The development of eco-friendly pet cleanup products often springs from personal concern. For example, it wasn’t until Paul Cannella, president and owner of Chicago-based PoopBags.com, Inc., researched plastic bags that he began thinking about what he was using to clean up after his dog. Upon investigation, he grew increasingly uncomfortable with his plastic-grocery-bag approach to dog-waste disposal. As noted on his website, Cannella discovered that plastic bags take thousands of years to break down, are the least recycled material and comprise the fourth highest generated waste in the U.S. (the top three are paper, yard trimmings and food scraps).
Cannella resolved to find an earth-friendlier way to handle his dog’s “business” and started importing a biodegradable “poop” bag from Norway. Soon he began manufacturing his own biodegradable bags–PoopBags, Jumbo Bags and Flush Puppies–and selling them direct to consumers through his website, as well as to pet specialty stores.
Also consider Clean+Green, a line of 17 eco-friendly stain and odor removers manufactured by SeaYu Enterprises. According to Dennis Seaman, vice president of the San Francisco-based company, it was his wife’s desire for a greener way to address pet cleanup, combined with her frustration over the dearth of eco-friendly products, that led to this line’s development.
Minimum Impact, Growing Demand
Both Cannella and Seaman say their focus is on creating products that have a minimal impact on the environment–an objective that increasingly resonates with consumers in all product categories, including pet cleanup.
“The market is just starting,” says Seaman. “From my perspective, it’s growing daily.”
Cannella estimates that online sales for his bags grew 40 to 50 percent last year, while in-store sales doubled.
“There’s a tremendous amount of growth still available,” he says. “There’s a lot of momentum, and as the consumer push for green continues, and as manufacturers become more efficient, the prices should come down, which will open up the market even more.”
Diane Vair, product and marketing manager for Marshall Pet Products, Inc., has also noticed an increase in consumer interest for natural pet cleanup products. The company, based in Wollcott, N.Y., manufactures and distributes a variety of pet products. Its newest line is called Earth’s Balance, which Vair explains is geared toward natural solutions for common pet problems. There are 14 products in the Earth’s Balance line.
“We’re very aware of the green and eco-friendly movement, and we’re paying attention to it. We didn’t have anything natural for dogs and cats; we had it for ferrets and other small animals. But this line allows us to close that gap for our company and our customers,” says Vair.
Seaman says research indicates that when consumers transition to a greener lifestyle, they start with food. Once this conversion takes hold, cleaning products are next.
“The same thing is happening in the pet channel,” he says. “As consumers make this lifestyle change for themselves, they’re making it for their pets. And as more people look at natural foods for their pets, they’ll look at natural/eco-friendly cleaning products.”
The eco-friendly consumer isn’t an easy one to sell; retailers have to do their work, particularly when it comes to educating their sales teams.
“The natural products consumer is very knowledge [hungry],” says Seaman. “They’re into research and reading labels, they’ll ask more questions. They look at every possible angle before buying a product but once they do and like it, they’re hooked.”
The downside of the eco-friendly movement is that more companies are falsely proclaiming their products as green, says Cannella, explaining that this is easy to do because regulation and enforcement are absent, and manufacturers aren’t yet required to prove their claims. This “green-washing” places greater due-diligence responsibility on retailers to investigate manufacturers and products thoroughly before adding items to their inventory. Failure to do the necessary legwork may undermine a retailer’s credibility–a fatal mistake when trying to woo and keep green customers, says Cannella, adding that his products are certified as biodegradable in 50 states and meet the ASTM D640 standard (ASTM is an organization that sets standards for materials, products and systems).
However, things might soon get a little easier for retailers in this respect. According to Seaman, the FTC is coming out with new standards for eco-friendly, sustainability and green that will require manufacturers to substantiate their claims.
“And it goes beyond the ingredients,” Seaman continues, referring again to green consumers. “Customers are also looking at the packaging and how the company does business.”
Retailers can make their task easier by being selective, limiting the number of SKUs they carry to a few trusted products.
Making the products easy to find is another must, says Seaman who advises either locating green products in their own area or, if side-by-side with conventional products, separating the section into conventional and green.
“You become a destination point, a trusted source for natural and eco-friendly pet products,” he says. “For these customers, it’s all about the relationship.”