Consumer demand for U.S.-made pet foods produced with domestically sourced ingredients has been an ongoing trend for more than a decade. Now, demand is on the rise for made in the U.S. hard goods and nonedibles, as pet owners seek out toys, collars, leashes, beds and other products bearing that distinction, pet specialty retailers and manufacturers assert.
Alisha Navarro, president of Indian Trail, N.C.-based 2 Hounds Design, which offers American-made collars, leashes and harnesses, remembers a time not too long ago when made in the USA products were a niche category, with customers not really considering where products were made.
"Back in 2010, when we attended trade shows or answered questions from customers, we would get maybe one or two here and there asking where our products were made," she said. "This [past] year, at every trade show, more than half the stores were asking where products are made, and we are advertising heavily on our packaging and displays that all of our products are made in the USA. It is a selling point for the end user, as it is a benefit that stores are pointing out to their customers."
Lanette Fidrych, owner of Cycle Dog-Earth Friendly Pet Co., a Portland, Ore.-based company that makes dog leashes, toys and collars out of recycled bike tubes, said that besides creating jobs in the U.S., manufacturing in an American facility allows the company to develop products faster and more efficiently.
"Demand for USA-made products, especially soft toys, has been exponentially increasing," she said. "Consumers are looking for brighter colors, more durable materials and differentiation in the marketplace. We can offer that."
Michael Schrekenhofer, international sales manager for Conway, Ariz.-based Leather Brothers, which manufactures more than 15,000 SKUs in the pet category, is seeing an influx of importers looking to have product made in the USA to avoid hassles with import tariffs and duties in the upcoming future.
"Right now, one of the main consumer trends driving interest to products made in the USA is price and quality," he said. "With the current tariffs on imported goods, pricing will continue to go up on many products in the pet industry. By making our products here, we are able to control our overhead and cost, which allows us to maintain a lower price and stay competitive."
Schrekenhofer also believes consumers, driven by patriotism and the desire to support local and regional companies, are willing to pay a little extra for high-quality, made in the USA items.
A Rise in Toy Sales
Adam Baker, founder and CEO of Denver-based True Dogs, a producer of high-quality American-made, natural rubber dog toys under the SodaPup brand, among others, shared that being made in the USA is central to what the company is all about.
"First, we’re committed to keeping jobs in America. If a product can be made in the USA, then we believe we have a moral obligation to produce it here," he said. "Second, it’s what consumers want. Companies that respond to consumer demand ultimately win."
Moreover, he asserted that overseas manufacturing is often a work-around to avoid high U.S. labor, safety and environmental standards, and these are all things that today’s consumers are passionate about.
"There is strong demand for American-made products in the hard goods/nonedible categories," Baker said. "Historically, durable rubber dog toys is a category that hasn’t seen much innovation. This is due to the high cost of molds. It requires a high financial commitment before you even know whether a product will be successful or not. But consumers are hungry for new products in this category. This is the niche we are filling."
So much so that SodaPup has seen triple-digit growth over the past year and the business is expanding very quickly, Baker reported.
Stores get many requests for made in the USA products, including toys, confirmed Sue Tasa, director of education at Pet Food Express, a chain of stores in California. In those cases, customers ask about durability and material composition and want to know how a toy can be used to entertain their dog or cat.
"We’ve seen this as a certain subset of our current customer base and believe it is one that is slowly growing," she said. "Price can sometimes be a factor that limits sales in this category, but those seeking out this feature are usually less price sensitive and are more willing to pay a reasonable premium for a toy made in the USA."