How the Pet Industry is Giving Back to its Communities

Altruism is on the rise, and the concept of giving back finds members of the pet community patronizing local independent businesses, looking to USA-sourced ingredients, donating dollars, and joining hands with retailers and manufacturers for a little collaborative teamwork in support of a wide range of causes.

"From caring for the environment to assisting homeless pets in the quest for a family, today’s pet parents like to be informed, involved, and are constantly seeking relevant and timely information," said Tony de Vos, president of Cardinal Pet Care in Azusa, Calif.

Younger generations are often leading the philanthropic charge.

"So many people want to give back," said Jocelyn Rosenthal, owner and founder of Boo Boo’s Best in San Francisco. "I am struck by how millennials and gen Zs in particular are invested in social responsibility and sourcing, and it definitely makes me excited to try to come up with new ways to engage them."

Keeping It Close to Home

With the spotlight on pet health, ingredient sourcing often tops consumers’ list of concerns when shopping for pet food. Manufacturers are addressing this awareness by offering sustainable and USA-sourced ingredients.

"We’ve seen pet parents take more of an interest in knowing where their dog’s foods and treats are made and how they are sourced," de Vos said. "Part of this trend is the growing awareness of the need for transparency and an understanding that supporting businesses that align with their core values will help drive change."

Jeff Manley, co-owner of Wag Heaven in Georgetown, Texas, pointed out that today’s pet owners are more knowledgeable and in tune with where and how their dog foods are being made.

"The majority of pet foods are now made in the USA because of questionable manufacturing processes outside of the country, such as China," he said.

Eco-conscious, animal-loving consumers also seek to purchase from companies that obtain their materials from cruelty-free sources and use environmentally friendly processes in their production and manufacturing, de Vos said.

"A Nielsen survey found that two-thirds of consumers are willing to pay extra for sustainable goods, and this figure is even higher with millennials," he said.

To meet this call, Cardinal Pet Care is currently seeking B Corporation certification, a private certification issued to for-profit companies that meet environmental and social responsibility standards established by B Lab, a global nonprofit organization. B Corporations have met the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose, as determined by B Lab.

Further, the company is one of the founding members of the Pet Sustainability Coalition (PSC), formed to advance sustainability and environmental responsibility within the pet product industry.

"Collaboration is the key to success," de Vos added. "While PSC members may be competitors in the marketplace, in the field of sustainability, they are collaborators."

Conscious Collaboration

For pet retailers and consumers alike, Manley cites myriad advantages to manufacturer involvement with in-store activities.

"We like to challenge the belief that manufacturers are corporations solely focused on profits," he said. "To better serve our customers, we take it to heart that it is our obligation to help build a bridge and liaison these relationships."

Dog food employee-training workshops, which are open to shoppers, are among the events held at Wag Heaven, Manley said. These opportunities strengthen relationships between staff members, customers and manufacturers.

"The events also create camaraderie, with pizza, a cool beverage and laughs," he said.

He added that giving back and supporting their communities—specifically those that are pet related, such as pet rescue agencies—is one way for brick-and-mortar retailers to differentiate themselves from the ever-increasing online competition.

"The bottom line is that an independent pet retail business should feel the pulse of their community better than their online counterparts," Manley said. "And in order for the pet manufacturers to have a hold on the industry, they must continue to support the clientele of the independent retailer."

A Helping Paw

When it comes to assisting animals in need, concern among pet lovers is cross-generational.

"People who love dogs are aware of the extent of the problem concerning animal abuse and overpopulation and are interested in finding ways to give back," Rosenthal said.

Boo Boo’s Best leverages healthful, holistic dog treats to support rescue organizations and their charges.

"We are the official treat of The Tiny Pitbull Rescue and have a very special relationship with them," she said. "Because we are both located in the San Francisco Bay Area, we can be hands-on. I attend their adoption events twice a month, where I interact with the rescuers, fosters, dogs and potential adopters."

Each pet leaving with a new forever family also takes home a bag of donated Boo Boo’s Best treats.

In a multipronged campaign, Boo Boo’s Best donates bulk supplies of training treats to Los Angeles-based Paws for Life K9 Rescue. The organization rescues dogs in danger of being euthanized and provides medical attention, with many of these dogs joining their Canine Good Citizen training program at Lancaster Prison in Lancaster, Calif. Canine graduates are placed for adoption, with outstanding candidates moving into a more extensive, year-long training program, also held at the prison. Some of these dogs will become service dogs for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

"This program is extraordinarily beneficial to dogs and inmates alike," Rosenthal said.

Through its ongoing Giving Back Program, Boo Boo’s Best also donates a percentage of sales every month to a selected rescue or organization.

Dedicated to supporting the health and happiness of dogs everywhere, Jones Natural Chews provides in-kind donations of its natural treats and chews as a way to show appreciation and help the efforts of nonprofit organizations across the country.

