Are You Savvy About Sustainability?
Two pet industry leaders discuss why eco-consciousness is good for business.
Who is the latest powerhouse in retail and marketing? Mother Nature. From regional bans on straws and plastic bags to an increased awareness of environmentally-friendly policies and practices, it’s clear that sustainability is a critical component in today’s business world.
Caitlyn Bolton, PSC executive director
Jacinthe Moreau, WPA president
Pet Business sat down with World Pet Association (WPA) president Jacinthe Moreau and Pet Sustainability Coalition (PSC) executive director Caitlyn Bolton, who recently partnered to develop the 2019 Industry Report: Trends in Sustainability, to hear their thoughts on what sustainability means to the pet retail community.
What does the word “sustainability” mean to you when talking about pet products and services?
Jacinthe Moreau: Sustainability takes many shapes in the pet retail community. Whether it’s locally-owned pet retailers stocking organic or all-natural diets, or independently-owned groomers and pet service providers utilizing eco-friendly shampoos or hemp-made accessories, there are plenty of ways pet retail businesses can focus on sustainability.
Caitlyn Bolton: Sustainable businesses are those that drive prosperity to the environment, communities and shareholders. Sustainable business practices look different for every company, depending on the type, size and values of the business, but some examples of what these strategies might look like include the use of environmentally-friendly materials, ensuring safe and fair labor for all employees in their supply chain, sourcing certified ingredients like organic or humane, providing progressive worker benefits for employees and giving back to their local community or non-profits.
Why has sustainability become an important buzz word in the pet community?
Moreau: Research has shown that the millennial generation—the largest demographic of pet owners today—is attuned to the environmental effects of their purchases and practices. Our report findings indicate that 90 percent of millennials are willing to pay more for sustainable pet products. They want to know the ingredients in their pets’ food, the components of their products’ packaging and the impact—positive or negative—that their purchases are making on the environment. Millennials also want products sourced ethically and expect brands to do their homework to ensure that’s the case.
Bolton: Millennials are driving change in a lot of industries, including the pet industry. As consumers, they want to know where and how things are made so that their purchases align with their values. As employees, they want to know they’re making a difference and working for a company that is also committed to likeminded causes.
What are the biggest trends in sustainability that you are seeing right now in the pet industry?
Moreau: Sustainable products take on so many forms—from all-natural, organic or whole-food ingredients in dog food to biodegradable waste bags to BPA-free packaging for shampoos and other products. Hemp has also become a popular material for accessories, replacing synthetic fabrics or materials.
Bolton: In the last two years, we’ve seen a particular focus on protein sourcing and packaging. For protein sourcing, companies are beginning to look at lower-impact proteins (like insects) and the ethical treatment of proteins throughout the agricultural process. For packaging, pet product companies are mirroring other industries and focusing on our growing plastic pollution problem. We expect most sizeable companies to have a sustainable packaging goal by 2020.
What are the biggest benefits to consumers when using sustainable products?
Moreau: In general, today’s consumer is paying much more attention to where and how products are made and exactly what’s going into the items they purchase and consume. In fact, a 2018 study conducted by Nielsen determined that products with certain sustainability claims outperform the growth rate of total products in their categories. While this report studied industries outside the pet community, the same trend is being seen with pet products. Plus, with 95 percent of pet owners in the U.S. considering their pets as part of the family, consumers are just as concerned about what’s in their pets’ products as they are their own.
Bolton: There has been a shift in how sustainable products are seen by consumers. Historically, sustainable products were seen as lower quality from traditional products, but today, sustainable products are seen as premium. Many sustainable products have safer, less toxic materials and ingredients that are better for people and pets to put in and on their bodies. In addition, consumers can leverage their buying power for good and feel confident that they are creating a better future for all.
How can business owners capitalize on these benefits to reach new audiences and boost their profitability?
Moreau: For pet retailers, it’s a simple question of supply and demand. The demand for sustainable products and eco-conscious practices is clearly out there among consumers. Meeting that demand will undoubtedly be good for business. Adding some all-natural foods to your stock will appeal to ingredient-conscious consumers; supporting likeminded community organizations will build brand recognition and loyalty; and educating customers on the importance of environmentally-friendly products will build an even larger base of consumers who are on board with the benefits of sustainability and who are willing to support those efforts with their purchasing power. Once retailers stock up on sustainable products, they should promote their efforts to their clients. This can be done through merchandising their store accordingly, promoting their new sustainable products through social media, hosting in-store events or educational seminars and positioning themselves in the community as a trusted resource on sustainable practices.
Bolton: Sustainable business practices, when done well, can have enormous financial benefits for companies. From bottom-line savings to reduced risk in the supply chain to attraction and retention of top talent and increased innovation, sustainability can drive both short and long-term financial results. For retailers, carrying sustainable products can help differentiate the shopping experience and engaging employees in their sustainability program can not only increase attraction and retention of top talent, but also lead to customer service improvement. For brands, the value of their company relies heavily on the ability of each brand to connect meaningfully with consumers. Having environmental and social impact messaging is a clear way to engage consumers more deeply. For manufacturers, sustainable business practices often drive financial savings through efficiency improvements, employee engagement and top-line growth by attracting additional brands that are looking for more sustainable manufacturers. PB
PSC & WPA surveyed over 250 pet industry professionals regarding their views of corporate sustainability in the industry to develop the 2019 Industry Report. Read the research in full at mailchi.mp/petsustainability.org/industryreport2019.
For even more on the latest trends in pet retail, attend SuperZoo, North America’s largest pet product marketplace, taking place August 20-22, 2019, at Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas. Visit superzoo.org for more information and to register.