Word Search

Retailers can achieve success with natural grooming products by understanding what ingredients and phrases stand out to consumers who are shopping this category.


Sometimes a keyword search can save time and effort—and not just with online searches. Pet owners shopping for natural grooming products read labels, and they look for certain words and phrases that suggest a product is natural. People who want their pets to be clean, fresh smelling and healthy want to avoid certain ingredients. They also want products to contain certain trendy components.

With this in mind, manufacturers are making the selection easier by highlighting what their shampoos, conditioners, sprays and other items have—and do not have—in their makeup. “What’s trending in the ‘not in’ category is sodium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate, inexpensive industrial degreasers that have been used in pet shampoo for decades to make it lather,” says Adelia Ritchie, president and founder of DERMagic Skin Care for Animals, Inc. in Kingston, Wash. “It is known by the FDA to be irritating to pets and to many people.”

What’s “in” is shea butter, a natural emollient. “It even acts as a mild sunscreen,” says Ritchie. “It’s great for dry noses, cracked paws, and in other skin care products.” She adds that shoppers also look for words such as “organic,” which is regulated and defined, unlike “natural” items.

Among DERMagic’s newest products is the Rosemary Mint Conditioner bar, an extension of the line of organic shampoo bars. The company also offers an organic Flea Shampoo Bar and Flea Dust, both made with food-grade diatomaceous earth (DE). “These are both natural, organic and non-toxic to pets, yet fatal to fleas and other insects,” says Ritchie.

Certain words on labels can offer a shortcut to consumers who seek natural products but have limited knowledge of a complex science. “Without being a biochemist, it’s hard for them to understand everything,” says Peggy Smith, media manager for Bio-Groom products, which are manufactured by BioDerm Laboratories in Longview, Texas.

One shortcut is to shun grooming products that contain sulfates, but that’s not the only way to find a natural product.

“The public believes a lot of false notions, and one is that all sulfates are bad, but there are some sulfates that are mild,” says Smith, adding that even harsh sulfates have benefits, as they are necessary for deep cleaning. Adding conditioning ingredients can help balance that harshness.

Bio-Groom does offer some shampoos that contain sodium laureth sulfate, but they also have colloidal oatmeal, aloe vera and other soothing ingredients. For consumers who seek sulfate-free products, Bio-Groom’s new Indulge shampoo contains no sulfates, and has Argan oil—an oil from Morocco that is also used in some skincare items for humans.
Pet parents are used to seeing high-quality ingredients in pet foods, and now they are seeing them in skin and fur care too. “The ingredients trending in natural grooming are very similar to the ingredients trending in natural human products,” says Steven Shweky, president of New York City-based Fetch…for pets! “Shea butter, colloidal oat flour, honey and apple cider vinegar are all very popular.”

Fetch…for pets! recently added several products to its licensed Burt’s Bees Natural Pet Care line. The new items include Burt’s Bees for dogs Hypoallergenic Wipes, Whitening Shampoo, Tearless Puppy Waterless Shampoo Spray, and Tearless Wipes. The new Burt’s Bees for Cats line features Anti Hairball Spray, Hypoallergenic Shampoo and Wipes, Waterless Spray Shampoo, and Dander Reducing Spray.

Another ingredient that has made its way from human hair and skin products to pet products is hydrolyzed wheat protein. “This ingredient is used to rebuild and strengthen individual hair shafts to prevent dull, dry coats and hair shaft breakage, which is often seen as excess shedding,” explains Joe Zuccarello, national accounts sales manager for TropiClean in Wentzville, Mo. “Strong hair shafts provide for easier brushing, less tangles, less shedding and protection from the elements of nature. In fact, hydrolyzed wheat protein remains in the coat and in hair shafts well after the pet is fully dried and continues to add support to the coat for a fuller look and healthier pet overall.”

TropiClean uses hydrolyzed wheat protein in some of its OxyMed products. The company recently redesigned the OxyMed line, and added Anti-Itch Shampoo and Spray, Medicated Spray, Hypo Shampoo, Medicated Wipes and Ear Cleaner to the line.

It is not enough for ingredients to be natural; they must also offer a benefit or, better yet, multiple benefits. “The most popular ingredients being used today are those that serve a dual purpose, typically, to hydrate and heal,” says Debbie Guardian, owner of Opie & Dixie, LLC, in San Francisco.

