As consumers in the U.S. increasingly seek made in the USA consumer products for themselves, the trend continues to overflow into the pet industry, where demand is growing for domestically produced food, toys and other supplies.
"Pets are increasingly an intrinsic, beloved part of the family, so customers are understandably concerned about the quality and safety of pet products," said Donna Bodell, vice president of Up Country, an East Providence, R.I.-based manufacturer of collars, leashes and other accessories for both dogs and cats.
Demand for domestically made products also seems to be expanding on a global level, said Jorge Jeub, social media and marketing specialist for Grandma Lucy’s, a pet food manufacturer in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.
"Various countries attribute American products with higher quality, brand power and a luxury worth spending on rather than their locally manufactured counterparts," Jeub said.
Consumers continue to scrutinize the safety of the ingredients found in the foods and treats they feed their pets, retailers and manufacturers report.
"Pet parents are aware that U.S. regulations maintain the integrity of human-grade ingredients," Jeub said.
He pointed to the 2007 pet food recalls as a trigger for pet owners to turn to made in the USA foods. According to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), the recalls included more than 150 brands whose foods were found to contain melamine, which was traced back to two Chinese suppliers.
After the recalls, "customers looked to trustworthy pet companies such as Grandma Lucy’s to create pet products they could safely feed their dogs," Jeub said.
Cindra Conison, owner of The Quirky Pet in Montpelier, Vt., said customers frequently ask her if she knows what ingredients are in the products she sells. All of the store’s products are American-made, and she is able to reassure customers of their safety.
"Everything I carry … they’re all stuff that I can eat because there’s nothing in them that I couldn’t eat," Conison said.
Consumer concern revolving around product safety is not limited, however, to food and treats. These days, the demand for products that can guarantee the safety of the materials of which they are composed might also be extending to pet bowls.
"All too often lately, we have seen recalls related to pet feeding systems and/or food for unsafe and dangerous materials," said Gunnar Jeannette, product manager for PetComfort, made by WeatherTech, based in Bolingbrook, Ill. The company’s PetComfort Feeding Systems are made in the USA and are certified safe for use for feeding by NSF International, a third-party organization that tests consumer products against its established safety standards.
"Making all of our products here at home, there is absolutely no question where our materials come from, and we are supporting the American manufacturing infrastructure and our fellow American workers as well," Jeannette said.
In addition to safety, durability is a feature customers want in U.S.-made toys, leashes and collars.
"We’ve seen the most category growth in both our Zogoflex dog toys and our durable plush toys over the past year," said Spencer Williams, president and CEO of West Paw in Bozeman, Mont.
He said West Paw continually expands its Zogoflex line to keep up with consumer demand for durability and safety.
Williams said one industry trend is "a growing movement in the U.S. for companies to not only make products in the U.S., but to also use materials that are sourced in the U.S."
West Paw offers a Love It Guarantee, a one-time return or replacement for all its toys. In part, the company’s ability to offer this guarantee comes from the strong ties it has with its suppliers, which are primarily based in the U.S.
"These strong relationships are one way we can guarantee high-quality materials because we trust the people we have been working with for many years," Williams said.
Similarly, Up Country sources almost all of the materials for its leashes and collars in the U.S., Bodell said.
"We’ve been working with the same vendors for over 15-20 years, so we know that the quality that they provide is excellent with years of consumer use," she said.
Networking is key between U.S. manufacturers and their retailers, too.
Conison said she appreciates connections between her store and smaller, domestic manufacturers.
"I can call most of these companies, and they know who I am," she said. "Large, Purina-type companies, they don’t know me. We don’t have the same relationship."
What’s in it for Manufacturers?
Beyond satisfying customers and boosting industry connections, pet product manufacturers themselves can reap direct benefits from operating and sourcing materials domestically.
Perhaps the greatest benefit is better quality control. At West Paw, all operations take place in the same building.
"It is great to walk to our production floor to touch and see the quality craftsmanship that goes into making our products," Williams said.
Eliminating shipping time for parts and products from overseas is a plus, as well, according to Bodell, who said the ability to order parts or products without long waits "makes [Up Country] nimble and able to provide products more quickly and in smaller quantities."
Another key benefit is creating local jobs, said Williams, who ranks it among the top reasons to keep manufacturing local.
"You directly benefit the community you live in by supporting its people with meaningful employment," he said. "Employees then do things such as buy houses, cars, send kids to college, etc. It is the main reason we are committed to manufacturing products in Bozeman, Mont., and why we support other American manufacturers."
These connections can be what initially draws a customer to a made in the USA brand.
"I believe that, as a whole, Americans try their hardest to purchase made in the USA products," said Caitlin Spink, manager of Grand Traverse Pet Supply in Traverse City, Mich. "We want to support our community and the U.S. as a whole."
Merchandising and Marketing
Online and In-store
Signage and displays play a big role in drawing attention to products that are made in the USA, starting with the storefront.
