As consumer demand for natural products increases, a growing number of companies are developing green pet-cleaning products to meet this need. For many, it is not just about riding a trend or satisfying consumer demand; it is also about filling a need in their own lives and the lives of their pets.
After synthetic cleaning products in Mike Leung’s home gave Rawl Rawl, his Bengal cat, an allergic reaction, Leung, co-owner of the Pasadena, Calif.-based company Sleepypod, introduced Little Germs Organics, a line of all-natural pet cleaning products, late last year. “Some of our customers brought [the need for more natural products] to our attention as well,” he says. “We wanted it to be safe for pets and infants because they’re all playing in the same area.” Working in a preschool previously gave Leung an understanding of how much time toddlers spend on the floor and how frequently their hands wind up in their mouths.
Little Germs Organics uses all-natural and organic ingredients down to the essential oils. The products are also pH-balanced, so they won’t leave a watermark on furniture or other surfaces. Consumers can purchase a five-piece travel kit for cats or dogs that includes two-ounce bottles of the all-purpose cleaner, stain and odor remover, shampoo and conditioner, and dog urine odor remover and cleaner, or litter-box odor remover and cleaner.
“Our idea is you put [the travel kit] into your pet carrier or your car,” says Leung. “You never know when an accident will happen, but pretty much anything that can happen with your pet or your child, our cleaners will take care of it.” Individual products are also available in 16- or 20-ounce bottles.
Tobi Skovron’s inspiration story is similar to Leung’s. “I was living in Melbourne, Australia, and basically, I bought a dog for my girlfriend at the time, and toileting was a huge issue,” he says. “I found that there was nothing to meet that need, so I started the Pet Loo out of a need for the dog, for myself, and for where I was living.” That was in 2003, and demand for these products has steadily increased in the past decade.
“Acceptance of the category that I created is starting to trend in a big way,” says Skovron, now brand director for Pet Loo, which was recently acquired by Radio Systems Corporation. In addition to Pet Loo’s artificial lawn potty platform and degradable poop bags, the company makes eco-friendly products including litter-box cleaners, odor eliminators, and a cleaning solution for small animals like rabbits, ferrets and guinea pigs.
Eco-friendly & Effective
A few years ago, choosing an eco-friendly cleaning product over a traditional product might mean sacrificing effectiveness. But as cleaning technology has advanced, that’s no longer the case.
Joe Zuccarello, national sales manager for Wentzville, Mo.-based Tropiclean, says the company’s products offer the same level of effectiveness as a traditional cleaning solution—without the harsh cleaning agents. Tropiclean offers cleaning products for a variety of surfaces including carpet, hard surface floors, upholstery, and crate and kennel.
“The big distinguishing factor is HabitBreaker technology that’s exclusive to Tropiclean’s Fresh Breeze line-up,” he explains. “It’s a new enzyme that at a microbial level destroys odor at the source.”
Dogs and cats have a much stronger sense of smell than humans and they’re more inclined to relieve themselves in an area where they’ve gone before. “[Other enzymes] can’t deter a pet from going [again],” he says. “But ours literally eats the organic material and goes dormant. The pet never realizes they’ve gone there before.”
Another potential downside of other enzymes, according to Zuccarello, is that they can turn into dust particles and work their way back into the air as an allergen.
Joe Provenzano, president of Mirada, Calif.-based Odor-No-More, Inc., agrees that natural products can remove stains and odors just as well as traditional products. “More and more consumers are buying natural products because over time they’ve been proven effective,” he says, “and we’re learning more about the undesirable side affects that some potent chemicals can have on our pets.” Under the Nature’s Best Solution brand, Odor-No-More offers non-toxic, eco-friendly cleaning products for pets and pet-owners including a litter box odor eliminator, litter box wipes, and stain and odor eliminator.
One tricky thing about green, eco-friendly or natural products is that there is little regulation of what these terms actually mean and how they can be used. Oftentimes, terms like “green” or “eco-friendly” are used loosely in consumer goods marketing, points out Provenzano. “We choose to take the high road by making no green claims for our current pet products. Instead we are consistent in our formulations to utilize environmentally friendly ingredients.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) sets standards for agricultural products that are labeled as organically produced, but cleaning products are mostly unregulated, although a few states do have standards on degradability labels for products like degradable poop bags. That lack of oversight may change going forward.
“[Green cleaning products are] so new that the USDA hasn’t really controlled this sector yet,” says Leung. “We do notice there are a lot of products out there that say they’re all natural, but then we look at the ingredients and say ‘that’s not natural!’”
If you’re unsure about a product’s natural or green claims, check the list of ingredients. Long chemical-sounding names can be a tip-off that a product isn’t so natural after all. “I would not encourage you to drink [our products], but if you were to consume them in any way, it wouldn’t hurt you,” Skovron says. “Those sorts of things are very important to me as a consumer.”
How do you know which products to carry in your store? And how can you effectively market those products? Try them at home before you try to sell them to customers. “Retailers should try the product themselves to see how well they perform,” Leung says. “When we were developing our products, we took really smelly objects, put them in mason jars and tested 20 different products. Our products work really well, and I think retailers should test them before they sell them so they can offer first-hand testimonials.”
Provenzano echoes this strategy. “Put them at the counter as an impulse buy or on free-standing displays and sell to your customers,” he says. “The sure way to increase sales is by selling. Not just stocking, but actual selling. If you tried the product and it performed well enough to offer it to your customers, encourage them to try it by sharing your experience.”
Once you choose a brand or brands that you can stand behind, Zuccarello recommends carrying the full assortment of products instead of stocking only one or two items. “Hard floor, carpet, upholstery, crate and kennel, these are things that are very important to the pet owners that they have a selection depending on what their greatest needs are,” he says. “Retailers who carry only one or two of these might be missing an opportunity [to sell].”