Pet specialty retailers can differentiate themselves from their competitors by offering eco-friendly toys, but they first need to partner with reputable manufacturers.
The nudge of a wet nose rolling a ball across the floor can ignite playtime between a pet and its owner instantly, and for many pet owners, there is nothing more satisfying than seeing their furry loved one run after the ball and sprint back to them expecting another toss. An owner’s fondest memories with their pet typically includes that game of catch, which is why the purchase of a new toy is often as exhilarating for a human as it is for the animal.
In years past, picking out a new toy for a canine or feline friend may not have required much thought. A pet owner might select a more durable toy for a strong chewer that destroyed the first one, or choose to replace a previously purchased toy that their pet already adores. Today’s pet owners, however, expect more from the toys they give their pets.
“Customers are looking for unique, quality-made toys they can feel good about giving their pet,” says Zach Day, founder of Zigoo Pets. Eco-friendly toys—those made with renewable, recyclable, biodegradable, non-toxic or natural materials—fit that requirement, says Day, because they are a safe and fun option that pet parents can give to their pets.
“Dogs play with their mouths, and dogs lick the people who love them. Toxins, chemicals and additives in a dog’s toy go far beyond the dog product,” says Kristen Smith, brand ambassador at Planet Dog. “Natural and eco-friendly toys are going to be safer for the health and safety of every member of the household, while also being better for the environment.”
With safety being a top concern for pet owners across many top-selling pet product categories including toys, more seek toys that combine eco-friendly with functionality, innovation and design appeal, says Will Chen, founder and CEO of P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle And You). Pet specialty retailers that offer a selection of eco-friendly toys are not only positioned to serve customers concerned about safety, but they can also differentiate themselves from big-box and mass retailers that may not be up to speed on the eco-friendly product movement.
“Eco-friendly toys often help differentiate certain retailers from others,” Chen says. “The pet toy is a competitive and vibrant category, so there are often loads of new products. While retailers should keep some products that are tried and tested, they would bring differentiation to their stores and excitement to customers by trying some new, innovative eco-friendly items too.”
Though this section in the toy department may have been overlooked and considered a novelty that served a niche market in the past, manufacturers say that is no longer the case as pet owners learn the benefits of eco-friendly products. “Through our consumer research, we discovered there is an expectation that a company be mindful of the environment,” says Spencer Williams, owner and president of West Paw Design. “It’s no longer a nice addition, it’s an expectation.”
Chen agrees that consumer demand for these products has increased but warns that not all consumers may be on board. “Consumers expect or look for greener products, but at the same time, for some, there may be a mental fatigue developing due to greenwashing by many consumer products all claiming to be eco-friendly today,” he says, referring to the practice of marketing a non-green product as one that is environmentally friendly.
With a mental fatigue towards green products developing among some consumers, it is especially important that pet specialty retailers evaluate the eco-friendly toys they are interested in selling and learn about what makes the products eco-friendly before putting the item on the shelf. Williams suggests three ways for a retailer to evaluate a toy. “Look at how the toy was produced, where it was produced and what materials went into making the product,” he says. “These three simple questions can answer a lot of questions about which eco-friendly toys to carry.”
In addition to evaluating each toy, retailers should seek reputable manufacturers as partners. “Retailers should be looking for authenticity and transparency from their vendors,” Smith says. “Because there is no regulation of these claims in the pet industry, the retailer should do their homework before bringing in a line—know the supplier, develop relationships and research the line.”
When evaluating a supplier of eco-friendly toys, Williams says, retailers should look at how long the company has been in business, if the company is a member of recognized green organizations, and how the company is working to lessen its carbon footprint with its manufacturing practices. Chen adds that retailers should also check to see if the company has a recycling program for their toys.
Randy Thompson, content manager and marketing director at DuckyWorld Products, adds that retailers should also look for a supplier who carries a diverse array of eco-friendly products. “This would make it a one-stop shop where they can order a lot to fill that need in one fell swoop,” he says.
After a retailer has done the research and brought a line into the store, manufacturers suggest that retailers group the items together and mark the section accordingly. And do not discount the power of education. A customer that knows and understands the benefits of an eco-friendly toy might choose it over another.
“At the end of the day, customers want a toy that’s going to make their pet happy,” Williams says. “Choosing to sell toys that are smartly and durably designed, as well as environmentally manufactured, is very important. A durable pet toy means a happier pet and less waste for the planet.”
What’s On the Market: Eco-friendly Toys
Cycle Dog’s (cycledog.com) 3-Play collection of dog toys is made with Ecolast post-consumer recycled material. The collection combines a squeaking head and a treat-hiding tummy. It also has the ability to float above the water surface, making it a fun floating toy for dogs that love water. The toys have high durability and are non-toxic. Available in hippo, turtle, dino and turtle-mini characters.
DuckyWorld’s (duckyworld.com) line of Yeowww catnip toys are made with durable cotton-twill shells and soy-based colors. The toys are stuffed with the company’s organically grown-in-the-USA catnip. The company makes a wide range of catnip-stuffed toys, from sardines and cigars to bananas and apples.
Planet Dog (planetdog.com) offers a variety of eco-friendly toys, including the Orbee-Tuff line, Recycle line and Wood Chuck ball tosser. The products are made in the USA from recyclable material. The company re-uses excess material from the manufacturing process, as well as damaged or destroyed toys returned to the company, to make toys for its Recycle line. The Wood Chuck is made from sustainable bamboo and recycled cork.
P.L.A.Y.’s (petplay.com) Under the Sea plush toy collection features five sea creatures. The toys are handmade using double-layered top-quality materials with an ultrafine velvety plush top and contrast stitching. The toys are filled with P.L.A.Y.’s PlanetFill filling, which is made from recycled plastic bottles. All of the toys are 100-percent washer and dryer friendly.
Zigoo Pets (zigoopets.com) offers three toys made with the company’s proprietary thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) material, Zigflex. TPE is a mix of plastic and rubber that can be recycled and consumes less during production. The material is BPA and phthalate free, and FDA approved. The Crinkit is for dogs that love chewing on water bottles, as it can be stuffed with an empty water bottle. The company also offers the Veggout toy, which can be stuffed with baby carrots or other treats and the Boing toy, which can be used to play fetch or a game of tug.
West Paw Design’s (westpawdesign.com) Eco Hemp Dog Toys are made from super soft and strong hemp. The toys are made with 55-percent hemp fibers and 45-percent recycled polyester. The hemp fibers obstruct odor-causing bacteria, making the toys naturally antimicrobial. The toys resist tossing and thrashing, and they come in three shapes and two sizes for small and large breeds. The company also offers the near-zero waste collection of toys called Black Zogoflex that reuses 120 lbs. of Zogoflex materials per week.