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Buzz Off, Naturally

Natural Pet Product MerchandiserNew products prevent infestation without chemicals.
By Meghan E. Murphy

Following the trend in the rest of the pet industry, consumers looking to prevent pests from munching on their pets are seeking out natural products.

Cat with fleasYet in a sector where chemicals have long reigned, even manufacturers say that the effectiveness of natural pest prevention products is a big challenge. 

“The biggest challenge is changing the perception of natural products for pest control,” said Stephanie Boone, founder and president of Wondercide in Austin, Texas. “Efficacy and safety are the two biggest concerns for pet owners.”

The creators of the latest products say that their offerings, which approach prevention in new ways, work in all natural ways that won’t harm pets.

“Only recently have pet owners started to doubt the safety and efficacy of traditional synthetic pesticides and made a grass roots effort to support natural and holistic change,” Boone said.

Similar to the latest trends in pet toys and food, pet pest prevention is increasingly seeing customers concerned about the safety of what they’re putting on their pets.

“The green market is one of the most important new markets that has opened up, which is why almost every chemical company is trying to go green,” said Melissa Rogers, a co-founder of Shoo!Tag in Austin, Texas.

Retailers and manufacturers of natural products say chemicals can cause side effects and are subject to resistance.

“What we’ve seen in the industry is that the more poison you put out there, the more resistant the insects are becoming,” said Kathy Heiney, chief operating officer for Shoo!Tag.

Consumers and retailers are not only questioning the traditional methods of flea and tick prevention, but also are becoming increasingly educated on the topic, said Merritt Goldstein of Earth Animal, natural product manufacturer and retailer in Westport, Conn.

Goldstein said that in recent years customers and retailers have been asking for their product rather than having to be told about it.

“Many stores are in the same boat as the people, they don’t want to sell the chemicals,” Goldstein said. “It’s really spreading across the country.”

The challenge for manufacturers and retailers of green, natural products is proving to customers that their products work.

“I’ve had a hard time trying to get customers to use the natural way,” said Laura Amiton, owner of Health Pets Northwest, Alberta in Portland, Ore.

Her customers have questions about the success of natural products and don’t understand how to make the natural way work. Instead, they choose the convenient chemical solution, she said.

Dog with fleasFounders of some of the latest natural pest prevention products, including Boone, say their products were created after they tried everything on the market. Boone soought out the natural alternatives for her dog: Brewer’s yeast, garlic, lemon water, but none worked.

Customers’ similar experiences with natural products have made them wary about buying something new.

That’s why Heiney and Melissa Rogers, co-founders of Shoo!Tag, offer free samples to pet and store owners. The pair even expanded their line of tags, which uses biodynamics to repel insects, to include a human version. That way, the pet owners can see the tags work on themselves.

“We have spent extensive time educating distributors and giving out free tags,” Rogers said.

Amiton offers a 100 percent guarantee on all the products in her store, encouraging customers to try the natural way. While she sees about a 50 percent return on pest prevention products, she’s passionate that the products work if used correctly.

Randy Klein, owner of Whiskers Holistic Pet Store in New York City, said she hasn’t seen many new products on the market for natural pest prevention, but she educates customers on how to use the natural products that are already on the market.

A New Perspective

One of the reasons education is so important in natural pest prevention is because the market takes a whole different approach.

While chemical drops include a poison that kills pests, natural products focus on both the pet’s health and treating the whole environment.

Amiton believes educating her customers about treating the home, as well as the animal, is the biggest challenge.

“Many people think the product is not working because they haven’t treated the home,” Amiton said. To do this, she recommends Diatom Dust, an insect powder by Natural Animal to eliminate flea eggs.

Shoo!Tag reports that it uses a whole new science—the animal’s own electromagnetic frequency—to repel pests.

“When we launched, we knew that most people don’t understand this realm,” Rogers said.

The Tick Key focuses not on killing the bug but on removing it safely, preventing the tick from releasing harmful toxins into the animal and making the bug a less daunting prospect for pet owners, said company co-founder Donna Libby of Goshen, Conn.

Earth Animal offers a three-step flea prevention program that treats the animal from the inside-out. The technique focuses on vitamins that make the pet healthy and make their blood bitter so pests don’t bite them. There’s also a spray for the coat for when a pet is going outside.

“It’s a whole new way of thinking,” Goldstein said.

For those who are looking for an all-natural option, though, experts say that the small learning curve is worth it for retailers and customers.

“People really don’t want to put poisons on their pet and get them on their kids and themselves,” Rogers said. 

This article first appeared in the March 2010 issue of Natural Pet Product Merchandiser

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