When Wild Birds Unlimited first set out to develop a proprietary product line, everything was driven by the birds. As the process carried on, though, the brand realized it was equally as driven by the passion and excitement its customers had for the birdwatching hobby. What resulted from the extensive, detailed process was a multitude of high-quality options that benefit birds and their human observers alike.
“Our goal in creating new exclusive bird foods is to provide our customers and their birds with the best bird foods available,” said Andrea McNeely, Wild Birds Unlimited’s Product Development Manager. “These new foods attract more frequent visits from a larger variety of birds, bringing an increased amount of joy to our customers.”
As avid hobbyists themselves, it was easy for Wild Birds Unlimited’s product development team to keep customer and franchisee needs top of mind throughout the duration of the development process.
“We have a product development team that actively feeds the birds at home and has for decades, as well as a chief naturalist on staff who is our bird expert,” McNeely said. “We work closely together to review various research, observe and gather feedback regarding our products to come up with new, innovative ways to feed birds.”
Additionally, the product team worked with multiple Wild Birds Unlimited franchisees to perform field testing in various regions across the nation to observe the effects of the new products on different birds in different climates and perfect their formulas in order to offer the most comprehensive product possible.
Two franchisees involved in the field testing, Barbara Whipkey of Maryland and Kevin Pillow of Texas, described the process as a unique and exciting experience that was difficult to keep under wraps. Each participant received products directly from the vendor to test in various capacities, reporting back to McNeely’s team on a weekly basis.
“Wild Birds Unlimited looked at everything, from all angles,” Whipkey said. “The team had us test in different locations, with different blends in different feeders. We also put products side-by-side to see what birds preferred. It was an art for the team to fine-tune the products, and the process took several months.”
In a rural area of Texas with a warm climate and plenty of acreage, Pillow’s property is crawling with critters of all kinds, making him an ideal participant in Wild Birds Unlimited’s field testing endeavor.
“Since we were experiencing a down year for bird activity, I wasn’t expecting to see a huge difference when we began testing,” he said. “The birds determined otherwise. They abandoned the old food, totally showing a preference toward the SuperBlend®, and it was part of our job to talk through why that was the case with Andrea’s team.”
“Franchisee feedback was pivotal to making adjustments to our foods in development before we finalized everything for launch,” McNeely said. “In some cases, it was a quick test and in others, it took a lot of time to get everything just right, as was the case for the formulas for our hot pepper foods and original Bark Butter.”
“When we did a soft launch with our best customers late last year, we were hoping the birds would start eating quickly,” Pillow said. “People who picked it up came back within a week, and now we can't keep SuperBlend® seed blends on the shelf, the products are so excellent.”
“Having been able to test in an environment with tons of critters and squirrels gives me total confidence telling customers this line is effective and it works,” Whipkey added.
As far as which of the new products is their favorite, both Whipkey and Pillow pointed to Jim’s Birdacious Hot Pepper Bark Butter® for its versatility at different heights and ability to attract those bird varieties typically not attracted to backyards with traditional bird feeders and foods.
“I use the hot pepper bark butter on trees along the edge of the wood line to get shy birds feeding and slowly entice them to move in closer,” Whipkey said. “Now, I have a yellow-bellied sapsucker that waits for me to use it every morning. I love it because I know it does the job and brings in different birds I wasn't able to feed before.”
“For 13 years, my wife, Linda, had been searching for a red-breasted nuthatch on our property,” Pillow added. “We used the hot pepper bark butter, and sure enough, two showed up in our backyard and still visit to this day.”
It’s stories like these that drive Wild Birds Unlimited to never stop innovating.
“Our goal is always to ensure our customers know that Wild Birds Unlimited offers the absolute best bird food available,” McNeely said. “As the first and largest franchise system of backyard bird feeding and nature specialty stores, Wild Birds Unlimited’s offering is exclusive and unmatched, which keeps our customers loyal.”