Bird Food Goes Premium
Independent pet specialty retailers are finding that offering quality yields better sales
and provides a competitive advantage in the category.
BY ETHAN D. MIZER
Pet bird keepers are increasingly aware of the role quality diets play in keeping their avian charges healthy, and attention to diet quality
and variety has become paramount in the industry, insiders reported.
“We have a lot of customers who are really
concerned with feeding their birds the best-qual-
ity foods that they can find,” said Caroline Mor-
gan, owner of TC Feathers Aviary in Chantilly, Va.
“Over the years, we’ve determined what works
best for our birds and what helps in the long-run
as far as the quality of the food.”
For most of her customers, quality is the main
consideration, Morgan added.
“Most people’s perception is that quality matters and you get what you pay for,” she said.
Mirroring the trend in human nutrition labeling, bird owners are increasingly seeking information about what goes into bird food offerings.
Walt Ecklof, owner of Bird Lover’s Paradise in
Matawan, N.J., said customers often ask if the var-
ious blends of bird food offered in the store have
additives or supplements. “We label everything
that’s here so that customers can see what’s in the
bag,” he said. “We can read them the ingredients;
we can show them the ingredients.”
Bird Lover’s Paradise stocks 37 blends and diets
in-store, Ecklof noted.
“We recommend that customers rotate within
the blend for their birds so that the birds don’t get
bored with the seed, and they get better nutrition
variety,” he said.
Smaller retailers might face challenges stocking
that range of variety, especially if their location is
full-line, but in some cases, special ordering and
online sales can help close the gap.
“The store’s not big enough to hold every-
thing,” said Lana Mills, owner of Aqua Pets & Birds in Killeen, Texas. “We have an
online store where customers can special order stuff and choose in-store pickup. That
does well for us.”
Many owners are interested in food offerings that mimic birds’ diets in the wild. This
can make a difference when it comes to starting out or switching birds to pelleted diets.
“[Birds] like the natural-looking pellets better,” said Kelly Parsons, manager of Denny’s Pet World in Kirkland, Wash. “We always recommend fresh fruits and vegetables
for them, in addition to their main diet.”
Many pet owners are interested
in foods that mimic what birds
would eat in the wild.
TRIED AND TRUE
Innovation in avian diets is focused more on subtle tweaks and optimum nutrition, rather than new
formulations or ingredients.
“We haven’t added any new foods,” said Kelly Parsons, manager of Denny’s Pet World in
Kirkland, Wash. “We have both seed and pelleted diets. We carry Harrison’s, ZuPreem, Rowdy
Bush, Pretty Bird—all pelleted diets. Then we carry Kaytee and Sunseed for seed. We also [sell]
There are some new offerings on the horizon, however. Caitec Corp. plans to release around
20 SKUs sometime in the near future, said Terry Gao, president of the Halethorpe, Md.-based
“It’s been an increasing category for us,” he said. “We decided we’d either have to drop it or
ramp it up, so we decided to ramp it up.”
The company will introduce several treats for parrots in its Oven Fresh baked bird food brand
late in the third quarter or early in the fourth quarter of 2018, said Bill McGrath, bird product
development specialist for Caitec. The company also has a variety of micro-targeted Oven Fresh
bird diets in development with a projected release of early 2019, he added.
“Bird owners are increasingly looking for foods that may promote overall health care,” McGrath
said. “Today’s consumer is more health conscious than ever, particularly when it comes to food.”
Additionally, customers are increasingly sensitive to certain ingredients, some industry
“Our Hagen Avicultural Research Institute (HARI) Tropican formulated diets now include a no
corn or soy formulation alternative,” said Melanie Allen, avian product specialist for Hagen Group in
One of HARI’s longest ongoing research projects involves nutritional longevity studies with
formulated diets on companion birds, Allen noted. The Tropican formulation includes alternative
proteins such as quinoa, green peas, ground walnut and pumpkin, she added.
The most notable innovation in pet bird diets today is the increase in sheer variety of food
available on the market today. Some diets include a variety of pellet and seed offerings, among
other ingredients, while some pet specialty retailers mix their own blends for customers.
“We’re big on variety,” said Caroline Morgan, owner of TC Feathers Aviary in Chantilly, Va. “We
sell 50-50 pellets and a seed or nut mix.”
Premium brands and diets are the most popular items right now, some retailers reported.
“We will special order almost anything, but we have Volkman in stock, or some of the Kaytee,
Higgins and Vitakraft products,” said Lana Mills, owner of Aqua Pets & Birds in Killeen, Texas.
No matter the brand, customers today are seeking nutritious products that they can afford.
“I use Moyers, Nutra Golden Feast, Versele-Laga—they’re all good-quality diets,” said Walt
Ecklof, owner of Bird Lover’s Paradise in Matawan, N.J., adding that customers expect reasonably
priced options. “We sell Harrison’s, ZuPreem, Lafeber and Rowdy Bush as well. We don’t use any
of the big-box store brands.”