May 24, 2016

Natural? Organic? Eco-Friendly?

Sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees – and nowhere is this more true than the forest of buzz words we’re seeing in the pet industry. "Made in USA," "Natural," "Organic" and "Eco-Friendly" are just some of the marketing terms that are being hyped and written about regarding pet products, especially food and grooming products. 

For all you buyers and sellers out there, we would like to give the meaning of all those terms that manufacturers use to confuse the consumer. “Natural” seems to be the most popular, and will be the focus of a number of pet publications, and has been for some time.  It's just one of many terms you need to thoroughly understand... whether as a consumer ("what am I really buying?") or as a retailer ("how do I explain this correctly to the customer?").

Eco-friendly (or “environmentally friendly”) – This term refers to guidelines and policies that are considered to inflict minimal or no damage to the environment. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has deemed this language useless in determining whether a product is truly "green". There is no certifying body, and no "official" emblem like the one on the right, often shown in attempts to obfuscate.

Natural- A natural substance is loosely defined as a chemical compound or substance produced by a living organism and found in nature. A natural product can be considered as such even if it can be prepared by total synthesis (i.e., “man-made”). The term “natural” is not yet regulated, and it's designed to conjure images of serene forested places, unsullied by civilization and pollution.

Organic – Organic product production and manufacture is a heavily regulated industry. Currently, the European Union, the United States, Canada, Japan and many other countries require producers to obtain special certification in order to market products as "organic". Organic products avoid most synthetic chemical inputs (e.g., fertilizer, pesticides, antibiotics, food additives, etc.), genetically modified organisms (GMOs), irradiation, and the use of sewage sludge. Manufacturers of organic products are subject to periodic on-site inspections at their facilities.

Locally Manufactured – Essentially means “manufactured in your neighborhood,” but is not defined nor regulated.  This is a “feel-good” term that companies can use to promote local sales.  Theoretically, what it really means in terms of “greenness” is that the “carbon footprint” of the product is lower because no fossil fuels were consumed in transporting products all over the US or, worse, from some distant country.

Green – Green marketing began in Europe in the early 1980s when certain products were found to be harmful to the earth's atmosphere. As a result, "green" products that would cause less damage to the environment began to appear on the market. The movement quickly caught on in the US and has been growing steadily ever since. The development of ecologically safer products, recyclable and biodegradable packaging, energy-efficient operations, and better pollution controls are all aspects of green marketing.  The key point to note here is that “green” is a relative term, meaning that “less” damage is done than the current method or product in the public market.  It does not mean that “NO” damage is done… nor is this term regulated.  The buyer should be aware of the current “greenwashing” trend in marketing. 

Holistic – treating the body as a whole system.  A symptom that manifests as an itch on the skin could actually be the result of something digestive, for example.  This is a treatment approach, not a label that should be placed on any product.

Homeopathic- Substances that produce symptoms of sickness in healthy animals can have a curative effect when given in very dilute quantities to sick animals who exhibit those same symptoms.  Both Homeopathic and Holistic approaches are “alternative medicine” styles of treatment.

Naturopathy (also known as “natural medicine”) – alternative veterinary practice that avoids antibiotics and routine shots, for example.

And here’s the rest of the story:

The “Natural Products” marketplace is huge and growing.  At all the trade shows where we exhibit, there are special sections dedicated to natural and organic products, and manufacturers who wish to attract buyers who hold “natural” and “organic” in high priority for their customers will exhibit in these spaces.  These areas are growing in importance at trade shows but still maintain a very small percentage of overall floor space at these shows.  We always exhibit in the Natural areas at shows because we specifically target buyers of natural products.  Natural and organic is what we do, and we do nothing else, so it’s very important to us as manufacturers that retailers are educated and informed about what “natural” means and what “organic” means and what “eco-friendly” means.  Often, both retailers and consumers confuse these terms.  They are quite different from each other.

Pet parents are asking for natural and organic products more and more.  They search for products online using these terms, and will either purchase online or seek a local retailer who offers natural products. Manufacturers know this and will do whatever it takes to increase their appeal to customers seeking "natural" goods.  Caveat emptor.

At DERMagic, we understand that conventional dermatitis treatments, including steroids, only temporarily relieve symptoms, while putting the pet at risk of harmful side effects. DERMagic products are formulated with only safe, natural and organic ingredients that act quickly to relieve itching, fight fungal and bacterial infections and promote rapid healing and regrowth of fur. DERMagic products are non-toxic, veterinarian-approved and made in the USA.