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What if two square feet of floor space brought in a bunch of new and repeat customers? That’s what 100s of independent pet retailers experienced with a ‘return to retail’ packaging recycling pilot project.

More pet owners are turning to online shopping for their pet needs, yet most still want a connection with a local independent pet store. While it is a good idea to take the leap to online sales, in-store retailers can develop and retain compelling reasons for customers to keep coming back in-store. The “Flex Forward” in-store pet food flexible packaging collections “return to retail” pilot program did just that – brining in 10,000s of unique store visits.

In-store pet-food flexible-packaging recycling is one way to bring in repeat and new customers.

Testing In-store Pet Food Packaging Recycling

Pet product customers are looking for brands, products and retailers that reflect their values towards sustainability, particularly with respect to product ingredients and packaging. The flexible packaging commonly used for pet food and treats has no established pathway or system to get recycled.

The Flex Forward pilot recycling program tests a ‘return to retail’ collections model, to see how to implement in-store pet-food and pet-treat packaging recycling. The used packaging is collected at in-store ‘take-back’ collection boxes provided by pet food wholesale distributor Pet Food Experts, in partnership with Earth Animal and the Pet Sustainability Coalition. A surprising benefit of the pilot program – increased unique store visits by customers.


The Flex Forward pilot is an in-store pet-food and pet-treat flexible-packaging recycling test. No other packaging-types or sources are accepted.

“Flex Forward explores the challenges with in-store recycling of pet food and treat bags – testing a solution that our guests can feel good about.” – Patti Cofano, Marketing Manager at Pet Pros. 

Over 120 independent retailers in the Pacific Northwest are getting customers in their doors by offering this unique in-store-only pet food package recycling experience.


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In-store Packaging Recycling May Make Good Business Sense

Pet store managers at Pet Pros locations in the Pacific Northwest noted that providing a recycling resource for pet food bags in-store makes good business sense. “New people who come through the door who have never been here before have now become new HAPPY customers because we are making a difference and creating change,” says Nicole Gruendl, Manager at Pet Pros Lake Stevens, WA location.

“It brings regulars back into the store, and new comers who hear about the program. Once they step foot in the store, they look around and shop,” says Paige Coburn at Pet Pros in Mill Creek, WA.

“It makes good business sense because it gives our guests another reason to visit and it also brings new customers into our stores,” echoes Patti Cofano, also of Pet Pros.

“Recycling resonates with the PNW crowd, so if you as a store are doing in-store recycling of pet food bags, it has power to make your store look good. It’s a free way to get some attention on social media and convinced new customers to check us out. Promoting it in store gets our customers to return.” – Green Dog Pet Supply, Portland, OR.


Telling the Story to Attract Customers

An effective strategy to attract customers is through effective storytelling, most commonly through social media. “With this, you can appeal to the emotional side of your customers and tap into that human connection,” notes Stacy Wood of Pet Food Experts.

Telling the story about in-store ‘return to retail’ recycling program helps appeal to retail customers’ emotional side.

We have people coming in because they heard about the pilot program online and through the FB groups.  We talk to customers on a daily basis and hear how excited they are about the pilot program.  Being LOCAL and taking part in such a great program made them a proud customer. – Nicole Gruendl, Pet Pros Lake Stevens

The Flex Forward program has a ready-made media kit for retailers to easily implement storytelling about why they have in-store pet food package recycling. Says Paige Coburn at Pet Pros in MillCreek, WA: “It creates a domino effect, … customers share the news with friends, family and neighbors.”

See how Pet Pros tells their in-store recycling story HERE.

Creating In-Store Opportunities to Engage with Customers

Naturally, customers have questions about the in-store packaging recycling. This is a great opportunity for the sales team to engage with customers. “Where do the bags go from here?” is the main question, says Nicole Gruendl.

Customers put their bags into a 2×2 collection box in the store. The bags are then collected by pet food wholesale supplier Pet Food Experts’ distribution team, and routed to a facility for testing. The test results will determine what kinds of materials and products the recycled content can be made into. Ideally, they will be formulated into materials to create new pet products, which are donated to animal shelters and rescues. Now that’s a story!

“Once we explain that they are to be turned into pet products and given to shelter animals, they become even more interested in participating,” says Paige Coburn.


Next Steps To Flex Forward

As of this writing, over 5,000 lbs of flexible pet-food and pet-treat packaging have been recycled. An empty pet food bag weighs an average of 4 ounces. That’s over 20,000 visits to independent pet stores in the Pacific Northwest alone.

The collected bags are heading to a testing facility to determine the relative quality of the recovered materials. Next steps will be to determine what types of materials and products can use this recycled material.

In-store recycling of flexible pet food packaging creates a competitive reason for people to visit ‘brick and mortar’ pet retailers. The Flex Forward pilot provides easy implementation and marketing tools for retailers to tell the story and engage with customers, while helping the pet industry determine opportunities for recovery, recycling and ‘closing the loop’ on pet food packaging.

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