The shelves in pet stores have always been colorful, but it’s likely that customers are now seeing more red, white and blue than ever before. However, these pet owners probably aren’t surprised to see more labels calling out where pet product ingredients and materials are sourced and assembled—after all, this is what they’ve been demanding.
The made in the USA phenomenon is hardly new to the industry, with many tracing its birth back to the melamine recalls of 2007, during which the “FDA learned that certain pet foods were sickening and killing cats and dogs,” according to the government agency’s website. Certain vegetable protein products containing melamine, which is an industrial chemical not approved for use as an ingredient in animal or human foods in the U.S., were mislabeled as wheat gluten and rice protein concentrate and later imported and used to formulate pet food.
“I think the 2007 pet food recalls really brought the suspicion around Chinese ingredients to the forefront of the public psyche,” said Lucy Postins, founder of The Honest Kitchen, which produces cat and dog treats and food, sourcing a majority of its ingredients in North America and none of them from China. “As time’s gone on, consumers… demand more and more transparency in the products they’re buying and the brands they’re spending their money with, so having U.S. origin to the extent possible is definitely something people are looking for…”
Over 10 years later, materials and ingredients used in pet products are still subject to a higher level of scrutiny. While many companies still at least partially source from outside of the U.S. (due to prohibitive costs, pesticide use or the fact that some foods simply do not grow well here), they’re more vigilant and transparent about their partners. For example, the Honest Kitchen has a frequently updated map on its website showing what regions of the world provide each of its ingredients.
According to a 2015 Nielsen survey, nearly 75 percent of respondents, who participated online and numbered more than 30,000 across 61 countries, indicated that a brand’s country of origin was “as important as or more important than nine other purchasing drivers, including selection/choice, price, function and quality.” Local brands were found to have particular advantage in food and beverage categories.
In a 2016 survey of pet owners’ personal attitudes, the American Pet Products Association found that 61 percent of current pet owners felt that buying pet products made in the USA was important to them, with over 60 percent of respondents in each individual pet category (dog, cat, fish, bird, small animal, reptile and horse) feeling this way.
“There is a huge consumer appetite for American-made goods, whether that’s for textiles, electronics or pet products,” said Amy Schumann, who works in public relations for Montana-based West Paw, maker of toys, collars, leashes and beds for dogs. “This is both because people care about their pets’ safety but also because people care about their communities and environment.”
Manufacturers are certainly responding to these consumer attitudes, as “made in the USA” has become a noteworthy selling point. If a product is made in the USA, it’s more than likely that this fact will be clearly indicated—even highlighted—on its packaging.
Cloud Star, which falls under the Whitebridge Pet Brands umbrella, offers a number of dog foods and treats, including Dynamo Dog, Tricky Trainers and Wag More Bark Less, many of which feature a Made in the USA label. Dogswell, another Whitebridge brand, manufactures all of its dog food and treats in the U.S.
“We make manufacturing choices based on many things, including proximity of raw material supply and process capabilities like baking and air-drying, and we always demand that the plants have strong quality and food safety programs in place,” said Ann Hudson, vice president of marketing at Whitebridge Pet Brands. “…We are very proud of the fact that we make Cloud Star and Dogswell meaty treats in the USA, but we are even more proud of the SQF3 certification of our plant [in Missouri]. Quality comes first and should always be the first thought when choosing food or treats.”
While the Made in USA trend may have been sparked by safety and health concerns, there are many reasons manufacturers may choose to make their products domestically or even locally. For instance, Dena Tucker, founder of Greenfeather Bird Supply, points out that it’s easier to hold suppliers accountable.
“I can call a company when I’m researching for a product that I want to use, [and] being that it’s made in the country, I can call that manufacturer and ask them specific questions about their product,” Tucker said. “I do a lot of research, I do a lot of calling, I do a lot of tracking down for leads on products. I think half the fun is doing the tracking for the end results.”
Anywhere between 80 and 100 percent of the materials used to make Greenfeather Bird Supply’s bird and small animal toys are sourced in the U.S., and they’re all assembled in Connecticut.
Postins describes a similarly rigorous and research-driven process by which The Honest Kitchen chooses which ingredients to use and from where. The company sources about 70 percent of its ingredients from North America, predominantly the USA. Some ingredients, which are more exotic and don’t grow well in the U.S.—such as papayas, coconuts and quinoa, for example—are sourced elsewhere. All vendors must pass a minimum yearly contract review, during which they must submit documentation on the quality and integrity of the foods, to start.
“We take all of that data and we look at and taste physical samples of our ingredients as well,” Postins said. “We’ll literally look at them, taste them and smell them. We’re always trying to find ingredients that have got the most vibrant color and the most robust flavor profile.”
Kennelmaster’s Chip’s Naturals brand includes Doggie Chicken Chips, Cheesy Doggie Chicken Chips and Doggie Sweet Taters. The premium chicken tenderloin used for the two chicken chip products is sourced from a group of farms owned by one family in the South—specifically Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina—from which the sweet potatoes are also sourced. Doggie Chicken Chips and Cheesy Doggie Chicken Chips are packaged in Florida, while Doggie Sweet Taters are packaged in New York.
