The herp hobby is growing, industry experts reported, and with it, so is the variety of dietary options available to customers.
“People are trying new things,” said Trey Campbell, manager of Animal Ark in Kingwood, Texas. “Herp sales over the last
few years have just gone through the roof, and the food companies are trying to keep up.”
Zoo Med’s new gourmet line, which incorporates the company’s grassland pellets with flowers and hibiscus petals, have
gone over well with customers, Campbell said, adding that he can’t keep the company’s Flower Food Toppers on the shelf.
Zoo Med Laboratories recently released its Lizard Flower Food Topper and Tortoise & Box Turtle Flower Food Topper, said
Bree Modica, nutrition and regulatory specialist, R&D, food and drug division, for the San Luis Obispo, Calif.-based company.
“These dried flower mixes contain five types of flowers that can be used as a topper for a reptile’s regular diet,” Modica
said. “They can also be mixed into the regular diet, or spread around the enclosure as a treat and source of enrichment.”
New supplemental options are also popular with customers, according to retailers.
“A supplemental food that has been jumping off the shelf is Exo Terra’s Dragon Grub,” Boget said. “The supplemental
diets are also a great insurance policy. They have a fantastic shelf life. On that day when a customer really meant to go by
the store to get crickets, but the store was closed, they’ve got [something] to give their reptile.”
Earlier this year, Exo Terra launched all-natural Dragon Grub for bearded dragons, said Steve Sotelo, Exo Terra division
manager for the Hagen Group in Mansfield, Mass.
“The formula includes soldier fly larvae as the primary ingredient and protein source,” Sotelo said. “Insects provide a
large percentage of most reptiles’ diets, so it’s logical to create a diet that relies heavily on insects. Soldier fly larvae are not
only high in protein and calcium, but also lack an exoskeleton, which can be difficult to fully digest.”
Other manufacturers, including Pangea and Repashy, are popular with customers, retailers said.
“If there’s one word that sums up our dietary philosophy, it’s ‘variety,’” Boget said. “The more appropriate foods you offer,
the more likely you are to offer foods with the nutrition that herps need.”
Customers are often focused on feeding their pets live foods, and manufacturers such as Timberline, one of the largest
suppliers of live foods in the industry, offer proprietary products such as Vita-Bugs and Calci Worms to meet customer
Fresh greens are also popular, retailers reported.
“I’m really proud of what we’re offering nowadays and the thought that’s going into it,” said Jayzun Boget, assistant
manager of the reptile and small animal department at Preuss Pets in Lansing, Mich. “Towards that end, we actually sell
our own precut, premixed veggie portions. We’ve got 8-ounce, 16-ounce and 32-ounce deli containers filled with all sorts of
leafy greens and shredded veggies. I can’t believe how much we go through it a week.”
There are prepackaged fresh veggie options as well, and Timberline offers both Reptile Salad and Reptile Cactus
prepackaged vegetable dietary supplements for herps.
THE SWEET SPOT
Being aware of price points and customer buying habits in the herp
diets category can help specialty retailers maximize sales, retailers
“The sweet spot is around $8 to $15 for herp diets,” said Jayzun
Boget, assistant manager of the reptile and small animal department
at Preuss Pets in Lansing, Mich. “People feel very comfortable
spending that on their reptile’s food. They’re going to spend that
While customers might spend much more or less than this
depending on what they’re keeping, repeat sales are a big advantage
of stocking live food.
“Live foods tend to be our big mover here,” said Trey Campbell,
manager of Animal Ark in Kingwood, Texas. “I don’t really have an
average customer. Everybody’s different. I’ve got customers who
spend $10 a week, and I’ve got customers who spend $200 a week.”
Still, the average customer generally appears to fall in a range
when it comes to their spending habits.
“On a weekly basis, it does vary from animal to animal and
customer to customer, but it ranges anywhere from $5 to $15,” said
Matt Benedict, sales associate for Custom Creatures Pet Shop in
Phoenix. “I do see a lot of repeat sales on the herp diet stuff that we
Keeping in mind the value of offering variety along with product
price points might help retailers maximize sales and customer
“Many people try to offer variety within what is commercially
available to provide a balanced and natural diet,” said Ryan McVeigh,
brand manager for Zilla, a brand of Franklin, Wis.-based Central
Garden & Pet. “There is a large push for more natural diets. Many
diets are between $9.99 and $14.99. Any food or dietary item is
“Unfortunately, there is a lot of conflicting
information out there on reptile and
amphibian diets. It is important to
understand what a healthy animal looks
like and what a healthy weight is.”
—Ryan McVeigh of Zilla, a Central
Garden & Pet brand
Brick-and-mortar specialty retailers have a competitive edge, particularly over their online
counterparts, when it comes to herp diets, in no small part because they can offer superior
knowledge and education to their customers.
“Without proper diets, you run into a world of problems, from vitamin deficiencies to calcium
deficiencies,” said Trey Campbell, manager of Animal Ark in Kingwood, Texas. “We’ve got our
whole team here really invested in learning diets and keeping up with trends. Things change all
It’s vital to have updated information to offer customers the best of current knowledge to
support their hobby.
“Unfortunately, there is a lot of conflicting information out there on reptile and amphibian
diets,” said Ryan McVeigh, brand manager for Zilla, a brand of Franklin, Wis.-based Central
Garden & Pet. “It is important to understand what a healthy animal looks like and what a healthy
Knowledgeable staff and a commitment to customer satisfaction are likely the greatest
measures retailers can take to ensure success.
“Knowing what we’re talking about, doing the research and keeping up-to-date with dietary
needs is really big,” Campbell said. “It all comes down to trust. If they feel like you have done
them right since the beginning, customers are going to get what you recommend. [But] it’s
important to get them exactly what they need and not try to make a big cash sale off of it.”