With humanization and premiumization now par for the course in the U.S. pet market, pet industry participants are thinking outside the box, with more and more of the avenues forged by e-commerce and IT, according to Packaged Facts’ report U.S. Pet Market Outlook, 2019-2020.
Across all categories, products and services alike, e-commerce is challenging market norms, and IT is transforming more broadly the ways in which pet owners interact with their pets, product makers and sellers, and petcare professionals, both facilitating petcare tasks and increasing pet owner involvement. At the same time, as Amazon continues its pet market march, brick-and-mortar-based retailers are realigning as omnichannel operators, pet specialty retailers are emphasizing smaller store formats and services including veterinary, and marketers and retailers are teaming up with or acquiring IT-based product makers and service providers. On the R&D front, new products are incorporating service functions such as automatic feeding and litter scooping, the ability to alert pet owners to pet behavior and product replenishment needs, automatic reordering via Bluetooth/Internet, and features that allow pet owners to communicate with their pets and vice versa. Among the hottest trends are wearable pet monitoring devices that let pet owners track their pets’ vitals and interact with petcare service providers, and Uber-like, smartphone-app-based services, which are taking by storm pet sitting/dog walking and pet boarding and transforming the veterinary services business.
A healthy sign for any business is ongoing investment, and from this perspective the U.S. pet industry is on solid ground as it continues to attract new participants and major players build out even further. In the past few years, the market has seen upwards of $25 billion in investment outlays, including Sentinel Capital Partners’ acquisition of Pet Supplies Plus; J.M. Smucker’s $1.9 billion acquisition of Ainsworth Pet Nutrition; General Mills’ $8 billion purchase of Blue Buffalo; PetSmart’s $3.35 billion purchase of Chewy.com; and Mars’ $9.1 billion purchase of U.S. veterinary hospital operator VCA. For many years, the pet industry has been rife with mergers, acquisitions, and venture capitalist investment, but activity at the current fiduciary level is unprecedented, as well as a sign that the industry has entered a new growth stage. A familiar component is the big getting bigger. But the activity also underscores a number of other trends that will reshape the business for years to come, including human food makers shoring up their business with pet food, the e-commerce surge, and high-level market players branching out into additional pet-health-focused areas of the business, including veterinary. Despite headwinds including downward pricing pressure stemming from the mass premiumization of pet food and the rising cost of veterinary care, all of this adds up to good ongoing prospects for the pet market as a whole, lifting sales above the $100 billion mark during 2021.
-- by David Lummis and Shannon Brown, pet industry consultants