If the U.S. pet industry were a country, its US$100 billion in 2020 sales would make it the 65th largest economy in the world, said Michael Johnson, CEO of Finn Cady, during a Petfood Forum 2021 presentation on September 23 in Kansas City, Missouri, USA.
Johnson’s presentation and main message were about the need for pet food companies to adapt to the current consumer landscape by focusing on what makes them unique and finding the right consumers whose needs their brands can best meet. (He likened it to dating: “The right brands and right consumers are made for each other.”) Yet his description of the landscape brought home just how much the pet industry – the entire world – has weathered over the past 18 months and just how resilient the industry has been.
Other data points shared by Johnson that highlight pet food and pet care’s ongoing strength included that 80 million households in the U.S. now own pets – two-thirds of the country’s total – and that the industry’s $100 billion size places it above the economies of 13 states. Pet food specifically is among the top five consumer product goods categories in the U.S., according to IRI.
Johnson also talked about the considerable headwinds that consumers, businesses and economies have faced, and are still facing, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. And yet, the pet industry has experienced year-over-year growth for more than 30 years, despite recessions, pandemics and other challenges. If that’s not resilience, I don’t know what is!
As Petfood Forum continued through the rest of September 23 and 24, I kept thinking of the data from Johnson’s presentation and how the conference mirrored it in several ways – chiefly, that despite continuing challenges wrought by the pandemic, we had a very healthy turnout for Petfood Forum (though, sadly, missing many industry members from outside North America) and everyone seemed so pleased to be there.
At the beginning of May 2019, as Petfood Forum was concluding for that year, no one could have imagined that it would be last in-person edition of the conference for two-and-a-half years. Even a year ago, as we organizers were faced with holding Petfood Forum as an online-only event for the first time in its 25-plus-year history, we anticipated being back in person in Kansas City in late April 2021.
But COVID had other ideas, and we had to reschedule again for September. As the delta variant caused infections and illness to rise over the summer, we worried about the effect on the industry and people’s ability and willingness to travel. Yet we decided to go through with holding Petfood Forum 2021 in person, as safely as possible. The main thing that convinced us? We kept hearing from so many people in the industry that they couldn’t wait to meet (masked) face to (masked) face again and were so looking forward to the event!
Thus, the successful execution of Petfood Forum 2021 felt like a milestone, not only for our company but also for the industry overall. It would be difficult to choose just one word to describe what people at Petfood Forum seemed to be feeling, but several come to mind: joy, relief, hope – the latter represented both figuratively in the form of students presenting their pet food research, paving the way for the future, and also literally as a photo wall by the Veterinary Hope Foundation. (And, of course, by puppies, always.)
Now, bring on Petfood Forum 2022! Just seven months away, May 2-4.