Maggie, a lively, loveable 8-year-old English springer spaniel was limping again. Her owner was concerned and took her to the veterinarian. The diagnosis was a torn anterior cruciate ligament, and the veterinarian recommended surgery to repair it.
Maggie’s owners considered themselves fortunate to have a veterinarian who had coached at the local high school. He knew how active Maggie was and he was very aware of the need for functionality and the importance of getting Maggie back to fully enjoying life again. After the surgery, he recommended glucosamine as a nutritional supplement, not just during the recovery period but for the rest of Maggie’s life to help maintain joint health.
Maggie loves the pill and thinks of it as a treat, her owners say. The glucosamine is kept near the coffeemaker so they don’t forget to give the supplement.
The owners are part of a continuing trend in the pet nutritional supplement market and veterinary medicine. Major veterinary companies are betting on it.
The Nutraceutical Market
This past fall, Bayer Animal Health threw its hat into the nutraceutical market with the launch of a chew supplement formulated to support multiple dog body systems. What do Bayer and other manufacturers know that you don’t?
Trend watchers like Hubba report that “The number of buyer searches for ‘pet supplements’ grew by 60 percent” in 2017. Pet Age, a key pet products industry publication, says keyword searches are good predictors of what will be “on trend” for pets in the near future.
What is clear is that many pet businesses see nutraceuticals as an opportunity. The companies appear to be betting on the potential of a market driven by consumers’ growing taste for healthier food and dietary choices for themselves and their pets. Industry reports say the human global nutraceuticals market is predicted to grow by a compounded annual rate of 7.3 percent through 2019, to $279 billion, a rate much faster than in most other economic sectors and well ahead of inflation.
The pet market has hundreds of nutraceutical products as well as prescription and over-the-counter diets that contain nutraceuticals. North American supplements and nutraceuticals sales were $1.3 billion in 2016 and are expected to show continuing growth through 2019 and beyond.
Getting the Word Out
How do most veterinary clients find out about nutraceutical supplements? Here’s another true story that suggests it usually happens only after the pet has a medical incident. In this case, the pet owners went one step further and added a second supplement.
Lucky, an 11-year-old beagle, has abundant energy and runs to the front door or window to announce the arrival of the mail carrier, squirrels, the next-door neighbor and anyone who rings the doorbell or walks by with a dog.
Lucky really is a lucky dog. His owner adopted him at a crowded Chicago shelter when she was single and in school. Lucky was almost 2 at the time, and today, nine years later, he is best friends and playmate with a 5-year-old boy.
Lucky’s owners try to include him and their young son in as many activities and outings as they can, but two years ago Lucky hurt his back while playing. The injury required surgery on two lower discs. Lucky was lucky again and made a complete recovery. He again enjoys walks with the family and chasing the boy.
Lucky’s owners were grateful that he could be helped, and they readily complied when the surgeon recommended putting him on glucosamine after the operation and a maintenance dose for life.
The owners have since added a second supplement to the daily regimen to improve his skin and coat. They found out about the supplement from another dog owner, and their veterinarian approved.
While market research and stories provide helpful insights, little specific research exists on nutraceutical use in veterinary practice and even less on how veterinary clients feel about it. An informal survey I conducted of 12 pet owners, however, supports the view that nutraceuticals could be a new opportunity for practices. Between them, the pet owners had 10 dogs and four cats ranging in age from under a year to 8 years or older (75 percent of them). The surprise was that, even within the small sample, most of the pets received nutraceutical supplements:
- Fatty acids/omega fatty acids/flax: 4 owners
- Probiotics/other digestive aids: 2 owners
- Glucosamine: 2 owners
- Other: 2 owners
- Nothing: 2 owners
Another tidbit was where the products were purchased. The owners who gave nutraceutical supplements bought them from:
- Veterinarian: 4
- Online store: 3
- Pet store: 2
- Walmart: 1
Could pet nutraceuticals and supplements fit into the mix of products and services that veterinary practices offer clients? Major surgeries had taken place when the pet owners in the stories above heard about supplements from their veterinarians. Many other pets might be candidates for nutraceutical support, but are their owners hearing recommendations?
Are pet nutraceuticals the next new thing? They could be. Demand is growing. To make a veterinary opportunity out of it will take a deliberate and organized approach:
- Assess the market size for your practice, research your client database and determine the percentage of older pets that might be at risk of arthritis or other conditions that could benefit from nutraceutical support.
- Informally survey clients and veterinary team members to see which nutraceutical supplements, like glucosamine, omega fatty acids and probiotics, they give pets.
- Source a limited number of products from reputable manufacturers to test the market.
- Educate yourself and your team on the products you have chosen and how they can help patients.
- Once you’re confident in the products, tell clients about them online and in your office.
HOW TO PROMOTE NUTRACEUTICALS
Here are important components to include in a veterinary practice marketing plan for pet nutraceuticals:
- Start in the exam room. Ask clients which supplements they give to their pets. Share examples, such as skin and coat enhancers, probiotics and joint support, to help clients understand the question.
- Post information online and in your practice to help clients understand whether their pets are likely candidates for supplements. For instance, most arthritic pets, older dogs and cats, orthopedic surgery patients, and pets with coat or skin issues might benefit from nutraceutical support.
- Tell clients that your veterinarians recommend the products you carry. Doing that displays confidence in the products.
- Put a prescription label on the product to brand it and to help clients give the correct dose. This also helps them remember to order a refill from you.
- Price the products competitively.
- Let clients know that they can get supplements at the practice or from your online pharmacy.