It’s indisputable. More companies, in every industry and at every level, are giving back to their communities than ever before. But for those in the pet industry, giving back often holds special meaning.
Take Patrick Meiering, founder of treat manufacturer Zuke’s Performance Pet Nutrition, as an example. Meiering, who named his company after a dog he lost to cancer, supported the creation of The Dog and Cat Cancer Fund (DCCF) in 2008. DCCF, run by his brother Chris Meiering, helps dogs and cats get cancer treatments that their owners couldn’t afford otherwise. A portion of every sale Zuke’s makes goes to the foundation. In 2011, the company donated over $40,000.
Or take Rocky Keever, CEO of Dog for Dog. Keever entered the pet industry on the retail side seven years ago, and from the beginning, giving back was important to him. “We would always have a collection jar, and we would donate as much money as we could to the Humane Society,” he says. “A team of us were working really hard to make adoptions happen every day and raise as much money as we could.”
Yet at the end of the year, when he tallied how much they’d raised, he says they had barely made an impact, so he decided to expand his efforts. That’s when he founded Dog for Dog, a treat and dog-friendly peanut butter company that donates a product to a dog in need for every product sold. “What is really neat is that we’re able to drill down on a local basis and the retailer that brings in our products is able to choose the local rescue organization that they want their item donated to,” says Keever.
The company lets pet owners know that they’re doing a good deed by printing it’s slogan—“you buy one, we give one”—on each of its products. Since its soft launch at Global Pet Expo in March, Keever says Dog for Dog has already helped over 15,000 dogs in need.
Zuke’s and Dog for Dog are only two of many pet product manufacturers giving back (see the sidebar on page 63)—that’s because for most people in the industry, pets aren’t just a business, they’re a passion.
“At this point in the game, with all of the items that are out there in the pet industry, if there is not something we can do to make a difference and give back, and start a movement, what is the point?” says Keever.
Paying It Forward
Darcy Bomford, founder and CEO of Darford couldn’t agree more. His company launched the Plus One Movement in 2010 to help feed rescue dogs across North America.
The 25-year-old company has always believed in giving back, donating to a wide variety of programs. “We’ve always found that when we gave money to people that had rescues, they were actually helping dogs out of their own pocket,” says Bomford. So, with the launch of its Plus One movement, the company began to focus its efforts on supporting those individuals who it felt were truly making a difference.
“Then, when it came time to develop a food, we thought, ‘Why don’t we just create something that allows us to help these people?’” And that’s precisely what Darford did.
For every purchase of Zero/G Food for Dogs or Darford treats, the company donates meals to rescue dogs—and, in an effort to make an even greater impact, it also regularly makes corporate-level food donations as well. As of July, the company had donated 742,174 meals.
“It makes us feel good that our money is going in the right direction,” says Bomford. “It’s kind of based on the pay it forward concept—you spend money in the right place, it’ll eventually come back to you.”
Research shows that Bomford’s “pay it forward” concept is spot on. According to a 2011 study of 10,000 consumers in 10 countries around the globe, 94 percent of respondents said they are likely to choose a brand that supports a cause over another brand that is similar in price and quality. The study, conducted by Echo Research for Cone Public Relations and Marketing Agency in Boston, also showed that 65 percent of its respondents had already made a cause-related purchase in the previous 12 months. So giving back can give a product a serious competitive edge.
However, companies must be transparent and upfront about their charitable activities. “People are very skeptical now in the marketplace,” says Bromford. “They want to see something real. Just having an authentic cause means more to people than anything else.”
Of course, part of transparency means letting shoppers know about a company’s efforts in the first place. At Stella & Chewy’s company founder and president Marie Moody says that giving back has always been a company philosophy. “We didn’t really promote it, so to speak,” she says. “But what we are finding out is that there are a lot of customers that want to support brands that are giving back—and they can’t know what you are doing if you don’t tell them.”
The Role of the Retailer
That’s where pet retailers come in. While manufacturer marketing is important, customers are more likely to trust the staff at their local pet store. Education at the retail level ensures that pet owners know who benefits from their purchases. If a store’s staff can explain how a manufacturer is making a difference, the customer is more likely to see those efforts as authentic and less likely to brush them off as a public-relations effort.
Further, by carefully vetting the products it carries and then highlighting those produced by charitable companies, retailers are not only helping pets in need, they’re also boosting customers’ perceptions of their store.
“Every retailer that carries Planet Dog helps us in our charitable mission, as the [Planet Dog] Foundation is funded by the sale of our products,” explains Kristen Smith, brand ambassador for Planet Dog.
