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7:23 PM   April 21, 2015
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Catering to the Whole Earth Family

Pet retailers who carry and successfully market organic, natural, eco-friendly and fair-trade products are reaping the benefits courtesy of their earth-conscious customers.
By Lizett Bond

As consumers become more whole-earth-welfare conscious, demand for products that meet those specifications are spilling over into the pet industry. Retailers and manufacturers responding to the stipulations of this rising awareness are reaping the benefits.

Healthy Spot does extensive product research for its customers to ensure they have confidence that everything in the store meets the Healthy Spot standard. Credit: Courtesy of Healthy Spot
At Healthy Spot, with Southern California locations in Santa Monica and West Hollywood, offerings include a wide range of organic, green and natural pet foods and products.

“We have an educated consumer base that appreciates the value of going organic or purchasing environmentally sustainable products,” said Andrew Kim, co-owner of The Healthy Spot. “They use these products for themselves and it naturally follows that they want the best for their furry family.”

Organic Growth
The organic industry is heavily regulated and products must meet USDA certification standards. So how do consumers and retailers know if organic claims are accurate? Labeling provisions require that certain qualifications be met, and many manufacturers use only certified ingredients.

Chris Roberts, co-owner of Barkwheats Dog Biscuits based in Stockton Springs, Maine, has been in the canine biscuit baking business since 2007.

“We work with organic ingredients from small scale, local farms,” he said. “Organic is great, and we think that it is really important to support farmers who have preserving the landscape in mind when they are farming.”

Along those lines, Ma Snax Superior Treats in Sonoma, Calif., was conceived in 2005 when Ray Masnack and Mary Ellen Oertel decided to create for their dog Penny a better biscuit using organic ingredients.

“We have confidence in organic products because we know of the stringent requirements for certification and the way it is legislated, the ingredients have to be listed,” Oertel said.

Healthy Spot’s educated consumer base appreciates the value of going organic or purchasing environmentally sustainable products. Credit: Courtesy of Healthy Spot
Oertel noted that she believes that stellar, human-grade ingredients in small, fresh-baked batches ensure the family pet is enjoying high-quality healthful snacks.

To the north, Canada has its own set of rigorous organic guidelines. In Nova Scotia, Jude Major of Katie’s Farm not only bakes dog and cat treats and food but also grows her own organic ingredients. Officially launched in 2002, Katie’s Farm became Canada’s first certified bakery for pets in 2004 and has seen tremendous growth since that time.

“I offered pet food cooking classes, which were a hit,” Major  said. “And people like having that information but they don’t necessarily want to take the time to make their own, so I started to manufacture our line of food in larger quantities and it has really taken off.”

Trading Fairly
When Barkwheats opted to produce a biscuit containing ginger, which is not grown in Maine, they decided to pursue Fair Trade Certification for the herb with a small group of farmers in Belize. After navigating the intensive certification process, the company now claims the first Fair Trade Certified dog biscuit on the market Fair Trade products are produced by developing countries needing assistance to promote sustainability, and specific criteria must be met before certification is granted. Labeling allows consumers and manufacturers to identify goods meeting those standards.

“Look for the little black and white Fair Trade Certified logo; it’s how you know the product has been fair traded,” Roberts said.

Because Fair Trade pet items haven’t been extensively marketed, fewer consumers will be looking for those products, Roberts noted.

However, he thinks the same clientele shopping for organic goods will be attracted to Fair Trade merchandise.

Chris Roberts of Barkwheats at work in the company’s small (for now) 120-square-foot facility bakery—Barkwheats is expanding to a 4,000 square-foot facility. Credit: Courtesy of Barkwheats Dog Biscuits
While currently traveling the fair trade certification journey, Chilly Dog Sweaters in Marlton, N.J., has been on the market since 1999. The company works with families of Incan Indians in an Ecuadorian village who do the knitting, grow the wool and make the dye from plant extracts.
“The thing is, we didn’t realize how fair trade and green we were when we started, we just knew we went to this village and we love our knitters and we’ve seen how their lifestyle has changed drastically and for the better as we increase our business,” said Lisa Iacovelli, co-owner of the company.

Marketing for Chilly Dog sweaters includes a hangtag that tells the story of those Ecuadorian knitters, but Iacovelli believes the quality of the product speaks for itself, particularly when placed near mass produced items.

“They are Inca Indians and they have been knitting for hundreds of years—that’s their primary source of income at the village,” Iacovelli said. “We are really good friends with them. We visit them and they come here to visit, too.”