"In 2018, Jones donated to 50-plus philanthropic events and sent monthly shipments to 15 nonprofit organizations nationwide," said Heather Huftalin, marketing manager for the Rockford, Ill.-based company. "Our company is grateful for the opportunities and successes that consumers and retailers have provided by purchasing and supporting our brand."

Closer to home, the company values local involvement.

"It’s especially meaningful to be able to give back within our own community," Huftalin said. "Earlier this year, C.A.R.E. for P.E.T.S. of Rockford, Ill., held a fundraiser to support their community outreach services. They also hold health clinics and other events to improve the health, safety and retention of pets in the county."

In support of these efforts, Jones Natural Chews donates gift baskets for raffles and treats for dogs. Additionally, the company partners with area animal shelters to provide adoption bags and treats on a regular basis.

"Community members who have adopted pets from nonprofit organizations or have had a connection to these types of groups like to know that businesses such as ours care about giving back," Huftalin said.

In addition to nonprofit organizations, Jones Natural Chews works with distributors to support retailers with product donations for open houses, customer appreciation weekends and sales events.

"It’s a small way to say ‘Thank you for your business’ by offering free samples for consumers, which helps lead to future business for our retail partners," she said.

An Ever-Expanding Outreach

Pet industry assistance to the displaced is not limited to pets. When Northern California’s Camp Fire raged for 17 days in 2018, the scope of the devastation included the evacuation of more than 50,000 residents, tens of lives lost and upward of 18,000 structures destroyed, according to reports.

"The area’s small businesses, including a number of grooming shops, were hard hit, with many not adequately insured to cover loss of inventory, equipment damage, business interruption and structure replacement costs," de Vos said. "King Wholesale, a Sutter County, Calif.-based pet supply wholesaler, quickly became aware of the plight of these establishments."

King Wholesale responded by contacting its product manufacturer partners to request donations of supplies and funds. As a result of the manufacturers’ generosity combined with its own contributions, the wholesaler was able to provide more than $500 in supplies to each groomer to help them get back on their feet.

Cardinal Pet Care was among those participating in the effort.

"We would like to give a big shout-out to King Wholesale for their work in rebuilding this small-business community ravaged by fire, as well as to all the donating manufacturers for demonstrating how we, as industry members, can work together to help our friends and colleagues in times of crisis," de Vos said.

Made-in-the-usa roundtable

PPN: When it comes to specific causes, how has the spotlight shifted over time?

Jocelyn Rosenthal, owner and founder of Boo Boo’s Best in San Francisco

It definitely seems that issues like sustainability, sourcing and the environment have become more urgent causes in recent years, and can directly impact purchase choices. There is also concern for social issues, such as the importance of adoption and the treatment of animals.

For example, Senate Bill 1604 was unanimously passed by the House of Delegates. The bill would make beating, maiming, mutilating or killing a dog or cat a Class 6 felony. Currently, the penalty for these crimes is a Class 1 misdemeanor. This bill also incorporates Senate Bill 1276, which made any sort of cruelty to animals a felony. Previous law said the dog or cat had to die for the perpetrator to be prosecuted.

This represents real progress in how we, as a society, view the treatment of and responsibility to the companion animals in our lives and reflects our growth as a culture in this regard.

Tony de Vos, president of Cardinal Pet Care in Azusa, Calif.

Cardinal Pet Care’s vision is to be devoted to pets, people and planet and provide eco-friendly pet products that improve life for people and their pets. We want our sustainability message to resonate with all of our stakeholders—employees, vendors, suppliers, distributors, customers, local governments and communities.

The word "sustainability" may not be as familiar as the term "eco-friendly" or concepts like reduce, reuse and recycle. This is why it is important to put it into a context that makes sense for each retailer, employee, staff member and pet parent. The definition of sustainability is rather simple. It means thinking about the future and making business plans and decisions that will ensure enough resources for future generations. Rather than just focusing on the financial bottom line, businesses need to look at the triple bottom line. So, in addition to financial costs, retailers should also look at the human and environmental costs of doing business.

Jeff Manley, co-owner of Wag Heaven in Georgetown, Texas

So much has changed during these past 10 years within the pet industry, specifically within the pet food industry. More brands have entered the market, creating much more confusion, as well as options for pet owners. Transparency is demanded, and pet owners have become savvy and careful in what they feed their pets. Made in the USA stamps are an important branding opportunity. Popular pet food manufacturers like Champion Petfoods have established their plants in the USA to offer the sense of comfort and control for their U.S. customers.

Because of the rapidly increasing value of the pet industry, more attention is being focused to create better quality control. USDA, FDA, AAFCO and other government entities have all participated in evaluating the pet food industry. We are not sure if this helps or creates more anxiety in being good pet owners. The pet industry is in a constant transitioning process right now.