Recent events have had a major impact on importing products and materials, which has resulted in stronger consumer support for products sourced and made in the United States. Pet Age recently spoke with Jim and Melissa Schifman, co-founders of Project Hive Pet Company, along with Bob Sledzinski, vice president of vendor management for Choice Pet Products, to learn how pet product manufacturers and distributors view the American-made pet category.
Why did you choose to manufacture your products here in the United States?
Jim Schifman: When we set out to start this business, we thought a lot about the kind of company we wanted to be. I figured we’d have to make our toys overseas to be price competitive. At that point, my wife, Melissa [a sustainability consultant and advocate], said to me, “If we’re planning on making products in China, then I don’t want to have anything to do with this company.” So I took that on as a challenge. Could we make our products in the U.S.? As I researched it, I found that there might be all kinds of issues related to manufacturing products overseas: freight, quality control, travel, etc. Thankfully, we found some great manufacturing partners in the U.S., and we can offer pet parents another option for USA-made dog toys. In every aspect of our business, we intentionally determine what’s best for people, pets, and our planet. Answering that question provides a pretty clear path as to why made in the USA is so important to us.
What do you feel is the consumer perception of American-made products and do you think it is accurate?
Melissa Schifman: The general consumer perception is that American-made products are preferred to those made outside the United States. A recent Reshoring Institute study found that nearly 70 percent of respondents said they prefer American-made products — and just under half of them (46 percent) believe that these products are of better quality than those made overseas. Whether it’s real or perceived quality, we see this preference coming from two fundamental values: (1) trustworthiness and (2) patriotism.
First, regulatory bodies like the FDA, FTC, OSHA and the EPA provide consumers with peace of mind that products are made fairly with trustworthy ingredients, labels and marketing claims. Conversely, dog parents remember those scary recalls of products made in China that contain harmful chemicals and toxins. Second, people are loyal to USA-made brands because they know their purchases are supporting local jobs and our national economy — a source of pride for many Americans.
Bob Sledzinski: Overall consumer perception is good but is not necessarily always accurate because of some deceptive practices by some manufacturers. They can legally label products as “Made in the U.S.A.,” when in reality it may just be “assembled” in the United States with many, or all, ingredients being sourced from other countries.
That said, there are many products that are genuinely made in the U.S.A. and are transparent with their sourcing and production. Independent distributors like Choice Pet Products, in addition to independent pet store partners, have a very important role in helping to showcase these transparent brands by educating store staff and consumers on which products can meet their expectations.
Are standards different for you because you promote Project Hive as a “Made in the U.S.A.” brand?
Jim Schifman: We do feel like our products need to meet higher expectations. Our treats, for example, meet SQF Level II certification standards. SQF stands for Safe Quality Food, and an independent third-party verification ensures food products are safe for consumption. With our treats, we went the extra mile. We achieved Non-GMO Project Verification, a third-party certification program that verifies all our ingredients do not contain genetically modified organisms, which is vital to our mission to save the bees.
Our toys meet U.S. regulatory standards as well as dog-testing standards for chew toughness. And they pass the smell test: when you unbox them, they don’t have that awful plastic off-gassing odor!) They are BPA-free and 100 percent recyclable. We are working towards helping build the circular economy with our plan to take back our toys at the end of their useful life, regrind them, and turn them into new toys. It’s not just about the quality of the materials; it’s also about trusting that the people who made them are treated fairly, paid a living wage and are not exploited. That matters to customers.
And while expectations may be higher, the recent Reshoring Institute study found that “more than 83 percent of Americans said they would pay up to 20 percent more for products made domestically.” While our prices aren’t the lowest, they are very high quality and more sustainable, so we’re ok being in the better/best position in the market.
What is an unappreciated benefit of a brand making its product in the United States?
Melissa Schifman: Beyond the benefits of American-made products being trustworthy and supporting our local economy, their effect on our environment is probably an under-appreciated benefit. Due to our country’s basic infrastructure for sanitation and waste, and laws that protect clean air, clean water, conservation, etc., manufacturing in the U.S. is typically less detrimental to the environment than products made overseas. U.S.-made products are also preferred for their lower impact on climate change. By definition, products that are made and distributed in the U.S. have a lower carbon footprint because they do not need to be freighted across the ocean. Project Hive Pet Company is still mindful of the effects of shipping our products nationally, which is why we are pursuing Climate Neutral Certification for our 2021 operations.
Do you find that there is an increased interest from retailers in products that are made in the U.S.?
Bob Sledzinski: At Choice, we find that our independent retail partners are consistently looking for higher quality manufacturers with innovative and top-quality products, while remaining price conscious. Most of these retailers tend to gravitate toward products that are produced in the United States, Canada and Europe due to manufacturing standards and safety practices. Choice remains dedicated to keep up with the demands of our retail partners’ needs, and source our offerings appropriately.
How do you believe retailers can highlight American-made products that they carry in their store?
Bob Sledzinski: Highlighting “Made in the U.S.A.” products can be as simple as showcasing the products in the store, or as complex as making display features, creating promotions and running advertising. Choice works diligently to provide our retail partners with training and assets (like social/digital graphics and print-ready signage) that they need to showcase products to customers, and we believe that one of the best methods to highlight a quality product is to have an informed conversation. Sharing a brand’s story with a customer goes a long way in showing the quality of their products. In-store displays, signage and digital assets are great ways to start the conversation about “Made in the U.S.A.” products.
Jim Schifman: We think the “Made in the U.S.A.” category is one of the cornerstones for more sustainable companies. At the same time, consumers view their purchases as an extension of their values—they want to have an impact. To help pet parents, we think it would be terrific if retailers had a specific aisle dedicated to and labeled as products “Made in the USA.” This merchandising strategy could benefit their customers by making it easier for them to find more sustainable products. It could also help raise awareness and educate pet parents on the multiple benefits of USA-made products. Consumers have so many choices in the marketplace; why not support those products that can help make a difference?