Made with Love
By staying on top of the most important trends in pet care and in complete control of its U.S.-based manufacturing, Loving Pets is able to offer its retail partners a mix of healthful and helpful products.
It’s probably fair to say that Loving Pets, the manufacturer of pet treats, chews and feeding dishes, has managed to be in the right place at the right time a lot since its founding just over 10 years ago.
The big question is whether the Cranbury, N.J.-based company’s success is the result of its ability to stay ahead of consumer trends and research or its investment in infrastructure and exceptional technology-based quality controls. The answer, of course, is probably a combination of both. But picking one particular area as the reason does not matter much for officials at Loving Pets, who appear quite content with the company’s progress over the years—including doubling sales since 2010.
“I am proud of our accomplishments, investing in our people and our partners,” says Eric Abbey, the founder and president of the company. “What makes us truly unique is the fact that we have a lot of capabilities for a company our size, such as our recent achievement as a SQF (Safe Quality Foods) Level 2 facility, the highest standard in food safety.”
But that is not the only thing Loving Pets offers. With its own manufacturing facility, an 80,000-sq.-ft. plant attached to its headquarters in Cranbury, NJ, and a 40-strong workforce, the company is actively pitching its ability to produce store brand or private label products for any retailer that comes calling. Its own branded Loving Pets lineup of innovative treats, snacks, bowls and accessories—now more than 400 SKUs deep—continues to expand as more consumers and retailers ask for healthy, natural products that are made domestically.
“On one hand, we are very comfortable being trusted as a partner to retailers that have made private label products a part of their strategic plan for profitability and expansion, which now accounts for about 25 percent of our business,” Abbey says. “On the other hand, we want to continue to increase the branded side of Loving Pets and stay ahead of consumer trends in quality, health and affordability, which has been our mission since day one.
“As a true manufacturer, we set ourselves apart in the level of service we provide to our retail partners. We are not a marketing company with products produced elsewhere. We are a U.S.-based manufacturer of pet products, pure and simple.”
Besides creating greater economies of scale through direct delivery to distributors or retailers, with cost savings passed on to retail partners, the home-based manufacturing facility also means more attention to the products during the production cycle. Abbey says that Loving Pets’ employees get a firsthand look at what ingredients go into the products offered. “We source and buy the ingredients ourselves—all from U.S.-based companies,” he says. “With complete visibility and on-site control over the entire process, we know where the products are coming from, and we know where they are going.”
For pet specialty stores, Abbey says that means a closer working relationship between Loving Pets and its retail partners. “We realize our job is to help retailers make more money, but we also want to help them by offering high-quality products that make life better for pets and the people that love them,” he notes. “Very close attention is paid to each of our products, and we are committed to working with pet retailers to be a trusted educational resource about our products, new categories and special programs. Also, helping to build awareness through a variety of selling tools we offer is very important; for example, special displays like clip-strips or floor displays, as well as sampling programs.”
Not a bad approach for a company that was founded by Abbey in 2005 after years of gaining valuable experience working for other pet companies and being a third-generation member of this industry. “After firsthand experience in the pet business,” he says, “I felt an opportunity to get involved in an emerging and healthier treat segment of the pet market. I saw the first signs of a growing natural and healthy pet food market, and knew I could make a difference.”
Like most startups, Abbey had some doubts early on, such as big concerns about whether the business model was on target and whether there was enough revenue to pay the bills. But Loving Pets still registered about $1 million in revenue that first year, and there was no turning back. The very successful 2008 launch of Bella Bowls—a product that still continues to be a category leader—simply confirmed what he thought at the start.
The next break came with the rising concerns about products made in China. As consumers and retailers looked for alternatives to pet food and treats made in China, Loving Pets was already domestically producing items, including jerky treats and products in its Barksters line. “We were in a great position,” notes Abbey. “We were simply ahead of the curve, and a lot of retailers came to us looking for products sourced and made in the U.S., and not sourced from China.”
Introducing unique products is part of Loving Pets’ long-term strategy. Creating an entirely new “snack” category earlier this year, the company introduced the four-SKU Puffsters line of low-fat and low-calorie snack chips to join the Barksters line of air-puffed brown rice or sweet potato chips. Loving Pets will also introduce Totally Grainless, a 12-SKU line of meat chew bones that are grain, gluten, wheat and corn free, early next year. Sticking to a commitment to affordability and profitability for the retailers, a six-ounce package has a suggested retail price range of between $3.79 and $5.99.
“Consumers love to give their pets treats,” Abbey says. “The problem is that the more they give, the more obese their pets become. Our approach is to offer treats, and now snacks, that have low calories and are high quality. Our new snacks also give retailers a whole new category of consumable products to sell, which they can position in any part of their store for added revenue and the assurance that they’re offering a healthy, quality product.”
Abbey says that Loving Pets has no intentions of losing its focus in the future. The company will continue to concentrate on growing its production capabilities and its Made in the USA product line. “We will always be on the lookout for emerging categories in the dog treat market, but we really want to put an emphasis on our existing core businesses, which are treats and bowls. I don’t think you will be seeing us get involved in pet toys or beds. They are just not our expertise.”
Abbey also has no intentions of deviating from the company’s mission. “Our company is a health-conscious company devoted to making life easier for pet owners and their pets,” he says. “Our goal is to have every product added to our line be a solution to a challenge or demand in the market. High-quality, cost-efficient innovations continue to be the focus of our mission to serve our retail partners and pet-parents worldwide.”