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Supply Lines: Proof of Purchase

Posted: June 21, 2012, 2:45 p.m. EDT


Certification can provide manufacturers with a verified way to indicate the quality and value of their products.
By Alison Bour

What does it mean when a manufacturer touts its products as natural, organic or made in the USA? Although definitions of these claims are currently unclear, pet product companies are signing up for a variety of certifications.

The impetus to create a USA-made logo was sparked by experience as a branding professional, reported Marcie Gabor, president of Made in USA Brand.

While product certifications offer consumers a way to narrow their choices and buy in sync with their personal philosophies, Gabor said they’re also a way to create brand consistency.

Which Ones Work?
When Dena Tucker, owner of West Hartford, Conn.-based Greenfeather Bird Supply LLC and GFBToys, bought a cotton and bamboo shirt certified by Green Business Network, she called the owner for more information, and eventually wound up being the first pet product company to apply as a Green America Certified Business, she said.

Pet product certification
The certification identifies business practices that are ethical and sustainable—from treatment of employees to use of recycled plastic. The program is multi-tiered and exhaustive.
 
“It’s a constant process,” Tucker added.

Since obtaining multiple certifications takes a huge amount of time, she hired a company that handles the filing for some of her other certification applications.

Liquid Health, maker of liquid vitamins and supplements in Murietta, Calif., manufactures a wide range of products for people and pets, so the company chose a certification that encompassed reputable manufacturing practices, said Brett Peterson, director of business development.

The National Safety Foundation’s Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP) is a certification process that allows companies to prove they follow rigorous FDA regulations relating to quality control, processing, testing raw materials and managing recalls regarding the manufacture of dietary supplements, according to Liquid Health.

When a company reaches out of its own accord, offering its plants for routine, detailed audits, it speaks loudly to potential customers, Peterson said.

Obtaining certifications isn’t for the faint of heart. When West Paw Design, in Bozeman, Mont., obtained certification from Oeko-Tex, the ecological certifier tested every part of its toys and beds for more than 100 potentially harmful substances.

In addition to annual testing and an onsite visit, West Paw requires its vendors to provide proof of Oeko-Tex safety standards, reported Damon Ortego, the company’s materials supervisor.

“We have a dedicated staff member who manages the certification process,” Ortego said. “We promote our certifications on our website, catalogues, press releases and on social media.”

The Power of Red, White and Blue
Attention at trade shows about USA-made brands has escalated in the past several years, Made in the USA Brand’s Gabor noted. So it’s not surprising that there are several American-made certifications available to pet product manufacturers.

Gabor’s company offers one logo identifying that 100 percent of a product originates in the United States, and a second with a descriptor that a product is made in the United States of USA-imported parts, she reported, adding that the brand certification can be obtained for a company or an individual product.

For companies that are looking for a variety of information on what constitutes misleading advertising, as well as past and current FTC investigations on the industry, Jim Prunty, a staff attorney with the FTC recommends this website:Business.FTC.gov
“Consumers like the transparency,” Gabor said.

The bold, hand-shaped logo with a star in its palm has the power to grab—at a quick glance—customers as they walk down an aisle, especially if they already identify themselves as USA-made shoppers, she noted.

The certifier offers standards for use, although Gabor noted that product manufacturers are free to use it in conjunction with other USA-made logos.

On a busy package, “A corner box must be used,” she added.

Certification Options
Certifiers like Made in USA Brand fall under the self-certification category, which means producers obtain their own registrations by following written guidelines.

Third-party certifications, such as Green America, cGMP and any organic certification, require audits by outside reviewers and ongoing rigorous testing.

Companies that opt to retain the right to use Made in USA Brand and other self-certification logos trust in the reputation they’ve already built with long-term consumers, and believe those consumers return the trust, Gabor said.

“I feel our products speak for themselves and I feel that’s the case for a lot of products in the pet industry,” said Anthony Bennie, owner of Clear Conscience Pet in Mount Laurel, N.J. “Our industry is strong when we self-regulate. You don’t need someone to wave a wand and say, ‘You guys are OK.’”

Ingredient-based Certification
The Natural Products Association (NPA) certifies pet shampoo, sprays and similar home care products, reported Cara Welch, Ph.D., vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs.

The NPA created a clear, defined list of ingredients and methods of sourcing when designing its certification program, she said.

Pet products that carry the seal contain no less than 95 percent natural products that are extracted via alcohol, water or steam pressing—but never solvent extraction. The main impetus behind the program was to eliminate crude oil and its byproducts, as well as petra-chemicals.

NPA was approached about two years ago regarding certification of pet products, with the first receiving the designation in Sept. 2010, Welch said, adding that certifying pet food may be on the horizon.

As new companies of all kinds enter the market, certifications like NPA’s help define products, Welch said.
“It can be a way to get started and help newer companies set themselves apart,” she said.—AB

However, some companies decide to do both third-party and self-certification, Gabor said.

Pet Food Institute (PFI), a Washington, D.C.-based trade association for U.S. pet companies, does not certify products, but does support the concept of third-party certifications, said Duane Ekedahl, president. The organization also supports the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI), a business-driven initiative for the continuous improvement of food safety management systems, according to GFSI’s website.
 
Who Certifies Whom
The ongoing humanization of companion animals could drastically change the pet product certification landscape.

The National Animal Supplement Council supports implementing the same kind of standards for pet supplements as those that exist for people products, Liquid Health’s Peterson reported. The challenge is that currently the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other certifying bodies don’t recognize animal supplements in the same way they do human ones, he added.

“Depending on the state, they see it as a type of feed,” he said.

In addition, certification guidelines can vary by state, making it difficult and inconsistent, Bennie of Clear Conscience Pet said.

While the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) does address organic labeling, Bennie noted that no clear message exists from it about how that designation applies to pet products, or how it applies when the word organic appears in a trade name.

A limited staff also reduces the amount of time and attention the USDA spends on regulating the pet industry, he added.

However, when it comes to overseeing pet products, Jim Prunty, a staff attorney for the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) division of advertising practice, said they do fit into the overall scope of all products the FTC regulates.

“The statute construction is much the same,” Prunty said.

While the FTC regulates false advertising, the FDA primarily focuses on labeling, he said.

Recently, more pet product claims are coming to the attention of the FTC, said Prunty, including claims that one food is ”more digestible” than another. But he doubts a pet division within the FTC is on the horizon, he added.

Because of the sheer number of products on the market, the inconsistent definitions of labels such as natural and green, the layers of bureaucracy and the involvement of Congress, government regulation by the FTC and others simply can’t cover it all, Prunty stated.

“You have to do your own due diligence,” he said.

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