One of the more peculiar casualties of the Internet age has been the changing role of veterinarians when it comes to the sale of certain pet medication. For instance, during much of the 20th Century, veterinarians did very well selling “ethical” (exclusive to the veterinary channel, though not prescription) brands of flea/tick spot-ons such as Frontline and Advantage.
However, during the past decade, a large chunk of those sales have shifted online with the rise of websites like PetMed Express (1800PetMeds). Despite the commitments of manufacturers, sales of key ethical brands have also migrated inexorably into brick-and-mortar or wholesale pet business channels. In some cases, this has left a bad taste in the mouths of veterinarians, who feel betrayed when brands they helped put on the map “defect” to pet specialty and mass market retailers.
Unfortunately for veterinarians, they hold little sway to counter their waning influence. Some experts, including the analysts at Packaged Facts, believe that as far as pet meds brands crossing over from veterinary to retail goes, the sales opportunities beyond the veterinary channel will easily outweigh the negative reactions from displeased veterinarians.
The primary caveat of this sea change is that veterinarians may be a bit harder to recruit as promoters and retailers of ethical pet medications.
Through it all, there exist other promising industry segments where veterinarians remain influential in the pet care landscape. In truth, veterinarians’ health expertise and ability to recommend products to consumers are a huge plus yet to be exploited to full advantage across much of the pet products market. Although the pet product retailing picture varies from one veterinary office to the next, for the most part the selection is limited to a few high-grade foods and treats and a small selection of nonfood products displayed in the waiting room. And while most veterinarians carry specialized diets, nutritional (or “holistic”) therapeutic food is still a relatively new concept.
The therapeutic food segment appears capable of sustaining significant growth if traditional veterinarians become more enthusiastic about recommending specialized foods, as is the case with holistic veterinarians. Further underscoring the growing demand and need for medical diets both the American Animal Hospital Association and the World Small Animal Veterinary Association in 2011 released guidelines for the nutritional assessment of pets as part of routine physical examinations.The guidelines were created to emphasize the essential role nutrition plays in promoting optimal pet health and to help vets effectively use their expertise in evaluating a patient's nutritional status.
Making the most of the AAHA guidelines to help drive therapeutic pet food sales, Hill’s created a website called Everypeteverytime.com.
Directed at veterinarians, the website emphasizes the AAHA recommendation of nutrition as “the 5th Vital Assessment,” along with temperature, cardio function, respiratory health, and pain. Also boding well for therapeutic foods, one of the leading U.S. pet insurance providers, Trupanion, announced that its pet insurance policies would begin covering the foods on a limited basis.
Undoubtedly, the therapeutic pet food market will be one worth watching throughout the remainder of 2013 and in the years to come.
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