B.C. HENSCHEN, a certified pet care technician and an accredited pet trainer, is a
partner in PLATINUM PAWS, a full-service
pet salon and premium pet food store
in Carmel, Ind. His knowledge of the pet
food industry makes Platinum Paws the
go-to store for pet owners who want
more for their pet than a bag off a shelf.
Manufacturers of animal health supplements understand the
value of the small, independent pet retail channel and these
stores’ unique ability to interface and educate consumers.
NASC Gets It
BY B.C. HENSCHEN
They like us. They really, really like us! That was my feeling recently at the annual meet- ing of the National Animal Supplement Council
(NASC), a nonprofit organization whose manufacturer
members must comply with quality standards in the production of animal health supplements. I was there leading
a discussion on the struggles of the micro independents,
and NASC members had some wonderful suggestions on
how manufacturers and micro independents can work together to strengthen the industry.
When I am talking with manufacturers, I can often tell
they are not really interested in my business because I
am a small, single-store operation. These are the larger
brands that have media campaigns and a large internet
presence, and, quite frankly, stores are merely a fulfillment center to them. I can tell you it is quite the opposite
with the members of NASC.
NASC understands that micro independents really
are the trendsetters. Many products start out in the small
independent retail channel and end up in the larger multi-store operations because of the groundswell started by
the micro retailer in the area.
Members of the council also understand that they are
relying on customers walking in to pet specialty stores.
Supplements are really an add-on item. If pet food manufacturers continue to build their business around e-commerce, there’s nobody there to talk to the consumer about
how important adding a probiotic to their pet’s kibble is
or how a joint supplement can really help. What’s even
scarier to me is that if we don’t continue to promote the
micro independent pet specialty store as the go-to place
for information, then more and more people will rely on
the internet, and the internet is a very scary place when it
comes to animal supplements. Let’s face it: Animal supplements are not tightly regulated, product claims are not
always legitimate and safety is a real fear.
Let’s say a consumer is getting his pet food auto
shipped from one of the large e-commerce sites. He men-
tions to a friend at the dog park that his pet is having
some scooting issues. That friend tells him how she dis-
covered a kelp supplement that has helped improve her
dog’s dental health and thinks there must be a great sup-
plement to help with the dog’s scooting issues. The con-
sumer goes home and starts researching supplements for
his dog’s problem. He comes across a great website with
a “vet-recommended” anal gland supplement. He pur-
chases it, and it does nothing. That consumer might write
off supplements completely at that point, thinking it’s
all hogwash and not realizing that he picked the wrong
product. Worse yet, think about a consumer whose pet
has an issue because the product they chose was really
an unsafe product. In those cases, stories told at the bark
park will likely lead to negative consumer experiences
with and perceptions of supplements.
I believe a product should have more than just a great
ingredient list. It needs to have a story, and it’s our job
to tell that story. When a customer comes in to my store
looking for a new pet food, I spend time talking about
who makes the food, where it’s made, the company’s
safety protocols and, in most cases, I can talk about visiting the manufacturer’s facility. If I don’t have a story to
give on a product, then I’m not going to sell it. That was
a very hard stance to have on supplements. There is a lot
of secrecy in supplements, and although I did find some
manufacturers that were willing to pull back the curtain
and let me understand their sourcing and processes, there
is still a lot of information that is not accessible to retailers.
When I’m recommending a supplement, I always
show the NASC Quality Seal and explain what that
means. That seal indicates that the company has been
checked for manufacturing safety and ingredient sourcing, but that is only a small part of why I am so loyal to
NASC products. The main reason is for the council’s ad-verse-reaction tracking. Think about it, who is tracking a
problem with a supplement?
The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act
(DSHEA) provides strict guidelines for the labeling and
marketing of human dietary supplements. DSHEA established supplements intended for human consumption as
a new class of food for purposes of federal regulation.
DSHEA does not allow dietary supplement manufactur-
ers to make overt drug claims, such as that they cure, pre-
vent, mitigate, treat or diagnose a disease. The legislation
did not provide such guidelines for animal health supple-
ments. I guess that leaves it on the FDA’s shoulders, but
I can tell you animal supplements are not high on its list.
Neither is pet food for that matter.
Membership to NASC means a manufacturer is required to investigate and resolve every adverse event. All
members must report on a monthly basis, whether they
have an adverse event or not. This system tracks adverse
events by ingredient or product, and information is available to the FDA. While I like the reporting requirements
for overall product safety, I absolutely love it for the data
it can provide a manufacturer about product information.
Let’s say a company has made a supplement using a
new herb, “herb A.” Herb A has gone through the company’s testing and safety protocols for use as a liver support.
A few other companies are also using herb A in their supplements. A customer who has been using herb A calls in
to the manufacturer with information that his dog became
sick. That company helps the customer and gets all the
information to report to NASC. Another company gets
a call about a dog getting sick on a supplement that has
herb A in it. That information is reported to NASC. A few
more phone calls and a few more reports, and NASC is
able to correlate that all the pets were also taking a fish oil
supplement. After looking further into the available information, manufacturers then know to print on their product information and packaging “do not use this product
with fish oil.”
We micro independents are educated on that information from the manufacturer as well, and when making a
recommendation of herb A to a customer, we know to ask
if they are currently giving fish oil. The customer leaves
knowing that they’ll be using the supplement properly, so
it’s a win for us and for the manufacturer. That personalized, educated service is why NASC loves us.
“A product ... needs to have a
story, and it’s our job to tell
PERSPECTIVES & ADVICE FROM AROUND THE INDUSTRY