A Winning Combination
Sparked by Lucy Pet Products’ Joey Herrick, a pet industry innovator extraordinaire, four corporations collaborate to revolutionize the cat litter category.
Joey Herrick (left) pictured with Karen Halligan, DVM, chief veterinary officer for the Lucy Pet Foundation, and Rick Rockhill, executive vice president and partner at Lucy Pet Products
When you’re Joey Herrick and someone high up the pet industry chain asks, “Could you do something innovative in the cat litter department?” the question isn’t so much a challenge as a foregone conclusion that the deed will be done, according to those who know Herrick.
This is a man who, after retiring from a 30-year tenure as president of Natural Balance Pet Foods Inc., took a handful of months off before investing $1 million of his own money in Lucy Pet Foundation, the charity arm of Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based Lucy Pet Products, whose proceeds fund mobile clinics to spay/neuter and vaccinate animals at low or no cost to owners. Who, with one phone call, raised more than $1 million to get a national military dogs monument erected. Who builds impossible yet ultimately impressive Rose Parade floats and mobile wave machines for surfing animals that garner nationwide attention.
Herrick and Lucy Pet Products now are poised to revolutionize the cat litter market with Cats Incredible, thanks to a little help from some very powerful friends.
The story began as many business propositions do: During a casual meal or meeting, an idea was shared with someone who knew somebody who just happened to be in a perfect position to help that very idea come to fruition.
Jim Heim, president of business development for Walnut Creek, Calif.-based Central Garden & Pet Co., a leading producer of pet supplies and one of the nation’s largest pet product distributors, was more than a little interested in what Herrick had to share during lunch one day.
“I’ve known Joey for 12 years,” said Heim. “He’s probably one of the most innovative guys I know, and I know a lot of innovative people.”
Herrick showed his friend the Cats Incredible packaging, for which he’s filed a worldwide patent. The bright, recyclable bag features a side removable cap and ergonomic side and top handles for ease of carrying and use, and Ricky, a cat rescued from “death row” by Herrick, graces each bag. His tail curls around to create one of the handles. In true Joey Herrick fashion, the focus always is on the animals.
“It’s just a beautiful, extremely functional bag,” Herrick said. “There isn’t another like it out there.”
Heim said, “I have some people you need to meet. You need them and they need you.”
The meeting was with Lisa Alley-Zarkades, vice president of commercial development, animal wellness for La Mirada, Calif.-based Horn Co., distributor of specialty ingredients and raw materials for use in a variety of industries. Horn co-packs, or toll processes, cat litter as part of its animal wellness division.
“Cat litter always has been a tough category to innovate,” said Alley-Zarkades. “But Jim said he had the perfect packaging partner for us, and we already were partnering with a company that developed a truly unique raw material that will change how litter works.”
Horn’s ace up its sleeve—its partner, The Dow Chemical Company, has patent-pending nontoxic technology that prevents ammonia from developing in the litterbox. It doesn’t simply mask or neutralize the toxic gas; it stops it from forming, according to Andre Argenton, global research and development director for Performance Materials and Chemicals at Dow.
“At Dow, we’re problem solvers,” Argenton said. “Odor control is the No. 1 problem in the cat litter market. We believe we have broken through this problem with a disruptive technology solution for the litter industry that can improve the health of cats and their owners. Cats are important members of many families; our breakthrough technology gives cat owners peace of mind knowing their cat’s litterbox is providing a safe, ammonia-free environment.”
The litter itself is available in two forms, unscented and lightly scented with lavender, and all the cats at Lucy Pet chosen to run the product through its paces accepted it 100 percent, said Herrick.
Before their big meeting at Dow, the presenters were giddy. The trio included Herrick, Karen Halligan, DVM, chief veterinary officer for the Lucy Pet Foundation, and Rick Rockhill, who was Herrick’s senior vice president at Natural Balance and is now executive vice president and partner at Lucy Pet Products.
“We stood out in front of the Dow sign to take a picture,” Herrick said. “I said to Doc Halligan and Rick, ‘You do realize we are going into a $58 billion a year company asking for an exclusive on its new state-of-the-art litter product.’
“The end result was phenomenal,” said Herrick. “Dow loved the marketing concept and the packaging, and we got the exclusive. It’s quite an honor for them to believe in what we stand for as a company. They like Lucy Pet Foundation and that Lucy Pet Products funds it. They were impressed that the city of Los Angeles just gave us a multiyear contract to do 10,000 spay and neuters.”
“Joey Herrick and his company, Lucy Pet Products, come from a place of care and compassion,” Argenton said. “Joey wants to solve the ammonia problem that is so dangerous for cats and their owners. And with proceeds going directly to the Lucy Pet Foundation, he intends to have a similarly important positive impact on even larger animal welfare issues. We are proud to be a partner to Joey and Lucy Pet.”
“I think that Joey’s whole mission to come back into the pet industry and give back, and wanting to do the nonprofit and the products to help fund it to really make a difference is exciting, because we’re all trying to figure out how to handle the pet overpopulation problem,” Alley-Zarkades said. “It’s a feel-good opportunity, which is why all of us are so interested.”
Heim acknowledged that while both he and Herrick have a passion to do what’s right for pets, the latter takes the concept to new heights.
“He’s a good guy who really has his heart in the right place,” said Heim. “He’s doing the right thing for animals and for people. It’s a winning combination. You’ve got somebody who will attract consumers because of what he does for the animals, somebody whose heart, soul and mind is in this.
“Innovation that is meaningful always sells,” Heim continued. “And this packaging is unbelievably innovative. It’s really hard to carry litter off the shelf and out of the pet store. With its handles, this is really easy to use.”
After the product launch at Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Fla., this month, Central Garden & Pet, which, along with General Pet Supply in Milwaukee, has exclusive distributing rights, will have Cats Incredible stocked in its warehouses and ready to go to retailers.
“I’m really happy that somebody who has meant so much to our industry and gives back so much is going to be extremely successful once again,” said Heim. “This thing is going to be a huge launch and a successful product.”
“You couldn’t have scripted this,” Herrick said. “It’s like someone or something was guiding this. We think it’s a very big thing—a game-changer.”
This article originally appeared in the March 2016 issue of Pet Product News.