Recent events have had a significant impact on the import of products and materials, boosting consumer support for products sourced from the United States and its factory. Pet Age recently spoke with Jim and Melissa Schifman, co-founders of Project Hive Pet Company, along with Bob Sledzinski, Vice President of Seller Management at Choice Pet Products, to find out how pet product manufacturers and distributors view the American-made pet category.
Why did you choose to manufacture your products here in the United States?
Jim Schiffman:When we set out to start this business, we thought a lot about the kind of company we wanted to be. I figured we’d have to make our games overseas to be price competitive. At that point, my wife Melissa [a sustainability consultant and advocate], he told me, “If we plan to make products in China, then I don’t want to do anything with this company.” So I took it as a challenge. Can we make our products in the US? While researching it, I found that there can be all kinds of issues with overseas manufacturing of products: shipping, quality control, travel, etc. Fortunately, we have found some great manufacturing partners in the United States and can offer pet parents another option for dog toys made in the USA. In every aspect of our business, we intentionally determine what is best for people, pets, and our planet. The answer to this question provides a very clear path to why Made in the USA is so important.
How do you feel about the consumer’s perception of American-made products and do you think it is accurate?
Melissa Schiffman: The general perception of the consumer is that US-made products are preferable to those made outside the US. A recent study by the Reshoring Institute found that nearly 70 percent of respondents said they preferred American-made products—and just under half (46 percent) thought these products were of better quality than those made overseas. Whether it is real or perceived quality, we see this preference as coming from two primary values: (1) trustworthiness and (2) patriotism.
First, regulatory agencies such as the FDA, FTC, OSHA, and EPA provide consumers with peace of mind that products are made fairly with trustworthy ingredients, labels, and marketing claims. Conversely, dog parents remember frightening recalls of products made in China that contained harmful chemicals and toxins. Second, people are loyal to US-made brands because they know their purchases support local jobs and our national economy—a source of pride for many Americans.
Bob Sledzinski: Public perception of the consumer is good but not necessarily always accurate due to some deceptive practices by some manufacturers. They can legally classify products as “Made in the USA”, when in reality they may be “assembled” in the US using many or all of the ingredients sourced from other countries.
However, there are many products that are already manufactured in the USA and are transparent in their sourcing and production. Independent distributors such as Choice Pet Products, as well as our independent pet store partners, play a very important role in helping showcase these transparent brands by educating store employees and consumers about products that can meet their expectations.
Are the standards different for you because you’re promoting Project Hive as a “Made in the USA” brand?
Jim Schiffman:We feel that our products need to meet higher expectations. Our dealings, for example, meet the criteria for SQF Level II certification. SQF stands for Safe Quality Food, and independent third party verification ensures that food products are safe to consume. With our desserts, we’ve gone the extra mile. We have achieved Non-GMO Project Verification, a third-party certification program that verifies that all of our ingredients do not contain GMOs, which is vital to our mission to save bees.
Our toys comply with US regulatory standards as well as dog-tested standards for chewing durability. And they’ve passed the odor test: when you empty them out of their can, they won’t have that stink of plastic fumes!) They’re BPA-free and 100 percent recyclable. We’re working to help build the circular economy with our plan to restore, reshape, and transform our end-of-life games into new games. It’s not just about the quality of the materials; It is also about trusting that the people who made it are treated fairly, that they pay a living wage and are not taken advantage of. This is important for customers.
And while expectations may be higher, a recent Reshoring Institute study found that “more than 83 percent of Americans said they would pay up to 20 percent more for locally made products.” Although our prices are not the lowest, they are very high quality and more sustainable, so we are ok in a better/better position in the market.
What is the underappreciated benefit of a brand that manufactures its product in the United States?
Melissa Schiffman: Besides the benefits of American-made products being trustworthy and supporting our local economy, their impact on our environment is perhaps an underappreciated advantage. Due to our country’s basic infrastructure for sanitation and waste, and laws protecting clean air, clean water, conservation, etc., manufacturing in the United States is usually less harmful to the environment than products made abroad. American-made products are also preferred to reduce their impact on climate change. By definition, products that are manufactured and distributed in the United States have a lower carbon footprint because they do not need to be shipped across the ocean. Project Hive Pet Company remains aware of the effects of shipping our products nationally, which is why we are seeking climate neutral certification for our operations in 2021.
Are you finding that there is a growing interest from retailers in products made in the United States?
Bob Sledzinski:At Choice, we’ve found that our independent retail partners are constantly on the lookout for quality manufacturers with innovative, high-quality products, while remaining price conscious. Most of these retailers tend to gravitate toward products that are produced in the United States, Canada, and Europe due to manufacturing standards and safety practices. Choice remains dedicated to keeping pace with the demands of our retail partners’ needs, and appropriately source our offerings.
How do you think retailers can highlight the American-made products they carry in their stores?
Bob Sledzinski:Highlighting Made in the USA products can be as simple as displaying products in a store, or as complex as displaying features of the display, creating promotions and running ads. Choice works hard to provide our retail partners with the training and assets (such as social/digital graphics and print-ready signage) they need to showcase products to customers, and we believe one of the best ways to highlight a quality product is to have an informed conversation. Sharing the brand story with the customer goes a long way in demonstrating the quality of their products. In-store displays, signage, and digital assets are great ways to start the conversation about “Made in USA” products.
Jim Schiffman:We believe that the “Made in the USA” category is one of the cornerstones of more sustainable companies. At the same time, consumers view their purchases as an extension of their values - they want it to have an impact. To help pet parents, we think it would be great to have retailers have a designated aisle designated and labeled as “Made in the USA” products. This marketing strategy can benefit their customers by making it easier to find more sustainable products. It can also help raise awareness and educate pet parents about the multiple benefits of US made products. Consumers have a lot of choices in the market; Why not support those products that can help make a difference?