Chain Country-Style Feed Stores are Coming to American Suburbs

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Purina feed is available at new country-style feed stores.
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A new brand of chain country-style feed stores is coming to America’s suburbs.

A new brand of feed store is coming to America’s suburbs — chain country-style feed stores with careful market research to back up their myriad products for the “ruralpolitan” lifestyle. Purina Mills, the largest feed dealer in the United States, owns the trademark to the name America’s Country Store, a series of franchise stores that sell Purina feed and country living paraphernalia.

Purina started the franchise in 1997 with hopes of 200 stores by 2001. In the summer of 2006, there were just 40 stores nationwide. Purina spokesperson Dick Fisher says the slower growth is attributed largely to the independent nature of feed-store owners.

America’s Country Store franchises are required to look the same, just as a Subway sandwich franchise always looks the same. Feed-store owners often wanted to do their own thing, Fisher says, so Purina came up with other ways to help those feed stores find ways to sell more. In many of those places, he says Purina is now selling a lot of its specialty feeds – alpaca diets and bags of feed for emus, for instance.

How Now . . . Animal Chow

Back in the old days, most of Purina’s exotic foods really were exotic — for the most part, they were only sold to zoos.

Now, chances are, you can find or order a diet made for monkeys or hedgehogs at your local feed store.

The market for exotic animal feeds — many of which come under Purina’s Mazuri brand (pronounced like the state of Missouri) — has been expanding and increasing in recent years, says Mark Griffin, director of Purina Mazuri.

“We have a really popular insectivore diet that works really well with hedgehogs,” Griffin says. “A lot of people are keeping hedgehogs.”

Really? A lot?

“Yeah, and then there are the sugar gliders,” Griffin adds. “They like the insectivore diet, too. Sugar gliders are really big right now.”

Ignoring for a moment the question of whether animals like hedgehogs and sugar gliders should be removed from their own ecosystems, if you have a hedgehog and a sugar glider, they can share the bags of Purina feed you pick up at the feed store?

“Well, the sugar gliders, part of their diet is sap and fruit, so you might want to supplement with fruit,” Griffin says. You’ll have to go to the grocery store for that.

An Exotic Animal Food Extravaganza

Just half a generation ago, you went to the feed store to buy mostly two things: cracked corn for the chickens, and oats for the horses.

Now, even chicken feed isn’t so simple. You’ll find cracked corn, but also hen scratch, lay pellets, chick starter (medicated or not) and chick grower (medicated or not). Plus, you’ve got specialty feeds for turkeys, ducks and geese — with some feed for young ones, some for maintenance, and some for fast growth if you plan to eat the poultry.

Oats, while still on the horse menu, are so last century. Try Equine Junior, Equine Senior, Equine Breeder. There’s horse feed designed for racehorses, for packhorses, for general pleasure horses.

Purina now has 100 diets in the exotic line. Griffin explains that the insectivore diet, originally designed for zoos, is sold in feed stores across the country for a variety of animals that eat insects in the wild. For instance, down south, many Americans seem to be keeping sugar gliders as pets – a small marsupial native to Australia, similar in size to the American flying squirrel.

The primate diet also sells very well as a general supplement to many other feeds.

As a whole, Griffin says that Purina business is doing very well. One of the feeds with the highest sales increases in the past five years is the alpaca diet — alpacas, a relative of llamas, have become very popular across the United States. Purina has a separate diet for llamas and alpacas, and both have been increasing he says. In fact, keeping llamas — they’re great guard animals for sheep herds — has become nearly commonplace.

The Purina Mazuri Koi diet — yes, there is a special feed for different types of koi — is selling like crazy, along with tortoise chow.

“We used to have very general diets, but as we work with breeders and zoos and universities and the government, these people doing work in animal nutrition, we learn how to design better diets,” Griffin says. Purina also carries feed for zebras and giraffes, although you probably won’t find those in feed stores. You can find Purina’s selection of exotic feed at www.mazuri.com.

— Kristen Davenport

Published on Sep 1, 2006

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