According to the National Chicken Council (NCC), which is a national non-profit trade association in Washington, D.C., almost 9 billion broiler chickens (meaning they’re raised for their meat) were produced in 2017. Georgia, Arkansas, Alabama, North Carolina and Mississippi are among the top broiler-producing states in the U.S., which in turn has the largest broiler chicken industry in the world. The NCC states that 95 percent of the broiler chickens produced in the U.S. are raised by family farmers.
“…You can speak to people directly; [the products are] easily traceable back to [their] roots, whereas if it comes from overseas it may not be as easy to trace back if there are any issues to address,” said Tanya Tavares, who works in marketing for the company. “And, as a manufacturer, doing business overseas, when you look at the time for shipping and costs and the documentation that’s necessary, I think that [manufacturing] in the U.S. outweighs all extra [challenges to doing so].”
Gold Coast Quality
The National Association of Manufacturers, the largest manufacturing association in the U.S., credits California with over $288 billion in manufacturing output in 2016 and 36,117 manufacturing firms as of 2015 (more than any other state, by their count). Many pet products are manufactured in the Golden State.
For example, Dr. Dalton’s Dog Treats are made with one single ingredient, U.S.-sourced meat, and are manufactured and packaged in California. The meat is human-grade and the treats are designed to be a non-greasy, crunchy, healthy treat for use in dog training. Dr. Dalton herself is an experienced dog trainer who first created the treats to be used in her training regimens. The treats’ packaging features a Made in USA label.
“The quality of the meat is an important aspect—just having premium quality,” said Bryn Crutchfield, an account coordinator at Christie & Co. Communications, speaking on behalf of Dr. Dalton’s Dog Treats. “I’ve talked to some pet owners… [and] they’ve had issues with what they’ve fed their animals causing health concerns and harm. So I think it’s nice trusting that [the product] is sourced in the U.S. as far as what the quality of the meat is.”
Crutchfield also pointed to environmental concerns as one motivating factor behind the brand’s use of U.S.- and locally-sourced ingredients. In addition, ease in tracing the ingredients and holding suppliers accountable, supporting U.S. farmers and knowing that the ingredients are held to high standards and regulations, were all on Dr. Dalton’s list for making the treats domestically.
For the Community
Many brands point to economic benefits—for their own companies as well as for the surrounding communities—and environmental concerns when explaining why they chose to source and assemble their products in the U.S.
West Paw is well known for its commitment to U.S. manufacturing. Founded in 1996, the company still makes its products in Montana and is a certified B-Corp, using non-toxic Zogoflex material for its dog toys, hemp in its collars and leashes, and recycled filling in its beds.
“Communities that have strong and diverse workforces are strong, faring better in social and economic outcomes,” said Amy Schumann, who works in public relations for West Paw. “Job creation for strong communities—we all know when you buy an American-made product, you’re supporting American workers and therefore the American economy as well. West Paw Design is so proud to employ nearly 80 people.
“Additionally, from an environmental point-of-view, having products made in the USA means a smaller carbon footprint—this point really resonates with consumers,” Schumann added.
Planet Dog is another well-known manufacturer, specializing in dog toys. Its signature Orbee-Tuff material is made in the USA, and the Orbee-tuff toys are made in the Northeast region of the U.S. Founded in 1997 and a member of the Pet Sustainability Coalition, the company has a 100 percent guarantee on its products, which are “made using the highest quality materials… [and] are guaranteed to be non-toxic and free of manufacturing defects,” according to the Planet Dog website. The brand’s Orbee-tuff material is used in a number of products, including several new items like the Guru, an ultra-durable interactive toy with five openings for treats; the Lil’ Dipper, specially designed for small dogs and puppies; and the Strobe, an interactive ball with a multicolored LED light that blinks when it’s bounced.
For newcomers to the industry, it might be easy to see that making products in the U.S. is one way to win consumers’ favor in the 2018 pet market. However, some brands have had long histories of making products in the U.S. For instance, West Paw and Planet Dog have both been around for more than 20 years.
The company behind Sturtevant’s Veterinary Remedies has been operating in the United States since 1871 and claims to be “the oldest family-owned skin care products company in the United States.” All the products are made in the U.S. with domestically sourced ingredients, and its products are allergy tested and cruelty-free, according to the company’s website.
Sturtevant’s Veterinary Remedies’ line of products includes health solutions for dogs, horses and farm animals, and cattle and large animals, as well as feline products that are soon to be released. The Canine Antiseptic Powder can be used to treat skin irritation such as hot spots, atopic dermatitis and minor wounds. With daily use, it can also prevent ticks, fleas, mites and mosquitoes with its “naturally and organically sourced ingredients.” The company says its products contain no harmful or dangerous chemicals.
“Our products have stood the test of time,” wrote Geoff Sturtevant in a statement included on the company’s homepage. “They have been used successfully by millions of pet owners and doctors and they have become well respected for their efficacy, safety and value.”
Sturtevant’s products are a part of American history, first in the human market and now in the pet industry. Moving forward, it’s likely that customers will only want to know more about the products they’re buying—how they’re made, using what ingredients from which regions, and what the brand is doing for its community. “Made in USA” is just one part of that; more than anything, it’s transparency that’s becoming the new standard.