Customers entering The Quirky Pet in Montpelier, Vt., are greeted by a sign on the door that reads, "Every Item Made in the U.S.A. If it’s American-made and Cool, We Sell It!" The sign helps catch the eye of customers walking by; the store is located in a tourist town, and owner Cindra Conison said a lot of its traffic comes from people stopping in while browsing other stores.
Outward-facing signs can also be used to draw customers toward specific brands. West Paw, for example, offers its retailers window clings that advertise the Bozeman, Mont.-based company. For the inside of stores, West Paw offers other creative marketing materials, including product videos on thumb drives that retailers can play in their stores.
"We provide hard copies of our product signage, … online product training webinars, highly discounted displays and free access to our high-resolution photo library," said president and CEO Spencer Williams.
Manufacturer-supplied displays can also be useful to retailers looking to highlight U.S.-made goods. PetComfort by WeatherTech in Bolingbrook, Ill., offers retailers that make an initial purchase of three or more of its PetComfort Feeding Systems a counter or floor display.
"These displays will help to grab the shopper’s attention and include a catalog to show some of the options of PetComfort’s product line," said product manager Gunnar Jeannette. "There are an array of sizes and colors to fit your space and needs, so we offer drop shipping directly to the consumer for any system that the retailer might not have in stock.
Grand Traverse Pet Supply in Traverse City, Mich., uses shelf-talkers to draw attention to domestically manufactured food and vinyl "Made in the USA" signs to highlight products on endcaps.
"Endcaps are a great way to get new products noticed, and we always try to focus on USA products when it comes to redoing an endcap," said manager Caitlin Spink.
Up Country in East Providence, R.I., recommends that retailers use round bars to hang its collars, so customers can see the designs.
"Create a seasonal or themed display of collars and other products," suggested vice president Donna Bodell. "Up Country consumers usually own several collar designs and enjoy changing them out seasonally."
Creativity shouldn’t be forgotten when it comes to displaying food products, either.
Grandma Lucy’s in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., sells food in bags ranging from 1 pound to 10 pounds.
"Creating a tiered effect on the shelf with the smaller bags at eye-level draws in customers," said Jorge Jeub, social media and marketing specialist.
At The Quirky Pet, Conison arranges chews on shelves in candy jars and buckets. She also bundles different chews together in $10-or-less "quirky samplers," which she said sell "amazingly well."
Conison added that she is finding it increasingly difficult to compete with the internet, and she is hoping to expand online.
"I’m convinced, in my store at least, that sweaters and coats are bought online," she said. "I notice that supplements don’t do well here. My big seller are your dog chews … People come in from out of town and spend $20-$30 on chews."
The effective use of social media continues to be key to online marketing for manufacturers that are seeking to drive traffic into pet specialty stores where consumers can purchase their made in the USA goods.
Up Country uses Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest to spotlight photos of pets modeling its products. Each week, it features a retailer on its blog and social media, Bodell said.
Grandma Lucy’s has found success using social media to share how-to recipe videos, host giveaways and build a community of loyal customers online.
Social media has allowed Grandma Lucy’s to "connect with our customers on a personal level, create buzz around our products and ultimately lead customers into their local retail store as a point of purchase," Jeub said.
Food, Fun and Fashion
Grandma Lucy’s, located in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., recently added new foods to two of its lines. To satisfy demand for a poultry option in its freeze-dried, grain-free Macanna dog food line, it introduced Macanna Turkey. Other ingredients in the superfood blend include hemp hearts, coconut and kale.
Grandma Lucy’s also expanded its Simple Replacement diets, which are meal replacements for both cats and dogs with upset stomach, vomiting or diarrhea. The line now includes Chicken & Rice, Salmon & Rice, and Pork, Rice & Pumpkin formulas.
In August, West Paw released its Zogoflex Echo collection, which includes two dog toys: Zwig and Rando.
"The Echo collection is really fun because all of the toys are West Paw’s twists on classic dog toys," said Spencer Williams, president and CEO of the Bozeman, Mont.-based company.
Zwig is a safer, more durable alternative to a stick, and Rando is a "less-abrasive version of the tennis ball," Williams said. Both toys have hollow cores and are BPA free, U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) compliant and dishwasher safe.
In January, Up Country in East Providence, R.I., introduced 20 new collar designs with matching leashes. New choices include seasonal styles—one features summer floaties on water, while another features snowflakes, snowshoes and winter hats. Other options are animal themed, with elephants, fish and hedgehogs making appearances. Also available are simpler, colorful prints and patterns.
Another recent made in the USA introduction is WeatherTech’s PetComfort Feeding Systems. The systems include ergonomically shaped, dishwasher-safe bowls that are NSF-certified safe. The stand and mat are made with antifungal and antibacterial additives, and the systems are designed to catch any spills or mess that pets might make.
"Much like our automotive products, we have spent many hours of research and development making what we think are the best and safest feeding systems on the market," said Gunnar Jeannette, product manager for the Bolingbrook, Ill.-based company.