Guardian explains that aloe vera is a widely used natural plant source for treating skin conditions, and it produces a vibrant coat. Lavender has calming properties and is a natural healing aid. Tea tree oil has antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiseptic, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, pain-relieving and disinfecting properties. Shea Butter contains vitamins A, E and F, which aid in eliminating dry patches, healing wounds and restoring natural body oils and cinnamic acid, a natural sunscreen.

“Pet owners want to know that the products they use are not only safe, but effective,” says Guardian. “Natural can be effective, but only if the product contains the right formulation of ingredients.”

This means there is not one, miracle ingredient. Guardian says that when pet owners ask her what in Opie & Dixie’s Snoutstik healed their dogs’ dry, cracked noses, she tells them the trick is in the formula. “The difference between a product that works and a product that doesn’t is the synergy of the ingredients used,” she explains. “The right grouping will accomplish more than each ingredient could alone. One ingredient increases the other’s effectiveness.”

Opie & Dixie’s newest product is Pawstik, which is the company’s Healing Paw Balm formula in stick form. The company will soon launch organic shampoos and conditioners, and new packaging as well. “We’ve gone for a traditional, vintage, apothecary-style look and feel, which we feel reflects the organic, home-grown, premium-quality nature of our products,” she says.

Other manufacturers are also updating their packaging. Bobbi Panter, owner and creator of Bobbi Panter Pet Products, says the Chicago-based company recently updated its packaging, which now has a higher recyclable content. The earth-friendly aspect is important, but the ingredients within the package are more important, Panter says. Consumers should look for a complete list of ingredients, and be suspicious if the label shows few components.

“There is no way a shampoo, for instance, has five ingredients,” she says. “Something is missing.” Consumers should be leery of phrases such as “detergent free,” a phrase Panter says makes no sense, and should ask which thickeners the shampoo uses.

Some consumers seek limited-ingredient products because their pets have sensitivities. “More pet owners are becoming aware of the allergy connection to infection and are creating long-term prevention plans, which often include shampoo therapy to manage and soothe irritated skin,” says Naomi Kirby, technical services manager for Westmont, Ill.-based Pet King Brands, Inc.

The company offers ZYMOX Enzymatic Shampoo with Vitamin D3, ZYMOX Enzymatic Conditioning Rinse, ZYMOX Topical Cream and Spray, ZYMOX Ear Cleanser and ZYMOX Ear Solution. The products contain natural bio-active enzymes with antibacterial, antifungal and anti-yeast properties.

To help retailers drive sales, ZYMOX offers various options for merchandising displays and shelf talkers. Kirby says many retailers even developed a Zymox “pharmacy” within their store to promote the remedies.

Stores can also use events to boost sales. Ritchie says retailers should highlight when a product is domestically manufactured. “One idea is to stop carrying all grooming products that are not manufactured in this country, and have an event centered around USA-made natural and organic products,” she says.

For retailers that offer natural grooming services, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada-based Thera-Clean offers microbubble technology. The bath system cleans the sebum away from the base of the shaft of the hair, allowing the microbubbles to travel down the hair follicle and flush out the sebaceous gland duct of fats, oils, bacteria, fungus, dirt and pollens. The dog stands in the tub of the unit, and the groomer rinses the dog for five to 15 minutes with the water, which has bubbles that measure three to 20 micrometers.

“Today, pet owners are asking that their natural grooming products go a step further by not only addressing the cleanliness and shine of the coat but assisting in resolving skin issues as well,” says Kyle Darling, CEO of Thera-Clean, which also has an office in St. Louis. “Natural grooming products that will be successful on the market will be those that address the pain point of skin issues in a natural way that is non-abrasive and chemical free.”

The system is more complex than adding a grooming product to the store’s assortment, but Darling says adding the Thera-Clean bath can drive incremental revenue to the retailer.

“Pet owners are willing to add to their service if, by doing so, they have the peace of mind they are addressing the skin issues of their pet. The result is more sales to the category,” he says.

Whether it’s a natural shampoo or an entire bathing system, it is always a good idea to educate retailers. Panter says she teaches storeowners to train their own staffs about different ingredients and how to answer pet owners’ questions.

“One mid-size retailer once said to me, ‘I never thought of training about shampoo,” Panter recalls. “We were worried about treats and food. You made me a shampoo snob.”

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