Veterinarians should make sure their clients understand that senior pets oftentimes need food formulated for age-related changes. You might cover the importance of appropriate nutrition when a client comes in with a young patient, but don’t assume the owner will remember your advice years later when that patient is a senior. When you recommend a senior wellness exam, re-educate the client about the value of senior nutrition. In some cases, you might suggest that the owner switch to another retailer. Don’t forget to educate clients about senior issues through handouts and your website.

Trying Something New

Our research found that three-fourths of pet owners switched the animal’s food within the past two years, sometimes for health or age reasons. The most common reason was the pet owner wanted to provide variety. Sixteen percent changed because the pet stopped eating the former food.

Those results were true for cat and dog owners, so the issue wasn’t a finicky kitty. We know that clients anthropomorphize their pets, so why should we be surprised that the attitude extends into food purchases? People like variety in their diet, and pets do too, right? In fact, 37% of millennials say their dog likes human food better than processed pet food.

We recommend that you help clients navigate pet food options suitable for your patients’ health status and age. Our research found that 40% of pet owners find the number of options completely overwhelming.

Pet owners crave your advice about food that fits their budget and is carried by their preferred retailers. If you proactively talk about nutrition during wellness visits, you will reap the rewards of increased client trust and loyalty.

Diggo is a quarterly research brief powered by Trone Research and Consulting that provides actionable market insights for veterinarians seeking to better serve today’s pet owners. For more information, visit www.dig-go.com. Kimberly Ness is senior vice president of insights and marketing for Trone Research and Consulting. Dr. Kim Cameron is director of research.