Planet Friendly Play
by Lindsey Wojcik
June 1, 2012
Retailers can capitalize on the strong eco-friendly toy category by educating consumers about the durability of the products.



Toys have always played an important role in a retailer’s bottom line. While toys may not be a costly annual expense for pet owners, products in this category remains one of their most frequent purchases. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that as the eco-friendly movement gains traction, green toys are becoming more popular.

The demand for healthier product options for pet owners and their four-legged friends continues to grow. And, as consumers become more conscious than ever of their ecological footprint, they are seeking eco-friendly products for themselves and are extending this lifestyle to include their pets. Luckily for pet owners, manufacturers are constantly striving to fill pet owners need for durable, non-toxic, eco-friendly toys.

“People are willing to spend a little bit more to make sure they’re buying quality products that aren’t going to be toxic to their pet,” says Kristen Smith, brand ambassador at Planet Dog.


Defining “Eco-Friendly”
While it seems that companies are increasingly using the term “eco-friendly” to differentiate their products in the market, many pet toy manufacturers agree it is a broad term. The definition lies in the eye of the beholder.

“You can’t really define eco-friendly because there’s really no one definition,” says Zach Day, owner of Zigoo, manufacturer of the Crinkit toy. “I think the meaning of [eco-friendly] gets watered down.” 

Zigoo launched Crinkit in stores last fall, and Day says his company entered the toy category to “solve durability issues and make a more durable water bottle toy.” In researching materials, the company discovered the benefits of thermoplastic elastomer (TPE)—a mix of plastic and rubber that can be recycled—and developed a proprietary TPE compound, Zigflex, to manufacture Crinkit’s protective barrier around a water bottle. Day says the Zigflex material does not need compounding or fillers for reinforcement. It does not contain BPA or phthalates, and it is FDA approved. The recyclability of the product was an added benefit for the company.

“We wanted to find a material that we could reuse and that could be recycled by the end user,” Day says. “You’re not going to be able to reuse the product all the time, but if you can recycle it, it gives us a better chance of saving the carbon footprint.”

Planet Dog is another company that developed a compound of TPE for its Orbee-Tuff toy line. “Even after it’s run its course, the products can be recycled and turned into a new product,” Smith says.

The company gathers left over materials or materials unused from a bad batch, in addition to recycled toys that were returned from consumers to re-grind the material to make a new toy. “We strive for a zero-waste manufacturing process,” Smith says.

Planet Dog also aims to use sustainable materials for its other product lines. Its Wood Chuck ball tosser is made from bamboo and recycled cork scraps and it is compatible with the company’s Orbee-Tuff toys.

While some manufacturers strive to recycle and reuse materials whenever possible, Cycle Dog does it as a matter of course.

Lanette Fidrych, president of Cycle Dog, says the company’s goal is to reduce landfill waste. In order to do this, the company uses materials that were used for something else and were targeted for the landfill and reclaims the materials for their Retreads line of toys. The toys are made of reclaimed inner-tube rubber that is ground into small pieces and mixed with a natural rubber. “Using post-consumer recycled materials is difficult and can be expensive,” says Fidrych. “But we think it is more than worth it.”

The materials a company uses, however, are only one part of the eco-friendly equation—some brands define their eco-status by how they manufacture their products.

Kevin Duck, founder and CEO of DuckyWorld, maker of Yeowww! brand of catnip and catnip toys, says his company strives to produce non-toxic products while being good to the Earth. DuckyWorld uses a proprietary blend of organically grown catnip that is handpicked, field dried and carefully processed using minimal energy. The catnip is stuffed into natural cotton twills that have been dyed using only vegetable or soy-based inks to create the company’s catnip toys.

“One on end, it is simply not polluting,” Duck says. “On the other end, eco-friendly product manufacturing is actually a beneficial process to the environment.”

While each company may have its own green appeal, experts say the category will continue to grow and retailers can expect it to take up a larger percentage of toy sales year after year. “The entire organic movement created and supports the eco-friendly choices in our marketplace as a mainstay,” Duck says.


Selling the Benefits

However, while eco-friendly products are well sought out, manufacturers say customers are still looking for quality and value in the toy aisle. “Consumers are looking for eco-friendly solutions, but most importantly, they are looking for great products,” Fidrych says. “Just because it is eco-friendly does not mean people will buy it.”

Since eco-friendly toys may have a higher price tag, retailers must highlight the benefits these products offer and desireable features, such as durability.

“Durability feeds into the eco-friendly piece because the more durable the toy is, the longer it’s going to last,” Smith says. “People that have a strong chewer are always looking for something that is really strong.”

For consumers that may not be as eco-conscious or informed as others, Duck suggests that retailers use social media to explain eco-friendly features and benefits to the public. They should also complement this effort by having an educated staff able to answer any question shoppers may have when they walk into the store.

Day adds that retailers can draw attention to the category through recycling programs. “Having a recycling program for old toys is a great way to reach customers that may not be eco-conscious,” says Day. “Some companies use the recyclability of the toys to [encourage consumers] to bring in the old toys and hopefully buy new ones.”

While merchandising strategies may vary for each store, manufacturers agree that a retailer can boost sales by co-locating eco-friendly toys in one area of the store, with signage explaining the benefits of the products.

“Having a special section right when a customer first enters the store with a nice selection of eco-friendly toys sends a strong messages to the consumer,” Smith says. “It also allows a retailer to cross-merchandise the toys within the category, and the double exposure can be really good.”