Translate Transparency Into Sales
Selling eco-friendly pet products begins with a trustworthy manufacturer whose sustainable efforts are transparent across the supply chain.
These days, pet happiness, health and well being are big business for manufacturers, retailers and service providers. Pet parents want to care for their animals by purchasing products from professionals that they trust, which includes the experts who are selling—and making—the eco-friendly products that they’re interested in.
While consumers will often trust the practices of established companies and knowledgeable salespeople, these shoppers are increasingly becoming more self-informed. Many of today’s pet owners can easily distinguish between brands that are providing real solutions and those that only want to make a quick profit through greenwashing—the unsavory practice of making false sustainable-manufacturing claims. Exposure to these types of unsupported claims and deceitful practices can result in pet parents becoming jaded and exhausted.
“Retailers should evaluate and select manufacturers that do a good job on packaging and merchandising support, so these eco-friendly features are prominent and easy-to-understand for their customers who may not be familiar with the product,” says Natalie Hennessy, senior public relations and marketing manager for P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyle and You), based in San Francisco.
For many pet parents, prioritizing eco-friendly products reaches beyond manufacturing and into overall operating practices. These consumers use keen research skills to examine how businesses within the sustainable sector are running their companies with greener processes. From efforts such as conducting business within solar-powered headquarters to product labeling that is Forest Stewardship Council certified, Hennessy emphasizes the importance of looking beyond the product itself to drive home eco-friendly messaging.
“[Consumers] want to know more about the brand they are buying—its philosophies, what third-party certifications or verifications they have—and, perhaps most importantly, understand how these products are actually environmentally conscious, so they know what kind of tangible impact they are helping to make by supporting such products,” she says.
Jennifer Neufeld, co-founder of Rhinebeck, N.Y.-based Distinctly Himalayan, outlines the standards manufacturers of eco-friendly products should be following. She advises businesses to concentrate on remaining honest with their green messaging. She feels that the main focal points for brands that are making the products, as well as retailers that sell the goods, should be to offer items that are made from natural, biodegradable ingredients that cause no harm to the environment and don’t yield an excess of waste.
“Customers today are much savvier than 10 years ago, and they understand that products can be labeled ‘all-natural’ or ‘eco-friendly’ mainly as a marketing tool,” she says. “They are looking for proof of a brand’s promises and, with information at their fingertips, it is more important than ever to really walk the walk. Substance and authenticity are the key to our customers’ hearts—and wallets.”
An educated consumer has become an asset in the eco-friendly pet category. The growth of this segment has surged as pet parents value natural products and recognize that the quality is comparable to—if not higher than—traditional goods. When consumers realize they can provide their pets with products that are effective and created using eco-friendly materials, they are willing to create room in the family budget for a better product, reveals Jean Broders, senior brand manager at Muscatine, Iowa-based Kent Pet Group.
“Consumer’s perceptions that eco-friendly products don’t perform as well as others is beginning to fade,” she says. “Consumers want the added benefit of eco-friendly and high performance. They aren’t willing to settle. Natural litters with proven success are supported by retailers and add a premium to the category for those owners that want the added benefit of natural, safe and healthy in their homes.”
When creating eco-friendly pet products, manufacturers must keep in mind that their most important customers are the animals themselves. Even though owners make the initial decision to buy a product, their pet dictates whether or not that product becomes a repeat purchase. If a dog or cat doesn’t enjoy their new toy, it’s rendered useless.
“Our focus has always been to understand the pet and pet behaviors—especially the way pets interact with their families—and to develop toys that enhance that bond,” says Tim Blurton, CEO of Wichita, Kan.-based Cosmic Pet. “Today, environmentally-conscientious product design has never been more demanded and important.”
In the movement toward more sustainable products, manufacturers have been forming alliances. The consumer demand for eco-friendly pet products has allowed brands to learn that they can remain competitive in business by working together to create a more ecologically-sound industry.
“The more the pet supply industry works together, the better our companies will become at promoting and implementing sustainable manufacturing practices and bringing eco-friendly products to the marketplace,” explains Tony de Vos, president of Azuza, Calif.’s Cardinal Pet Care. “This is the theory behind the Pet Sustainability Coalition, which was formed to advance sustainability and environmental responsibility within the pet-product industry.”
When working with manufacturers that develop eco-friendly pet products, a retailer’s responsibility lies in examining all facets of the supply chain to ensure materials and ingredients are sourced according to the demands of their clientele. By cultivating relationships with manufacturers who are dedicated to sharing the important details of their production, retailers can maintain mutual trust with their customers.