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Made In the USA Pet Products Skyrocket in Popularity

Erik J. Martin//July 3, 2014//

Made In the USA Pet Products Skyrocket in Popularity

Erik J. Martin //July 3, 2014//

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They may not always be in the first place, have the flashiest athletes or sell alot of tickets, but most sports fans like to support their home teams.

Likewise, a strong portion of pet owners prefer to purchase goods that carry a red, white and blue seal of approval of sorts, indicating it was made right here in America. Judging by the rising number of pet products manufacturedin the United States and carried by pet stores, the supply is apparently keeping up with the demand.

Statistics show that shoppers are paying attention to where their pet items are being produced. A survey conducted by Consumer Reports National Research Center in 2013 found that 78 percent of Americans favor buying American goods when given a choice between an item made domestically and an identical one made abroad.

Four out of five consumers notice a Made in the USA label on product packaging, and 76 percent of these respondents indicated they would be more inclined to purchase a product based on that label, per the results of a Perception Research Services International study published in 2012.

And 80 percent of consumers polled in a Boston Consulting Group survey revealed they would be willing to pay extra for Made in the USA wares than for those sporting a Made in China label.

Want more proof that consumers care where their pet merchandise comes from? Per the findings of a Harris Poll conducted last year, 75 percent of Americans agree that a product must be manufactured within the U.S. for them to consider it American, and those surveyed considered the following factors “very important” or “important”: keeping jobs in America (90 percent); supporting American companies (87 percent); safety concerns, quality concerns and human rights issues, respectively, with products assembled/produced outside the U.S. (82 percent, 83 percent and 76 percent); patriotism (76 percent); and decreasing environmental impact, since products don’t need to travel as far (71 percent).

Enable the Label

Marcie Gabor, president of Made in the USA Brand, LLC in Columbus, Ohio, an American made brand advocate and provider of a proprietary registered Made in USA certification mark logo, agreed that a growing percentage of consumers today are more conscious of products that claim to be produced in the U.S., and demonstrate their concernover the economy and environment by purchasing these goods.

“Ours is a keenly aware society that is conditioned to read labels, and an increasing number of consumers expect safety and quality in the products they buy,” said Gabor. “A label that certifies Made in the USA gives consumers that confidence.”

Indeed, labels today matter a great deal to many consumers, especially insignia or wording on packaging that indicates a product’s domestic heritage. But the issue of how products can qualify for a Made in the USA label and how to trust that claim can be confusing to pet owners and retailers alike.

Besides automobiles, woolens, textiles and furs, few products arerequired by law to reveal or label the fact that they are made in the USA. Shoppers often see a varietyof claims, statements and logos/labels on product packaging, including “built with pride in America,” and pictures of Old Glory or the Statue of Liberty. These images and words may or may not infringe on regulations provided by the Federal Trade Commission, which is in charge of safeguarding consumers from product claims that are deceptive or untrue.

According to the FTC, unless a qualified Made in the USA claimis made, for example, a label that states 60 percent U.S. content, a Made in the USA claim for a product can be expressed, for instance, worded as Made in the USA or “American made,” or implied without qualification if it is “all or virtually all” made in the U.S.

This means that all significant parts and processing that go intothe product must be of U.S. origin.In other words, the productshould contain no, or negligible,foreign content. Hence, a bag of cat food can, for example, include ingredients sourced in the U.S., meaning actually grown and produced on American land, but be processed and packaged overseas, in which case it cannot be labeled as Made in the USA.

Companies that use a Made in the USA claim on their products must be able to substantiate those claims if challenged by the FTC or face stiff penalties and fines.

Many manufacturers create their own custom emblems and labels signifying an American made product. Others choose to display standardized logos thatare more widely used in the industry, which are provided by a handful of organizations, some of which offer thirdparty audit/accreditation services to certify a Made in the USA claim and that each have their own proprietary logo for products that are certified.

Uncle Sam Fans

The modern movement to purchase American-manufactured pet products has accelerated in recent years, following recalls and health scares associated with several foreign-made pet foods and toys. Additionally, the economic downturn that began around six years ago further propelled consumers to buy American and object to the outsourcing of products and services that, in their opinion, continue to negatively impact the U.S. economy.

Heather Hedemann, owner of Petapoluza, a Seattle-headquartered pet retailer, said the Made in the USA purchasing penchant has gained momentum.

“I do not believe it is a passing trend,” she said. “While it certainly took fear for people to stop purchasing these items, I think we are seeing a movement toward supporting small businesses and their efforts, and it’s here to stay. People are now flipping labels regularly and asking where something is sourced.”

While her company has always been picky about the brands it carries, “in the past year we have had to become even more so, specifically knowing every countryof origin on food products,” Hedemann said.

Michael Fleck, D.V.M., president of Epi-Pet, a pet skin and ear products manufacturer in Bradenton, Fla., put it even more bluntly.

