The Global Pet Expo, billed as the world’s largest annual pet products trade show, recently convened in sunny Orlando, Fla. The show, equal parts innovation and salesmanship, is a good barometer for those of us who track trends in the companion animal world. The show is sponsored by the American Pet Products Association, which claims that the nation’s spending on pets is holding steady at $43 billion—“robust and resilient despite recession and cuts in discretionary spending …” That should provide comfort to everyone seeking the next new fetch toy or savory treat.
After two days of walking the show floor, I have some observations. I can’t vouch for the effectiveness, safety or value of any of these products—they all look and sound great in the 3-minute demos. A more rigorous evaluation will have to wait until Bark testers receive their samples.
Pet Locators: Statistics show that one in three dogs will be lost during his or her lifetime, and for those of us traumatized by such an occurrence, there are a host of gadgets dedicated to helping us find them. From services that require registration and custom ID tags to GPS tracking devices, there’s an abundance of choice. A new entry is Contech’s PetCompass, a hand-held electronic locator that detects radio signals emitted by a beacon attached to your dog’s collar. It purports to work up to one-half mile, relying on the fact that most lost pets are found within that radius.
Grooming: Some of the best products fall under the “a-ha” category—simple inventions that make an annoying task a little simpler or combine two tools into one. Bissell’s new Pet Grooming Vacuum Attachment adds a standard shedding blade to an attachment and voilà! Unwanted dog hair is collected as you brush and before it hits the floor! Plus, it fits any standard vacuum, not just Bissell models. I was also introduced to something called a Drool Cleaner—an all-in-one cleaner/brush/squeegee made use with, well, drooly dogs.
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Treats: The great selection of natural and organic treats continues to grow—free-range chicken strips, venison jerky from New Zealand, gluten-free snacks and wheat-grass-infused treats from California’s Bell Rock Growers, who have trademarked something called “The Power of Green Nutrition.” Bell Rock’s brochure is convincing, and since they’re the makers of the pet industry’s only complete wheat-grass treat products, I’m willing to give them a try. They also offer a handy grow-your own pouch.
Toys: So many toys, so little time … an earnest young entrepreneurial duo caught my attention, makers of a fetch toy named the Wigzi. This wiener-shaped red toy claims to be free of chemical smell and taste, non-toxic and earth-friendly. CEO Nathan Chefetz invented the Wigzi for his Pug, who desired an odorless chomp. Chefetz and his partner, a former co-worker from NASA, ran the aroma test on me, handing over a competitor’s popular fetch toy, which smelled like an aging tire, and their Wigzi, which had no smell whatsoever. Like many upstarts at the show, they identified a niche—a toy free of chemical odor and taste—and are striving to fill it.
Alternative Therapies: Pheromone-emitting devices are increasingly popular solutions to certain behavioral problems brought on by anxiety—among them, barking and urinating. These products mimic the naturally produced pheromone that canine mothers produce to calm their puppies. A number of products dispense the pheromones via electrical plug-in diffusers, but Sergeant’s has brought them closer with their SentryHC Good Behavior Pheromone Collar for Dogs, an over-the-counter product that purports to be a natural solution effective for up to 30 days. The embracing of alternative therapies by corporate America signals that interest in natural wellness is here to stay.
Automobiles: Cars remain a big-ticket purchase, and a handful of automakers are recognizing the needs and wants of people with dogs. Toyota introduced its new Venza, a sleek sport sedan tricked out in custom-designed dog accessories (among them, seat covers and restraints) from Kurgo. Subaru’s Forester offered similar canine accessories made by Bergan. The design and materials are upgrades over similar efforts made by other automakers in recent years. This is further evidence that the dog-owner demographic is affecting sales and, quite possibly, design.
And the big trend? Natural certification—the certification wars have begun! “USDA Organic,” “Certified Organic,” “Approved by Co-Op America,” “Oeko-Tex® Certified”—each stamp of approval carries a different validation and has a different meaning. As a green consumer, be prepared to research a glossary of terms and seals. Everyone wants a piece of the green pie, and the (educated) buyer wins.