Feature in the June Issue of Pet Product News International’s NATURAL PET PRODUCT MERCHANDISER, Pet Industry Dialogue – A Natural Pledge with Susan Weiss of Ark Naturals.
Susan Weiss of Ark Naturals Products for Pets talks about her drive to produce all-natural health and wellness products.
by Marissa Heflin
Husband and wife team Susan and Jay Weiss founded Ark Naturals Products for Pets in 1996 as a way to answer the call for all-natural health and wellness products for companion animals. The launch, long before it was trendy to be “green” and “holistic,” according to Susan, was inspired when their standard poodle, Jordan, succumbed to cancer at 10 years of age. Jordan was raised with supermarket pet foods, low-quality treats and lots of shots and vaccines, Susan said. As they were already involved in the natural product business for humans, this experience opened their eyes to the benefits of natural pet health products, she said. Their Naples, Fla., company offers a full line of pet dental products, joint health and support supplements, probiotics, grooming aids, natural flea and tick alternatives, functional training products, wellness vitamins and antioxidants, and remedy products for eye, ear and digestive care for dogs and cats. Natural Pet Product Merchandiser spoke with Susan about the company’s role in the natural pet product market, how she has seen the industry grow, and her plans for the future.
NPPM: Ark Naturals pledges “to continue our efforts to not only produce the leading line of pet care nutraceuticals, but also to be aware that the pursuit of scientific data regarding preventive health care is a continuing process.” Can you elaborate?
SW: We used to believe that garlic in pet products would keep dogs and cats healthy. We know today that it can’t hurt the animals but it has no health benefit. We used to believe that pet foods with wheat and corn were OK. Today we know better. Science is ever-evolving.
NPPM: All of Ark Naturals’ products are “100 percent Made in the USA.” Why is this important to you? Is this something you find pet owners are seeking?
SW: When we started this business— up until the past five years or so—retailers and consumers did not give a rat’s a**. When I would point out that our products were “Made in the USA,” I was told that meant “more expensive.” No one wants or cares to spend more money. It was a very hard sell. From a historical time line, when we started Ark in 1996, part of our mission statement was to produce the finest-quality products for animals using top-quality U.S. Food and Drug Administration over-the-counter facilities and/or United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service facilities. As I said before, it was one giant yawn to retailers and consumers. Unfortunately, a lot of animals had to get sick and die for pet parents to care. [Weiss is referring to the mass pet food recalls that began in March 2007. Pet food manufacturers recalled more than 150 brands of dog and cat food nationwide after pets that ate the tainted food began experiencing health problems. Thousands of cats and dogs reportedly died as a result.] However, some of our competitors have found a way to beat the system. They buy chicken, meats and raw materials from China and have it shipped here. Per labeling laws—if the product is bagged, bottled and packed in the USA—they can claim the product is “Made in the USA.”
NPPM: How does Ark Naturals try to differentiate itself from its competitors?
SW: We consider ourselves the education company. I’m not afraid of answering hard questions, even if it is not beneficial to Ark Naturals. Additionally, when we get a call from a consumer about a pet that is taking a prescription and they want to know if they can use one of our products, we ask them to do nothing until we speak to our vet and get clarification. We’d rather not sell a product than make a mistake.
NPPM: How specifically does Ark Naturals educate consumers?
SW: Our first step is to educate retailers and distributor reps. Again, in 1996, this was an uphill battle. We were asking retailers to step outside their comfort zone, to add natural products to their shelves. We used everything that was available to us at the time—sales meetings, store visits—we had a training book that had so much information that the retailers were yawning before they got to page two. Today, among Facebook, Twitter, websites and retailers being sure of themselves, it is much easier. We also employ seminars and teleconferences, [distribute] samples and make personal appearances.
NPPM: Ark Naturals recently introduced Gray Muzzle, a company dedicated to keeping older dogs healthy. What was the motivation behind making natural products just for senior dogs? What would you like our readers to know about the company?
SW: Gray Muzzle was introduced about 15 months ago [in early 2013]. Because of all the wonderful humans in the pet community, and companies that have made it their mission to produce products with the most beneficial ingredients, dogs and cats are living way past the life expectancy chart. In some cases, it’s blown the charts away. That’s another example of being willing to pay attention to better scientific data and responding appropriately. So we now have this population of aging animals that are still able to be happy, play and bond with their humans [but have a number of health issues such as] joint problems and memory issues. Heart health [is another issue]. Our goal is to help humanshelp their animals maximize the next stage of their lives.
NPPM: Any other new products and/or upcoming launches you can tell us about?
SW: We’ll release new products in July at SuperZoo.
NPPM: Part of Ark Naturals’ mission statement is about being involved with charitable organizations that help animals. Can you share a couple of examples?
SW: We are major supporters of the Brody Project for Animal Assisted Therapy Inc., which benefits animal-related programs. We also stepped up and paid for life-saving heart surgery for Peanut, a 4-month-old Chihuahua mix dog that arrived at The Humane Society Naples. During his veterinary exam, it was discovered that the dog exhibited a loud heart murmur. [Upon further examination], the dog was determined to be at risk for heart failure or even a sudden death. However, balloon valvuloplasty was an option if the needed funds to pay for the procedure could be found. He underwent a very successful surgery and initial recovery, and volunteers and staff at The Humane Society Naples are helping to continue his care until he will be adopted.
NPPM: Where do you see yourself and/or Ark Naturals in 10 years?
SW: For me, Ark Naturals is the best work I’ve ever done. It was the hardest but the most rewarding. Being the first in anything is ridiculously hard to get consumers and retailers to buy into. And it’s always easier to copy an idea than to create something original. We pride ourselves on our originality, and our ability to hang in there when others think you are batty! I have a very Buddhist philosophy— I try very hard to live in the present. If you plan your life looking ahead, you miss the present.