It’s no secret that more pet owners are seeking foods and treats from trustworthy and safe sources. For many, this means purchasing dog food and treats that are made in the USA.
"As consumers become more educated about their own eating habits, they want to incorporate similar choices into their pet’s lifestyle as well," said Tony deVos, president and CEO of Cardinal Pet Care in Azusa, Calif., which produces the Pet Botanics line of treats.
Industry insiders noted that the 2007 recalls associated with pet foods made with ingredients sourced outside of the U.S. left consumers wondering whether they can trust their pet’s food.
"Ever since [then], consumers have been more cautious of what their pets’ food and treats are made from and the quality of the ingredients as well," said Patrick Mendicki, vice president of sales and new business development for Pureluxe Pet Food in Atlanta.
In addition to seeking made in the USA products, many consumers—particularly millennials—are also prioritizing buying local.
"They use more information than previous generations to select products for themselves and their pets. Made in the USA is one of the criteria that is important to them and should be highlighted," said Anne Carlson, founder and CEO of Jiminy’s, a Berkeley, Calif.-based manufacturer of dog treats made with cricket protein.
While USA-made and -sourced products can often carry a higher price tag, industry insiders said it hasn’t deterred growth in sales.
"Price is always part of the conversation, but U.S. made is important enough that many shoppers will select a higher-price product with that label," Carlson said. "It signals local and an acceptable level of safety/quality."
Brad Payne, director of sales of CountryMax, which has stores in New York, agreed that consumers view U.S.-made products as safer.
"The driver for any pet product sales in today’s pet world is safety, first and foremost," he said. "Whether it’s true or not, there is a perception that made in USA means a safer product, and that’s the most important thing to any pet parent.
"The obvious elephant in the room is always there, cost to produce, but as consumers make it clear with their purchasing habits that they are willing to purchase made in USA, the manufacturers are following the path," Panye added.
Two Schools of Thought
In order to make made in the USA dog food and treats stand out on store shelves among the dozens of products available on the market, pet specialty retailers employ a variety of techniques, according to industry insiders.
CountryMax, which has stores in New York, displays its made in the USA products throughout the entire store in their own corresponding department, said Brad Payne, director of sales.
"Showing the customer a made in USA product directly in line with a competing product is a key way to inform the customer that those options exist," Payne said. "Designating a single section for made in USA limits the exposure of these products in their proper place in the store."
One Fourth of July, the store created a sales flier highlighting made in USA products, and while the response from customers was positive and sales increased slightly, the retailer saw another benefit as a result of the campaign, Payne said.
"The biggest impact was showing customers how much of our offering is already made in USA that they did not even realize," he said.
Homes Alive Pets, which has stores in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, puts regionally sourced foods front and center in the store.
"Blocking our premium brands helps draw the customer’s attention and is a great way to raise awareness and open the lines of communication," said Krystn Janisse, content creator for Homes Alive Pets.
Once customers are drawn to the made in the USA products, retailers should be prepared to answer questions and discuss the product in detail, according to industry insiders.
"Conversations are often the best way to educate consumers. Asking questions and understanding the pet parent’s need and any specific needs of the pet are key," said Tony deVos, president and CEO of Cardinal Pet Care in Azusa, Calif., which produces the Pet Botanics line of treats. "These days, it’s not just about selling product but offering an open, friendly and safe environment where pet parents can discover new ways to care for their pet."
Take on Transparency
While the consumer demand for made in the USA dog treats and food has grown, the category can still be confusing for consumers. Informed pet specialty retailers can help.
"Many products labeled ‘made in the USA’ are often made using ingredients sourced from elsewhere," said Krystn Janisse, content creator for Homes Alive Pets, a retailer with stores in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. "This labeling system gives many consumers the impression that they are truly buying a U.S. product, but it’s easy to be deceived by clever marketing tricks."
Denise Strong, owner of Pawz on Main in Cottonwood, Ariz., agreed.
"Made in the USA claims are not consistently being enforced by regulatory authorities," she said. "There are many pet foods and treats stating [they are] made in the USA on their labels, [but not] all ingredients are of U.S. origin.
"The brands found in high-end pet retailers are not what you’ll typically find at the grocery store or see commercials for, so the brands need to be able to tell their story through packaging, merchandising and staff interaction," Strong added.
Brad Payne, director of sales for CountryMax, which has stores in New York, said the retailer often relies on brands to be transparent about where their products come from.
"Safety, point of origin, and the difference between being assembled in USA versus made in USA are common [questions customers have]," Payne said. "We rely on the brands themselves to tell their own story—they can do it better than we ever could."
As manufacturer transparency becomes increasingly important among customers, brands that offer detailed information on both the packaging and on company websites are coming out ahead, according to industry insiders.
Tony deVos, president and CEO of Cardinal Pet Care in Azusa, Calif., which offers the Pet Botanics line of treats, works diligently with his team to clearly communicate with potential buyers.
"Ingredients should be clearly listed and icons should simplify communication, not hinder it," he said. "Certifications such as the Oregon Tilth seal [which signifies a product is made with organic ingredients] reinforce the authenticity of select ingredients. Product information is available online through our site as well as through each of our retail partners."
Jiminy’s manufactures dog treats with cricket protein. The company shares the process for raising, feeding and even the end of life of the crickets used in its dog treats, all of which can be found on its website, according to Anne Carlson, founder and CEO of the Berkeley, Calif.-based company. Additionally, the company lists 85 percent of the ingredients in large font on the front of the product packages, along with a made in the USA label at the top of the pack, Carlson added.
"We include further information about the ingredients on our website and go into a lot of detail about the cricket protein there," she said. "The cricket protein is what most consumers ask about, given that it is a relatively new idea to most."
Third-party testing is another way to assuage customer fears.
Dog treat and food manufacturer Pureluxe Pet Food aims to alleviate consumer concern not just by publishing an extensive list of ingredients on its website, but by giving consumers a unique code listed on the bag of dog food, which the consumer can enter on the company’s website to see transparencies related to that individual bag, said Patrick Mendicki, vice president of sales and new business development for the Atlanta-based company.
"The testing done comes from a third-party lab who specializes in this testing," Mendicki said. "We want our customers to be confident. That is why we use a third-party testing facility and feel our transparency is above industry standards, not just words."
With more pet owners seeking out made in the USA foods and treats for their dogs, manufacturers are innovating to stay in line with consumer demand.
Jiminy’s, a manufacturer of dog treats made from cricket protein, which is sourced from crickets grown in barns in the U.S. and Canada, recently added a line of soft and chewy training treats to complement its original line of biscuits. Made from whole food ingredients such as sweet potato, peas, oats and, of course, crickets, the low-calorie, easy-to-consume treats are designed for dogs who join their owners on regular outings.
"Training treats are becoming more important as pet parents take their pets with them everywhere," said Anne Carlson, founder and CEO of the Berkeley, Calif.-based company. "It is important that the pup is a good citizen in order for them to go along for the journey."
Cardinal Pet Care recently debuted its Pet Botanics Grain-Free Omega Plus dog treats. Made from salmon oil and chia seeds, the treats contain omegas 3 and 6, which aid in shiny skin and coat, according to officials for the Azusa, Calif.-based company. The treats also contain bone broth to help with joint support. The treats come in two flavors: Salmon and Chicken.