Year after year, the made in the USA category has enjoyed steady growth; however, manufacturers and retailers agree that the unique circumstances of 2020-2021 in particular have driven robust demand.
Today’s focus on USA-made products is multifaceted, noted Johnna Devereaux, CPN, director of health and wellness for Bow Wow Labs, a chew manufacturer in Novato, Calif.
“First, consumers have the perception, whether real or perceived, that items made in the USA are of higher quality and, if speaking of consumables, that the ingredients are safer,” she said.
Second, during the pandemic, consumers have been more focused on supporting local business, and items that are made in the USA fit that bill, Devereaux added.
“The pandemic has shown us that globally sourced and produced products can be compromised in times of a worldwide pandemic,” she said. “This last point rang especially true for retailers that were unable to stock shelves due to global shipping issues.”
For these reasons, and beyond, consumers and retailers are more focused on made in the USA items, according to Chris Dennis, owner of GivePet, a treat manufacturer in Overland Park, Kan.
“Is it made in the USA? That is likely one of the top questions I hear from consumers and retailers,” he said.
At Wag Heaven, which has two stores in Georgetown, Texas, the call for USA-made products has become more prevalent, according to co-owner Jeff Manley.
“Since contaminated food and treats from China made their way into the U.S. pet food market, customers have been more likely to seek out products that are sourced and made in the USA,” Manley said. “We are witnessing many manufacturers moving their production to the USA, such as Champion [Petfoods] and Farmina.”
Product shortages have increased the call for USA-made foods and goods, noted Pattie Zeller, owner of Animal Connection, a pet store in Charlottesville, Va.
“The more problems people are experiencing with distribution coming from overseas, the more they are begging for USA products,” she said.
Zeller has found this issue to be particularly notable in the toy category.
“There have been a lot of out of stocks lately,” she noted.
Bolstering the job market in the United States is another key consideration.
“Made in the USA is associated not only with high quality, but also with helping to keep jobs right here at home,” said Julianna Carella, founder and CEO of Treatibles, a Nashville, Tenn.-based manufacturer of organic full-spectrum hemp cannabidiol (CBD) oil products for pets.
When it comes to foods and treats, sustainability is another trend on the rise, with shoppers not only wanting to know where ingredients are coming from, but also how those ingredients are grown and processed, according to Dennis.
“Consumers are looking for more plant-based ingredients,” he said.
Due to current drought conditions in some areas of the country, however, products in the USA food and treat category can be difficult to obtain, with pricing going up, Zeller noted.
“These circumstances are making life difficult for producers as meat and grain products are extremely affected,” she added.
The category was profoundly affected by the pandemic. With family members working and studying remotely, a new type of bonding occurred between pet and human, according to Devereaux.
“This strengthened the human-pet relationship, with pet parents becoming more aware of their pet’s individual needs and a shift of focus towards preventative care,” Devereaux said. “The result is that products promoting longer lives and increased health and wellness are in high demand.”
The call for USA-made chews has also expanded, Devereaux said.
“Long-term chews are a great way to provide mental stimulation and to keep a dog engaged for long periods of time, and this was especially useful as pet parents worked from home,” she said. “Bow Wow Labs saw a huge uptick in our e-commerce traffic, with a sales increase in 2020 [of] more than 310 percent.”
As consumers hunkered down, pet adoptions also ticked up in a big way—as did demand for training treats, according to Dennis.
“Consumers are looking for low-calorie training treats because they are treating throughout the day and training new family members,” he added.
Sherry Redwine, co-owner of Odyssey Pets, a store in Dallas, noted that consumer frustration is another outcome of the pandemic.
“With importing being difficult, people are increasingly used to certain consumer products not being available,” she said. “In my opinion, they are less likely to ask where a product is coming from and more likely to be grateful for getting it in their hands at all.
“This past year has been unlike any other. USA made is a great selling point, but it’s not a deal breaker in my store.”
The Importance of Giving Back
Manufacturers and retailers agree that a key factor to business success is the ability to put investment back into local economies, lending a real-world value that ultimately benefits the community.
“I think any responsible business should take the opportunity to give back to their community,” Zeller said. “It’s only fair. The community is helping the business grow. I wouldn’t be here without my customers.”
“We truly believe that the success of our business lies in the support of our surrounding community,” Manley said. “This is why we feel we exist, to serve.”
At Wag Heaven, building a bridge between the community, manufacturers and distributors is accomplished through fundraising events—such as low-cost vaccination clinics, drive-thru pet food banks and dog washes—that benefit various community nonprofit organizations.
“We rely on everyone’s support to make these events successful, and in most cases to fundraise for our local rescue agencies and shelters,” Manley added.
Aside from these types of collaborations, some manufacturers take giving a step further by developing unique programs based around their own USA-made products and the needs of consumers and communities.
Bow Wow Labs’ Bully Buddy is an easy-to-use, veterinarian-approved device that tightly secures bully sticks, preventing dogs from choking on the tail end of the treat, developed in answer to the call for a way for consumers to safely give their dogs a natural, favorite long-term chew, Devereaux said.
The company regularly contributes treats to shelter and rescue partners, and in late 2020 launched the Wag Another Tail program, where a portion of each month’s proceeds are donated to leading nonprofit organizations dedicated to ensuring the health and welfare of dogs across the country.
“We are always expanding the network of rescue partners and shelters,” Devereaux said. “It’s our belief that dogs in shelters deserve to be kept as safe, healthy and happy as those that have already found their forever homes.”
In 2016, Dennis founded GivePet out of a desire to help small, local or obscure shelters and rescues in need of assistance.
“I’d spent 16 years in the pet industry and wanted to do something to give back to rescues and shelters with every purchase,” Dennis said.
“Healthy treats are one of the most requested items at shelters,” he said. “The more trained and socialized these dogs are, the more successful the adoption will be. It’s a simple way to help make an impact in the lives of shelter dogs.”
To keep it local, for every bag of GivePet’s premium, grain-free treats sold in a retail establishment, a bag is shared with a shelter or rescue selected by that retailer.
“When a consumer purchases our treats, their purchase directly impacts rescues in their own community,” Dennis said. “It’s local and tangible.”
In 2013, Treatibles entered the pet market, blazing a trail as a pioneer in creating CBD products for pets, according to Carella. But the path to the pet market commenced with a response to human needs.
“Our story began in 2008 when I established Auntie Dolores, one of the first five medical cannabis brands in California,” she said. “I began creating a variety of edible products that offered much-needed relief to people suffering from a variety of maladies.”
Eventually, clients began to ask if they could give Auntie Dolores products to their ailing pets. Understanding the risks involved with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) for pets, Carella was inspired to develop a gluten-free pumpkin hard chew for dogs infused with CBD-rich oil, and Treatibles was born.
Treatibles has a long history of supporting rescues and the animals they care for, Carella said.
“We believe that all dogs, cats and horses deserve love, compassion, care and a forever home,” she said. “Unfortunately, some cats, dogs and horses are deemed unadoptable due to fear, anxiety or perceived aggression.”
These misunderstood animals often thrive when their issues are addressed, and Treatibles offers deep discounts on all products to rescues and shelters. Further, the company collaborates with dozens of organizations nationwide through its Rescue Partner program by donating product or funds in times of crisis, Carella said.
“We partner with rescues and shelters across the United States to help bring calm, balance and ease to the animals in their care,” Carella said.