After 31 years in the pet industry, Loving Pets founder and president Eric Abbey understands the industry from the inside out.
The pet industry has evolved rapidly since the dawn of new technology and discoveries that have made it possible for manufacturers to provide cleaner, higher-quality products.
Eric Abbey, founder and owner of Cranbury, N.J.-based Loving Pets, has witnessed that evolution first-hand. A 31-year veteran in the industry, he has acquired a wealth of knowledge in all aspects of pet business, having done everything from packing trucks and stocking retail shelves to starting up a leading pet product company that produces natural, high-quality treats and accessories.
Since its inception in 2005, Loving Pets has rolled out new products each year and continues its expansion. After launching with its popular Bella Bowls and several lines of dog treats, the company has grown to produce more than 60 lines of treats, bowls, slow feeders, mats and accessories.
To get Loving Pets off the ground, Abbey applied his industry knowledge to identify a need in the market for fashionable and functional dog bowls. The Bella Bowl has a stainless steel interior with a poly-resin exterior and a rubber base, which eliminates noise and helps prevent skids and spills. The line’s Bella Roma travel bowls are lightweight and feature integrated locking lids to store food and include built-in legs, with the ability to be packed flat for easy transportation.
Treat-wise, Abbey knew he wanted to create healthy, all-natural treats without the high price tags that usually accompany these types of products. With its Gourmet line, which includes nutritional ingredients like glucosamine and chondroitin, Loving Pets managed to keep the price down while maintaining a good quality with a higher-end appearing packaging.
The manufacturer’s ability to anticipate and capitalize on industry trends continues to play a large part in its success.
Abbey represents his family’s fourth generation in the pet industry, and credits his grandfather for playing a key role in how the industry operates today.
“My grandfather, Lou Dalwin, was one of the founding members of the American Pet Products Manufacturing Association, which is now APPA [American Pet Products Association],” says Abbey. “He worked for the Aquarium Stock Company, an aquatic company founded in the early 1900s [in New York City]. He took over that business around 1930 and owned it through the 1980s.”
Abbey’s resume includes working for Pet Food Giant, a retailer based in East Brunswick, N.J. He was present when its first store opened, and even helped set it up. He went on to become an aquatic specialist for its aquatics department—a first for the store.
After spending a few years with Pet Food Giant, Abbey began working at his father’s pet store, Petcetera. He started in a sales role but soon climbed the ranks and started managing business development and relationship management.
“I had an amazing opportunity to learn about this incredible industry and the amazing people that drive it,” he says.
The experience Abbey had working in retail prepared him to take on the role of founder and owner when he created Loving Pets—a company that is widely recognized for its approach to product innovation. His mother, while not directly involved in the pet industry, helped inspire that approach by encouraging Abbey to seek out nutritious and all-natural products.
“My mother, Laraine Abbey, is a certified nutrition specialist, radio show host, researcher, registered nurse and author,” he says. “She has been a huge influence on me and my early education about healthy, all-natural ingredients and their corresponding health benefits… an education that translates every day into the ingredients I seek out for Loving Pets’ treats.”
Abbey’s mentors provided him with the experience he’s needed to succeed in the pet industry.
“I am very proud to be my family’s fourth generation in the pet industry, and I am honored to carry on their tradition of commitment to caring for pets and the people that love them,” he says.
Abbey also takes great pride in the fact that Loving Pets is transparent with its customers and makes sure that its packaging clearly reflects the ingredients and the product benefits for owners to see. That transparency has been a key component to the company’s success, as Abbey and his team prioritize making product packaging clear and easy for pet parents to understand.
“As pets continue to be respected as family members, pet parents are seeking food and treats with simple, limited ingredients that they can identify and feel confident that they’re providing their pet the best,” he says, noting that Loving Pets make sure that its products include labels, such as grain-free and gluten-free, so pet parents clearly understand what they’re buying and feeding their pets.
Abbey knows that meeting the high expectations requires maintaining strict control over how Loving Pets’ products are made, starting with ingredient sourcing.
“With a first-hand look at what ingredients go into the products offered, since we source and buy the ingredients ourselves—all from U.S. based companies—we have complete visibility and onsite control over the entire process,” Abbey explains.
Loving Pets also maintains high product quality standards by doing its own manufacturing; in 2011, the company increased its capabilities by expanding its onsite treat production. Not only did this move enable Loving Pets to provide “both pet owners and the independent/pet specialty retailers a broader range of healthy, delicious, affordable and high-quality, U.S.-made treats,” it also helped the local economy by providing more jobs.
“Loving Pets has expanded... manufacturing and production capabilities, and made the major investment of time and money into SQF Level 2 certification every year, which is the gold standard in food safety and quality,” explains Abbey.
“Having always worked hard to go above and beyond all manufacturing safety standards, we are thrilled to add the SQF certification to our quality promise,” he continues. “Achieving this has taken years of hard work, research and investment in technology, and we are thrilled that we now can offer the gold standard of food safety and quality assurance in the pet category.”
Making “massive investments in technology and expansion of manufacturing equipment and capabilities” is just one part of Abbey’s method of staying ahead in an evolving pet care market—an approach that includes paying close attention to human food trends. This, combined with his understanding of the pet industry, gives Abbey a leg up on competitors.
“Loving Pets is not just about watching human trends/humanization, but anticipating trends to position the company’s offerings to best support retailers, partners and pet parents,” he says. “That includes not only purchasing trends, but also trends in how humans view their pets.”
While Abbey’s mission is to bring high-quality, all-natural and healthy treats to pet owners, it is also important that they be affordable. Finding the balance of high-quality products with reasonable price ranges is one of the reasons Loving Pets has found success within the industry.
“Retailers need high-quality treats and chews that offer a value, and good margins,” said Abbey. “Loving Pets has always been founded on the belief that high quality does not have to mean expensive... and continues this mission by offering hundreds of treats and chews that are delicious and promote canine health from the inside out.”
Loving Pets is also dedicated to working with pet retailers by serving as a trusted educational resource.
“The ‘humanization’ of treats for ALL pets (not just dogs) continues to transition from a trend to something that is here to stay,” explains Abbey.
At the end of the day, Loving Pets is all about providing retailers with quality products so pet parents can feel good about what they’re providing for their pets.
“We realize our job is to help retailers make more money, but we also want to help them by offering high-quality product solutions that make life better for pets and the people that love them,” says Abbey. PB