The Advantage of Carrying Made in the USA Products
When it comes to selecting products to carry in stores, patriotism is in high demand.
The case for supporting made in the USA products has been made several times over, and it’s undeniably a solid one: buying American helps keep small, family-owned businesses afloat, aides in the creation of jobs and stimulates the economy.
“Customers want to support the country they live in and trust,” says Lisa Senafe, founder of Bentley’s Pet Stuff, which has more than 60 locations in a variety of states. “This also supports jobs in the U.S.; customers feel more comfortable with food and treats made in the U.S. When we answer ‘yes’ to the question, ‘do you have USA-made treats and chews?,’ a smile comes across [the customer’s] face.”
Not only does selling made in the USA products give consumers confidence that they’re buying reliable products, it also gives retailers the opportunity to provide faster and more efficient customer service.
“A brand from an American, family-owned, small batch company tends to be consistent across all its products,” says Lisa Gangloff, co-owner of Wilmington, Del.-based Riverfront Pets. “We also know that we will have a shorter delivery time and a quick turnaround for returns.”
Other benefits of buying made in the USA products include a lower carbon footprint and significantly less pollution. When manufacturers don’t have to import materials in from overseas, they’re not using gas-guzzling shipping barges or fuel-burning airplanes.
Gangloff explains that buying American-made products also assures buyers that there are no illegal or toxic chemicals added to the pet food, treats or toys that they’re purchasing.
Must Be the Money
One of the only downsides to stocking American-made products is that the cost may be higher than expected. Frugal customers may experience a small case of sticker shock when initially browsing the selection, but it’s easily relieved if retailers can help those hesitant few understand and warm up to the idea of spending a couple more dollars.
Britt Sturm, vice president of Agri Feed Pet Supply, based in Knoxville, Tenn., emphasizes how important it is that customers realize where that extra money is going. When purchasing American-made products, consumers are helping keep locally-owned, family-run stores that have been around for decades, if not centuries, in business.
Sturm explains that by supporting these small businesses, it shows customers that the retailer is choosing their partners carefully and hand-picking products that align with their values.
There’s a certain stigma attached to products that aren’t made in the USA. That’s easily traced back to various recalls of foreign-made products that caused illnesses in pets and put a bad taste in the mouths of pet owners. Retailers want to be able to stand behind the products they provide.
“Quality controls can vary by country, so it is important to be aware of the potential pitfalls of not buying made in USA,” says Brad Payne, director of sales for Farmingville, N.Y.-based CountryMax. “Generally, made in the USA is a higher quality than non-made in the USA products.”
Given the blemished history of imported products, retailers have to be aware of what exactly is going into the products they’re selling. Every single part of a consumable will enter the pet’s body. Unknown ingredients can wreak havoc on a pet’s digestive system and result in an array of health problems.
Luckily, American-made products have the safety net of the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). According to the FDA’s website, “The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) requires that all animal foods, like human foods, be safe to eat, produced under sanitary conditions, contain no harmful substances and be truthfully labeled. In addition, canned pet foods must be processed in conformance with the low acid canned food regulations to ensure the pet food is free of viable microorganisms.”
Looking at Labels
Even with all of America’s regulations, consumers can’t just walk down the pet food aisle, grab the first bag of food that’s covered in American flags and believe it to be a viable option. Simply affixing a “Made in the USA” sticker on a product doesn’t automatically equate it to being a nutritious choice.
“America, the home of McDonalds, does not directly imply health, but at least it communicates content accurately,” jokes Gangluff. She explains that all a made in the USA label symbolizes is ethical, regulated business practices. It doesn’t necessarily speak to the healthful quality of the ingredients.
As people become more aware of what they’re putting in their own bodies, it’s naturally translating into concern for what they’re putting in their pets’. Consumers are pausing in the aisle to read the labels on the packaging, scanning the ingredient list for any potential red flags. When the wording starts to get muddy, they’ll be looking for help.
Senafe explains that it’s up to the retailers to “do some digging” and educate themselves, as the phrasing of certain products can be misleading or deceptive. And, given the recalls of years past, consumers have grown wary of all sourcing and creation processes, even those that do take place in the U.S.
“People care about what they give their pets, especially when they are aware that there have been concerns in the past of where products were made,” she says.
Retailers should be looking at certain how items are processed and sourced, and keeping an eye on how clearly ingredients are stated.
“America has at least some degree of oversight on how the ingredients within a given variety of dog food are communicated to the consumer,” says Gangloff. “While ‘meat by-product’ can mean almost anything, ‘chicken,’ ‘chicken meal’ [and] ‘chicken broth’ is recognizable. Customers have a comfortable assurance that what is listed is what is in the package.”
Health purposes aside, the phrase “Made in the USA” can raise concern about the origins of the ingredients. All, or most of, a product’s components could have been sourced from outside of the U.S. and sent over to be put together, or “made,” in America, meaning that the pieces of rubber used for a chew toy can be loaded with chemicals and toxins, and those scraps of unknown meat could have been processed in a dirty factory with high levels of cross-contamination and low levels of cleanliness.
“Something may say assembled in the USA, packed in the USA, etc., but it could have been sourced anywhere else in the world,” says Sturm. “While ideally the two would go hand-in-hand, that typically isn’t the case.”
As always, it all comes back to research. Retailers should inquire about the manufacturer’s sourcing practices and packaging methods. A truly American-made product features ingredients that are grown or raised locally, humanely and safely harvested, and cleanly handled and packaged.
Of course, just like with any other rule, there are exceptions. Sometimes, manufacturers have no choice but to outsource. Sturm explains how some resources just aren’t available in America, such as kangaroo protein or Manuka honey.
In those cases, it’s as simple as reaching out to either the American or overseas manufacturer and asking about their factory conditions and quality standards.
That’s one of the many reasons why it’s important to build and maintain strong relationships with your manufacturers.
“Manufacturers can’t be incentivized to make [made in the USA] products if they don’t have a market, and we can provide that,” says Payne. “We need to reward made in USA products.”
Marketing Made Easy
The two most common purchasers of made in the USA products are those who specifically seek it out, or those who use it as a deal breaker when trying to decide between two items. There’s no right or wrong way to market them, and manufacturers themselves are actually making that job a little easier.
Seeing the success of the segment and how much importance consumers put on it, the new trend is for manufacturers themselves to prominently display ‘made in the USA’ and ‘sourced in the USA’ on their item’s packaging and shelf talkers. In fact, Sturm encourages his manufacturers to display “USA made” as boldly and largely as they can on their applicable merchandise.
Although the products do seem to speak for themselves these days, it doesn’t mean retailers can’t have a little fun with it.
The most exciting time to highlight these products is around American holidays, such as Memorial Day Weekend, Veteran’s Day and, of course, the Fourth of July. During those times of exemplified patriotism, Senafe explains that each Bentley’s location highlights its made in the USA products a little differently. During Independence Day celebrations, she encourages her stores to make their own unique made in the USA displays, and then promote them on all forms of social media, specifically Instagram and Facebook.
However, flashy gimmicks aren’t the only way to get products flying off the shelves. Sturm explains that simply educating customers on “sourcing, sustainability and the process of how something is made” does the job.
At the end of the day, pet retailers need to be stocking their stores with products that they can comfortably stand behind and confidently recommend to their customers.
“Pet retailers play an important part in ensuring that made in USA products are available to consumers,” says Payne. “It’s an easy selling point for a host of reasons, including safety of ingredients and helping keep American-made products alive.” PB