How To: Marketing to the veterinary channel
Prescription and therapeutic petfoods have only been marketed by a handful of brands, but it may be time for new companies to enter the premium veterinary-endorsed arena
Petfood diets exist for a variety of medical conditions including heart disease, weight control, diarrhea, kidney failure, diabetes, food allergies, renal failure and cancer. Many are marketed as therapeutic or prescription, but they are always premium foods. Many veterinarians sell non-prescription petfoods along with prescription petfoods as a service to their pet parent clientele. This kind of exclusive marketing of only specific brands of pet food—Hill's Prescription Diets, Royal Canin Veterinary Diets and Wysong Rx Diets, for example—by a veterinarian imply a professional endorsement of that product. Are you missing an opportunity to utilize a partnership with veterinarians to market their good reputations with your consumers while benefitting from shared nutrition knowledge and a chance to educate?
"When a client purchases any product or service from his or her veterinarian, he or she trusts that the veterinarian has knowledge of its efficacy and safety. Advertisements by the petfood companies and magazine and newspaper columns invariably advise pet owners to “ask their veterinarian” for correct nutritional information," said Marion Smart, DVM, PhD, in a 2007 article in The Canadian Veterinary Journal. In fact, most clients want exactly this kind of recommendation—it can even be the only reason they are seeking advice from a professional in the first place. An appropriate recommendation of your petfood and treats from a veterinarian is of great value in the compliance use by consumers.
"In the case of specialized, therapeutic or prescription diets, I see no issue whatsoever in veterinarians selling these in their offices," says Bernard E. Rollin, PhD. "Selling such foods is no more problematic than providing prescription drugs in one’s practice, since they are also available only by prescription. Thus, it is a service to clients to have them available in the practice." Rollin goes on to say, however, that it is ethically questionable to impose nonprescription petfoods on pet parents, as they are more expensive, and no veterinarian should imply that other food products, available in pet stores, groceries and discount stores are not nutritionally acceptable for ordinary use in healthy animals. Creating such an implication could be perceived as an abuse of Aesculapean authority (the unique authority inherent in medical professionals) for purposes of financial gain. "On the other hand," he continues, "having them available in one’s office so that clients may purchase them if they wish to do so is unproblematic if the above caveat is observed."
So what do veterinarians want in the petfoods they are willing to recommend to clients, and are you currently offering what they are looking for? CVM's petfood specialist William Burkholder, DVM, PhD, recommends veterinarians examine three important parts of the petfood label before recommending a product: the life stage claim, the contact information for the manufacturer and the list of ingredients. The word "feeding" should be in the life stage claim. Only the manufacturer's name and address are required, but Burkholder says the phone number should also always be listed and manufacturers should be responsive; and although the ingredients list on the label is an area of consumer preference and subjectivity, pet owners who do or do not want to feed a pet a certain ingredient can look at the list of ingredients to make sure that particular substance is included or excluded.