Editor's Note: This article was originally published on April 25, 2016. It was last edited on July 4, 2018 to refresh and update the content to keep it relevant.
Living in the United States means, to many people, freedom, fair wages (compared to many other countries), the right to fight for equality, and much more. It's no wonder that, when we go shopping, our three favorite words to see printed on any product are: "Made in USA."
For consumers, these three words represent high quality materials and manufacturing conditions. Additionally, many American consumers want to support our local economy by purchasing products made by companies who provide domestic jobs.
Even when our politics are a hot mess, the popularity of "made in USA" pet products continues to rise. No matter what their political stance, they want to provide the best for their pets - and that includes the high quality products that are associated with where they're manufactured.
As the popularity of American-made pet products rises and political turmoil continues, the question isn't whether this is what consumers want, but, rather, what it means to manufacture pet products in North America.
"Made in USA" Fraud
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), "Made in USA” means that “all or virtually all” the product has been made in America. That is, all significant parts, processing and labor that go into the product must be of U.S. origin. Seems clear enough, right?
Wrong - well, at least according to manufacturers who try to pass off their products as American-made. Suppliers trying to sell to the United States know the power in those three words, so it makes sense that we are seeing large quantities of potential fraud occur around the country.
In fact, two large brands were recently accused for making false claims about being made in the USA. On February 1st of 2016, a woman in Illinois filed a claim against Nestle and Wellpet for incorrectly marketing their products as being made in the U.S. when, in fact, many of their ingredients are sourced from outside of the United States.
The woman making the claim states that the" labeling prompted her to believe the dog foods and their component ingredients were all made in and sourced in the U.S., causing her to willingly pay more for the food than she believes she should have in an effort to provide her dog with allegedly safer food."
Why the "Made in USA" Claim?
As you can see, simply stating your product is made in the United States can cause problems for your reputation, especially if you're not being transparent about how much of it is locally sourced and manufactured. So, why go through all of the trouble?
Think about the last time you bought a product, any product, and looked at the label stating where it was made. For many consumers, seeing "Made in USA" boosts the idea of safety, therefore encouraging them to potentially spend more, as we saw in the above case study. Many are aware of the many high standards the government puts in place for domestic manufacturers which ensures fair wage, safe work environments, and lots of product testing.
Although pet products made in America may have a reputation for being high-quality and safe, this isn't always the case.Pet Product News published an in-depth article where Matt Koss, founder of Primal Pet Foods, says:
“The USA has extremely high standards for food safety when it comes to edible-grade food ingredients...However, the mere fact that ingredients are sourced in the USA does not give the consumer or their pets complete protection or certainty that ingredients or products are completely safe and wholesome."
As pet owners pay more attention to what their pets are eating, they are also looking at where the food is coming from. Although the "Made in America" sticker may be driving sales now, any hint of false advertising will end up hurting a brand's reputation more than the initial sales are worth.
Making "Made in America" a Part of Your Strategy
Whether you're a pet product manufacturer or a pet specialty retailer, you might be considering a new business strategy surrounding this claim. As you're doing so, there are a few things you should keep in mind as you dive into your strategy session.
1) Consider Your Target Market
The first thing, above everything else, is to consider your target audience. Ask yourself:
- Who are my customers?
- What motivates them to buy?
- What do they purchase for themselves (i.e. do they buy American-made furniture?)?
If your target market doesn't care about whether your product was made in Italy, China, or the United States, they're not likely to pay a premium just for that reason. Instead, if you're keen on manufacturing your products in America, consider what else is important to them, whether it's price, quality, or the look and feel. Make that messaging more prominent than the American-made claims.
2) Craft Your Messaging Around Their motivations
Rather than focusing on the features of the product, focus your messaging on the benefits of it. For example, instead of simply saying, "This product was made in America," paint a picture of what that means for both your customer and their peers:
- Supporting the local economy
- High-quality materials
- Responsibly and sustainably produced
- High manufacturing standards
Don't just list it out - use acute language and tell a story around the major benefits of whichever point means the most to your brand. As you craft your messaging, focus on making customers feel good about buying American-made products rather than making them feel guilty for not doing so.
3) Use Timeliness to Your Advantage
Independence Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day; these are just a few of the most patriotic days of the year. If you're not taking advantage of these holidays by hosting events, being present on social media, or running promotions, then you're missing out on a huge opportunity.
There's a reason why stores fill up with red, white, and blue in the summertime - it works. During this time of year, get creative with your marketing and create a conversation with your customers about what it means to be "made in America."