“Many pet product consumers simply will not buy your product unless it is sourced and manufactured in the U.S.,” said Fleck.

Nowadays, brands and ingredients are scrutinized by consumers more than ever, “and there is no coming back from this. They will only be more scrutinized, and only the best products and quality ingredients will persevere,” said Holly Sher, president and owner of Evanger’s Dog and Cat Food Company, based in Markham, Ill.

Evanger’s has been making its edible pet products for canines, felines and ferrets in America for nearly 80 years, with 90 percent of the raw materials sourced within 50 miles of its plant. Sher said 90 percent of the ingredients in its pet foods are picked up fresh from regional suppliers in company trucks and used at Evanger’s plant within 24 hours. Her company has featured an American flag and Made in the USA label on its packaging since 2003.

“To go a step further, our packaging today says ‘Made, sourced and printed in the USA,’” said Sher. “We think it’s really important and more transparent to show that we aren’t just making our foods in Illinois, but we have a much broader depth of the definition of Made in the USA and we want to make people aware of our efforts to reduce our carbon footprint and be a green company by sourcing everything locally.”

Doing It Domestically

The benefits of producing pet goods on American home turf are plentiful, said Shay Moeller, product manager for the pet division of Wahl Clipper Corporation in Sterling, Ill., manufacturers of pet grooming products, which employs more than 800 American workers.

“The first advantage is control over product quality,” said Moeller. “Secondly, companies can control inventory and speed to the end user. Therefore, customers are not waiting six weeks or longer for a product that goes out of stock. In addition, there is more flexibility for manufacturers to adjust product needs based on supply and demand.”

This latter point is echoed by Sheldon Perkins, vice president of product development for Pawzup Pet Products, LLC, the Yarmouth,Maine-makers of The CoatHook, a new pet comb product.

“If a product experiences a surge in demand, it’s important to be able to respond to increasing supply in a timely manner,” said Perkins. “It’s possible to negate the cost savings of manufacturing overseas by eliminating the possibilityof long transit times.”

This is especially true with smaller companies.

“For smaller companies like ours, the advantages are related to controlling your supply chain and supplier assurance,” said Joe Wurm, brand manager forWentzville, Mo.-headquartered TropiClean, a maker of holistic pet grooming products. “Making and importing products into the U.S. increases variation in your supply chain. It’s all related to what you perceive the customer wants. Our target customers wantthe quality assurance that supports their value equation of U.S.- made products.”

Ask Fleck and he’ll tell you that sourcing raw materials and assembling in the U.S. is the best way to ensure high quality. Fleck said the complex nature of mixing his products’ ingredients in orderly sequence involves heating and cooling processes that require up to three days for blending before assembling and packaging can commence. One of his products, a sunscreen for pets, is categorized as a drug by the FDA, which requires additional testing and validation steps in the manufacturing process.

“American workers’ reputation for high standards and a strong work ethic is important to us,” said Fleck.

Karen Bullard, owner of Dog Collar Outlet in Richmond,Va., an online pet products retailer, said these values are also appreciated by consumers.

“Americans want to support American-made products to support the American worker,” said Bullard. “Jobs shipped abroad rarely return, so buying goods made in the USA helps to keep our jobs and economy strong.”

While the cost of American labor can be higher, “thoughtful design can minimize these costs in such a way that the product can be manufactured domestically at a price the market can support,” said Perkins.

“Generally, the kinds of products that are most dramatically cheaper to manufacture overseas are those that require a great deal of human labor,” Perkins said. “We designed The CoatHook to be injection molded out a singlematerial, so there’s no assembly.”

Additionally, companies that source and manufacture in America can also benefit from lower shipping costs, as transporting products from overseas can have an expensive effect on your bottom line.

“In the long run, manufacturers need to consider shipping, the amount of time it takes to deliver products overseas to the United States, and the impact that it can have on stocking shelves and quality control, which impacts product returns and overall consumer preference,” Moeller said.

William Converse, president of Critterzone, a Minneapolis-based manufacturer of products to eliminate pet odors, said many companies hop on the Made in the USA bandwagon as a fad.

“But for us, [manufacturing in the U.S.] is a pure business decision to provide a better product and compete worldwide,” said Converse, whose company manufactures its products from molding to packaging domestically but obtains one part offshore, which prevents it from using a Made in the USA label. “It is difficult, and I suspect those doing it for promotional value only will stop soon.”

Industry Success Stories

Crazy K Farm Pet and Poultry Products in Hempstead, Texas, moved its manufacturing operations from Bangladesh to America last year, a strategy it has not regretted, said president Tobi Kosanke.

“It’s true that labor and factory costs are so much lower in third world countries,” said Kosanke, whose company makes various products for dogs, cats, rabbits, and caged and wild birds. “But we have found that consumers are willing to pay more to cover our increased costs of manufacturing since relocating. When we were making the transition, the price of our U.S. items was nearly 50 percent higher than an otherwise identical product. But we found we could not keep up with the demand of the U.S. products, and those made in Bangladesh had to be put on sale.”

