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There’s no question that products that are made in the USA remain in demand. However, when it comes to dog food, the quality of certain ingredients that are internationally sourced can be far superior to their U.S.-sourced counterparts. In certain situations, retailers may need to help shoppers overcome their predisposition to purchase foods with solely U.S.-sourced ingredients so that they can, ultimately, make a higher-quality choice.

Manufacturers that source their ingredients globally said it allows them to offer the best. Neil Thompson, vice president of sales for Valencia, Calif.-based Pets Global, maker of Zignature and other brands, said that the company globally sources all ingredients to ensure the most nutritious choices.

“Although we love sourcing our ingredients from the USA or locally, and we do so whenever it is possible, sometimes the highest quality of a particular ingredient is not found within the USA,” Thompson said. “We source our duck and guinea fowl from Western France, kangaroo and goat from Australia, lamb and venison from New Zealand, herring from Canada and our vitamin packs created only for Pets Global products from Europe. We globally source to ensure that we are choosing suppliers that match our standards—for example, we only source feeding animals that are raised in more of a sustainable and humane way by reputable suppliers, which is not always in the USA.”

Zignature’s newest line, Zignature Select Cuts, is a meat-first, legume-free recipe that is grain friendly and still maintains a low-glycemic formula for dogs with food sensitivities, Thompson explained.

“Our Zignature Select Cuts will be available [soon], starting with our Lamb & Lamb Meal Formula, Trout & Salmon Meal Formula and Turkey Formula,” he said. “All of these formulas still have our meat-first philosophy paired with only high-quality, wholesome ingredients.”

Calvin Smith, director and founder of Pet Nutrition NZ Limited Partnership, the owner of the Kiwi Kitchens brand, based in Christchurch, New Zealand, said the company sources all ingredients from New Zealand—aside from vitamins and minerals that cannot be sourced there—because they believe these ingredients are superior. He said the market is understanding of this.

“Some of the main benefits are ethically and sustainably sourced meat and fish, grass-fed beef and lamb, traceable supply chains, and antibiotic and hormone free,” Smith said.

Gauging Customer Awareness

While certain ingredients might be higher quality when sourced globally, the question is whether customers understand this and are willing to buck the USA trend.

“As pet parents become more conscious in regard to pet food ingredients and what their pets are eating, the awareness of where ingredients are sourced is slowly becoming a big trend,” Thompson said. “And the common agreement is that the callout of made in the USA is superior to globally sourced. However, that is not always the case. Sourcing locally does not always mean that high-quality ingredients are being used.”

Kim McCohan, chief happiness officer for Bend Pet Express, which has two locations in Bend, Ore., said that the push to buy USA-made products has definitely overshadowed customers’ understanding.

“I can appreciate the made in the USA trend when it comes to people buying products,” she said. “But most customers don’t realize food ingredients can be higher quality elsewhere.”

Denise Strong, owner of Pawz on Main, a pet store in Cottonwood, Ariz., said that she feels her clients do not understand ingredient sourcing or food production in general. As a result, they require guidance in understanding the nuances.

“Despite the made in the USA trend, shoppers don’t understand that ‘made’ in the USA is totally different than ‘sourced’ in the USA,” Strong added. “So, we take the time to educate shoppers on this.”

In Dallas, Sherry Redwine, co-owner of Odyssey Pets, said that a lot of her customers have just never thought about it before. But helping them to understand why certain ingredients may be better isn’t difficult.

“When I explain that the majority of lamb comes from New Zealand, most customers think it makes sense. They don’t care that it’s not from the U.S.—they just never thought about it before,” she said.

Of course, some customers are doing their research and coming to a better understanding on their own. Claudia Loomis, executive vice president of Cherrybrook Premium Pet Supplies, which has five locations in New Jersey, said that many of her customers are ingredient savvy. They are already seeking non-GMO, humanely treated and sustainably sourced ingredients—and that often leads them to look globally.

“They understand the quality and the price difference; whether they are ready to pay the price difference is sometimes the bigger issue,” Loomis said. “They want to feed better-quality food but may not be able to afford it. So, we suggest a higher-quality food or topper to add to their existing diet.”

Consumer Education

Become the Best Source

The answer to helping customers better understand globally sourced ingredients comes down to education.

Claudia Loomis, executive vice president of Cherrybrook Premium Pet Supplies, which has five locations in New Jersey, said that although her customers are already self-educated on ingredients and sourcing, they still have questions. This is where the independent retailer can play a vital role.

“The team in our stores can answer very specific questions about ingredients and sourcing,” she said. “We are pet nutrition nerds. We take a consultative approach. We seek first to understand where they are currently by asking questions. What are you currently feeding? Are you happy with the food your pet is currently eating? Do you have concerns about the food you are currently feeding? How old is your pet? Do you have any health concerns about your pet? This way we can better approach nutrition and make suggestions.”

Kim McCohan, chief happiness officer for Bend Pet Express, which has two locations in Bend, Ore., said that they delicately approach the conversation and ask customers if they want information on sourcing.

“If they seem open and curious, then we spend as much time as they need to get their questions answered,” McCohan added. “Sometimes when we read their body language and find a brick wall, we quickly answer as little as possible to get the point across and move on.”

McCohan said that understanding where customer questions and concerns come from is also important. She noted that most of her customers’ interest in sourcing stems from fears about food made in China. But when she gets customers who are really interested in understanding more, she has personal experience to pull from.

“I was lucky enough to go to New Zealand a couple years ago, and their overall outlook on food is very culturally different than from the states,” she said. “There are no factory farming practices, and animals have been deemed as sentient beings. So, while it seems common for companies to label or use ‘New Zealand lamb,’ as far as I’m concerned, any species coming from New Zealand will be better quality than USA-sourced ingredients, except for a very few companies.”

At the end of the day, when customers understand the logic behind global sourcing, it’s easy for them to look beyond their gut feelings of only buying USA foods. Neil Thompson, vice president of sales for Pets Global, a pet food manufacturer in Valencia, Calif., said customers can be enlightened when they understand the benefits.

“It is good practice to educate customers about the reasoning of globally sourcing ingredients,” he said. “The major benefit to highlight is that different countries tend to have products that they specialize in—and this is primarily because of different climates around the world and how some ingredients thrive in those environments. These different climates play a factor in the quality of the products and can lead to higher-quality ingredients.”