Opportunities abound for retailers who want to do more. Several of the manufacturing companies that donate to shelters (including both Darford and Dog for Dog) allow retailers that sell their product to choose the local rescue organization that will receive the donations.
Or, if a store hosts adoption days or events that raise money for local organizations, many manufacturers donate products for these events to help raise more money for dogs in need. “Some of my customers will hold fundraisers in the store and they’ll ask for donations; or they’ll do an event and raise money for a local group,” says Sari Remer, president of DogChewz NYC. “[These events] bring people in, and then they buy products, and it creates awareness of the retailer’s store—[all while] giving back to the community.”
The Industry’s Helping Hands
Here’s a look at what some of the industry’s vendors are doing to help pets and people in need...
Earth Heart’s non-profit partner program enhances fundraising efforts for dog-related organizations. The program allows non-profit organizations to purchase product packages at discounted pricing to further assist the organization with their fundraising efforts. Organizations have the opportunity to sell Earth Heart’s products for a 200-percent profit.
Nature’s Variety’s Living Our Purpose employee-volunteer program provides one full day and two half-days to all full-time employees to donate time to an approved organization, with a focus on shelters and rescues. This year, Nature’s Variety volunteered at Stray Rescue in St. Louis, and employees in Lincoln, Neb., donated time to the Cat House and Capital Humane Society.
Oxbow Animal Health provides education opportunities in the industry and supports its local schools and communities. Oxbow offers educational Intermediate Vet Camps for local children interested in animals. The Vet Camps introduce campers to basic concepts of veterinary science. The company has offered annual scholarships to students interested in pursuing careers in the veterinary and companion animal sciences programs since 2008.
Darford International launched the Plus One Movement in 2010. The concept of Buy for One, Care for Two means that for every purchase of Zero/G Food for Dogs or a package of treats, the company donates meals to dogs in need. Retailers choose a rescue in their area to receive the donations.
DogChewz NYC gives to a variety of causes, including the Mayor’s Alliance in NYC, Broadway Barks and the American Cancer Society. Equally important, says company president Sari Remer, is education about the plight of homeless animals, a message the company conveys on its website and through social media.
Dog for Dog, a manufacturer founded this year with the motto “You Buy One, We Give One,” donates one product for every product sold. Donations are made to rescues chosen by the retailers that sell the product, so consumers can see the impact within their own communities.
Hartz has contributed to programs such as Cats for Cats and American Humane Association’s Red Star Rescue, Animal Assisted Therapy program and its tribute to the Hero Dogs of 9/11. However, it’s a special partnership with the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), which supports injured military service members, that led to the creation of the Hartz Military Dog Toy. One dollar from each toy sale goes to the WWP. The program has already raised more than $500,000.
The Nutro Company’s Room to Run Program plans to award 30 $2,000 grants in 2012 to help fund enhancements in public, non-profit dog parks throughout the U.S. It has also pledged to donate one million dollars over the next five years to the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF) and to construct a dog park in the SDF National Training Center, which is under construction in Santa Paula, Calif. Nutro also donates food to the Rescue Bank, which delivers the items to pet rescues and owner-retention groups nationwide.
Planet Dog donates two percent of every sale to its philanthropic arm, the Planet Dog Foundation (PDF), which funds the training and placement of dogs working to help people in need through cash grants to service and assistance dog programs. It specifically seeks out programs with multiple beneficiaries—for example, a program that rescues dogs from shelters, then uses at-risk teens to train them as service animals for people with disabilities.
Spring Naturals, by Performance Pet Products, launched its “Spring into Action” campaign this year to highlight everyday heroes helping animals in need. Each month, the selected person will be rewarded with a 26-lb. bag of Spring Naturals and a six-oz. treat pouch. The animal rescue group that they support will be highlighted on the company’s Facebook page and entered to win a grand prize of $2,000 in food, plus a $500 cash donation. The winner will be announced in March 2013.
Named after two rescue dogs, Stella & Chewy’s focuses on helping shelter dogs and rescues. As of the end of July, the company has donated more than $250,000 in product donations. It has worked with more than 500 organizations, rescues and charities in 38 states including, most recently, Adopt NY, an umbrella organization in that seeks to help smaller rescues by showcasing their adoptable dogs on a central website and educating the public on the importance of pet rescue.
Zuke’s was inspired by and named after Zuke, a Lab owned by company founder Patrick Meiering. Over 10 years ago, when Zuke passed away from lung cancer, he again inspired his owner—this time, to use his company to give back. Zuke’s is active in a number of causes, including the Dog and Cat Cancer Fund, which is dedicated to helping dogs and cats get cancer treatments their owners could not afford otherwise.