Data from Wondercide indicates that 75 percent of affluent shoppers and over 50 percent of general consumers prefer Made in the USA merchandise.

“It has always been an intrinsic part of our culture that, to be a great American company, we have to start here and stay here,” said Stephanie Boone, founder/CEO of Wondercide in Austin, Texas, manufacturers of natural pest control and holistic care products for pets. “If we can do something cheaper or faster by sending it overseas, what are we giving up to gain profit? The answer is often quality and integrity. Those same attributes are important to our customers.

“People still believe in the American dream. That really resonates with [consumers] on a personal level, and they prove it with their purchasing preferences.”

Anita Dungey, president of Auburn Leathercrafters, which makes dog collars and leashes in its Auburn, N.Y. plant, agreed.

“Consumers appreciate that we are making our products in the U.S.,” said Dungey. “We often hear the phrase ‘There is something different about a Made in the USA product.’ There seems to be an intangible connection with a product manufactured here.”

Red, White and Blue Glasses

It’s easy to adopt the patriotic attitude that American-made products ought to be everyone’s preferred choice, and that all manufacturers should stop setting up shop beyond our borders. But in a contemporary worldwide market with multinational supply chains and opportunities abroad that can ultimately benefit makers, merchants and consumers alike in the form of lower prices and higher profits, the truth is that not everyone involved can afford an exclusively Made in the USA mindset.

In reality, numerous foreign operations have consistently manufactured and continue to create quality pet products that stand as worthy competitors to U.S.-made products. Many companies couldn’t stay solvent without capitalizing on the lower labor costs, cheaper raw materials and equipment, and additional markets overseas. And smart businesses realize that the global economy id enlarging anmd promising opportunities exist outside our boundary.

“All viable American companies should recognize the value of overseas expanding markets and consider taking advantage of these enormous opportunities,” Fleck said. “Done properly, new jobs can be created in the U.S. while also expanding jobs and new customers in foreign countries as well.”

Fleck added that other countries are well aware of the value of products made in the USA.

“But over the next few years, we will see better controls in the quality of pet products manufactured by other countries because, with burgeoning sales of pet products and foods, they want a piece of the action,” he said.

Although pet retailers should consider carrying more Made in America products in response to increased consumer demand, Bullard said foreign-made merchandise can continue to be a strong component among your offerings.

“We realize that we can’t carry only [American-produced] products and meet the needs of our customers,” said Bullard.

Merchandising In the USA

Paul Armstrong, founder/CEO of earthbathin San Francisco, a companythat procures natural pet shampoos, wipes, foams and spritzes, said more retailers are expanding their selections of USA made items where, and if, it makes sense for their business.

“This includes segments of the industry like food, treats, and natural, and organic products that are either consumed by or used on the pet,” said Armstrong.

Mark Brooks, CEO of Mudd+Wyeth, LLC in South Hero, Vt., makers of Spot the Dog reflective gear and YaffBar energy bars for humans to share with their dogs, encourages pet product retailers to carry Americanmade items to help boost national and local fiscal health.

“Locally made specialty products are equally important, because consumers who buy them are directly supporting their own local economies,” said Brooks.

Many experts recommend designating a special section, shelf or other area of your store for U.S.- produced merchandise to get the customer’s attention.

“We have a wall of Made in the USA products and a shelf of Made in Washington products, too, to even further drive home the point that support at home goes back into the community. When [shoppers] see that, they [think about] the importance of supporting it,” Hedemann said.

Carrying products made by local companies “also helps in reducing your carbon footprint, said Hedemann. She added, “The less distance something has to travel, the less energy is consumed. It also encourages diversity in [the brands] you carry.”

Kosanke added that retailers who are committed to stocking domestically created products must be prepared to sell many of these items at a higher price than their foreign-manufactured competitiors. To help buffer any sticker shock and curb price comparing, she agreed that stores should separate American-made from foreign-made products on shelves and displays.

“When you place an item made in China selling for $4 next to one made in the U.S. selling for $12, the consumer will usually buy the less expensive one,” said Kosanke. “However, if they have an inclination to buy American made, as the majority do, they will bypass other aisles and make a beeline for the Made in the USA aisle and purchase that product.”

Offering special promotions, sales and incentives on American-made merchandise when you’re able to can help matters, said Moeller, “because they introduce pet owners to products that they might not have purchased otherwise.”

Lastly, Hedemann reminds fellow retailers of the importance of pet stores in educating consumers about American- vs. foreign-made products.

“They often come to us before their vet and want to know what is happening in the industry, from nutritional concerns and natural supplement cures, to what treats are safe to buy,” said Hedemann. “It’s our job to be on top of all the trends and research as it pertains to the health of of pets.”