If these aren’t the glory days for natural and eco-friendly pet product manufacturers, they are certainly close. After all, it wasn’t too long ago that “green” indicated a color or someone inexperienced, rather than describing earth-friendly attributes. Manufacturers that were at the forefront of the green movement had a struggle on their hands when it came to educating those in the pet industry about their products and convincing them of their value and performance. But things have definitely gotten easier in this respect.
For over 15 years, earthdog, a Nashville, Tenn.-based company, has been using hemp to make leashes, beds, harness, toys, blankets and more. But co-owner Dave Colella recalls having to do a great deal of coaxing and explaining when the company first launched—a predicament he attributes to folks mistakenly lumping hemp in with marijuana. But as that confusion has cleared, and as people have become more aware of the earth-friendly, pet-friendly benefits of hemp, Colella says the tables have turned, and retailers have started seeking his company out in search of hemp products to sell.
Colella isn’t alone in his perception that a grassroots movement is going mainstream. Sam Hahn, managing director for Simply Fido, LLC, sees the same. The company, located in Brooklyn, N.Y., offers eco-friendly plush dog toys—and in 2013, it will expand to include eco-friendly rubber toys, dog bowls and other accessories. According to Hahn, natural and eco-friendly products play an important role in today’s marketplace.
“There is a definite shift in consumers’ purchasing decision-making,” Hahn says. “They’re more willing to consider natural products for their pets, although [activity] does fluctuate with the economy, as these products tend to cost more. But overall, there has been steady demand.”
Several factors are behind the surging popularity of these products. The biggest influence has been consumer concerns over health, safety and the environment, and the sense that natural and eco-friendly products provide a remedy to these issues. This mindset has trickled down to pets, with folks purposefully seeking out alternatives to more conventional pet products. It’s now common to see pet retailers incorporating natural and eco-friendly products in their inventories.
“And there are a lot more pet specialty stores opening up with a strong focus on natural and eco-friendly products,” Colella says. “Although some are greener than others, the intent is there, and this makes it a more welcoming environment [for manufacturers].”
Sourcing is still sometimes challenging for manufacturers such as Simply Fido. “Since we’re working with a limited supply of materials in most cases, raw material costs tend to be higher,” Hahn says. “Once we do have new or sustainable material, finding ways to use this is not always easy. [Also] finding good factories that can meet our requirements is also a big challenge.”
Even so, the situation is improving. “Since the volume of business has increased and eco-friendly products are more common now, it’s easy to communicate with factories about these types of products and there’s more interest in finding sourcing for these materials,” Hahn adds.
Keeping it Friendly
With more companies jumping on the natural and eco-friendly bandwagon, retailers have plenty of product options. Still, they do need to exercise caution—as with the stores themselves, some products are greener than others. In response, there is a movement afoot to tighten regulations and devise standardized definitions of what constitutes natural and eco-friendly for all types of products for pets and humans alike. Spencer Williams, president of West Paw Design, welcomes this higher level of accountability.
“The pressure for pet companies to stand behind their claims and become more transparent is a good thing,” says Williams, whose Bozeman, Mont.-based company manufactures eco-friendly toys, bedding and apparel for dogs and cats. “As long as manufacturers produce in an environmentally responsible and honest way, this will only further the cause we stand for.”
Greater transparency will make it easier for retailers to assess a product’s greenness, taking some of this burden off of their customers. Retailers will have to look at a number of factors. They can start by considering the material a product is made from. Is it sustainable, renewable, recyclable or designed using post-consumer recycled materials? Does it contain chemicals or other additives, fillers or ingredients considered potentially harmful, such as BPAs, heavy metals or phthalates?
Don’t just accept a manufacturer’s eco-friendly claim at face value; dig deeper, says Williams. For example, inquire about the company’s manufacturing processes, he suggests. “At West Paw Design, even our packaging is made from recycled content that is recyclable,” he says, adding that the company’s products comprise a minimum of 30-percent recycled content.
The onus is on retailers to educate themselves and to understand what makes a toy truly eco-friendly, says Lanette Fidrych, president of Cycle Dog-Earth Friendly Pet Company.
“The story varies from brand to brand,” says Fidrych, whose Portland, Ore.-based company produces earth-friendly dog collars, leashes, toys, bowls and pick-up solutions. “They will need to take the time to understand how the product is produced and why it’s good for the planet. Consumers will want to know how and why a product is green.”