Going Natural & Green
While Fair Trade Certified is still unfamiliar to many consumers, “natural” is almost a household term. This broad product category denotes ingredients derived from plant or animals and not subjected to chemical processing or additives. Discernment comes from attentive label reading. For retailers and consumers alike, this is where education comes in and simple is often better.

Robin Levine, president of Eco-Me in Pasadena, Calif., claims one to four ingredient listings per product. The company’s “Eco Box Sets” contain ingredients, containers, essential oils and recipes that customers mix themselves. The Eco-Me dog box set, for example, contains do-it-yourself flea spray, shampoo powder and biscuit treat recipes.

“It’s not a long laundry list of ingredients. If you can’t eat it or understand it, don’t use it,” Levin said.

“Eco-friendly” is another catch phrase and generally, these items are made from recycled goods and can be recycled after use. Such products are often marketed with identifying labels and should inflict minimal or no harm to the environment. There is, however, no certification standard to confirm that a product is truly “green.”

Fair Trade isn’t just an international issue, but a local one as well. Many farmers face the same price fixing and discrimination here in the U.S., and most of Barkwheats ingredients (e.g., pumpkins), come from farmers such as Pete and Wini Noyes of Two in the Bush Farm in Thorndike, Maine. Barkwheats negotiates directly with the Noyes to make sure they’re getting a price that’s fair for the work they put into the crop. Credit: Courtesy of Barkwheats Dog Biscuits
Packaging for Barkwheat’s treats is biodegradable and compostable. Even the inner cellophane bag is made from wood pulp, and those attributes are noted on the label.

“Eco friendly means to us that the product was designed with the environment in mind,” Kim said.

Healthy Spot’s Santa Monica location was endorsed as that city’s only pet “Green Certified Business,” and both store locations carry eco-friendly alternatives. Kim added that they are always seeking out new products for their clients.

“We have developed a level of trust from our clients to pick out the best products available on the market, and customers have confidence that anything on our shelves has met the Healthy Spot standard,” he added.

Getting the Word Out
Marketing claims can exaggerate product benefits, but with proper education, employees are able to pass their knowledge on to customers regarding foods, supplements, grooming products and toys. Kim said with all of the marketing dollars being spent on advertising, it can be challenging for consumers to navigate the “green” waters.

“We partner with our customers to help discern what is real and what is marketing by investing heavily in the training of our staff to empower them through information,” he added.

Barkwheats’ Roberts agreed.

“It’s important to educate customers that just because it says ‘green’ or ‘organic,’ unless it is certified, it could be anything,” he said.

By providing information on the packaging of their box sets, offering in-store educational videos, free samples for retailers to pass on and POP press information, Eco-Me is able to assist retailers with customer education.

Tim and Lydia Beal of Moon Hill Farm have more than 100 acres of land and about 4 acres under cultivation for organic, wilder blueberries. Credit: Courtesy of Barkwheats Dog Biscuits
Major not only includes the Canadian organic logo on her packaging, but the certification number as well. This way, consumers and retailers are able to avoid confusion and read right on the packaging that Katie’s Farm’s products are certified organic.

“The number is a guarantee that we have met the certification standard and are what we are claiming,” Major said.

“Love your pets and your planet” is the motto of Green Pawz Pet Supply in Ann Arbor, Mich., and according to Lisa Pearce, co-owner, the store specializes in organic as well as earth-friendly supplies and offers quality local, recycled and reusable materials.

“We sell U.S.-made toys, organic pet food and supplies not only for safety reasons but for the green factor, and a lot of green-conscious people seek us out,” she said.

Levine is finding that customers visiting Eco-Me’s online retail store are not just from the large eco-friendly cities but also from smaller towns in the middle of the country.

“Eco-friendly is kind of sweeping the country, and we are just taking some of the old basics and reinventing them into a new modern way that fits our new modern lifestyles,” she said.

According to Richard Volpe, western divisional sales manager for United Pet Group Inc., more consumers are looking for eco-friendly and natural products. The company’s Kitty’s WonderBox disposable litter trays are made from recycled materials and are 100-percent biodegradable. Our consumers appreciate the fact that they are using a convenient product that can be sent to the landfill guilt-free, Volpe reported.

“Everybody is becoming more earth-conscious,” he said.

Many retailers believe that offering green products is the right thing to do, and far from being a trend, is becoming a way of life. Customers welcome the benefits of going organic and understand the value behind spending more for those products.

“It is how we live our lives, and pets are part of the family,” Oertel said.

As far as advice for retailers or manufacturers with regard to promoting these products, perhaps Kim sums it up best.

“Do your homework and dig past the marketing to get to the truth,” he said. “Your customers will thank you for it. As more people learn the benefits of going organic and green for themselves, the more potential customers we have.” <HOME>

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