It’s easy to feel like the COVID-19 pandemic is giving all of us whiplash, both with regards to the industry we work in and in our personal lives. And while I’m sure there’s a level of mental exhaustion everyone is beginning to feel when yet another headline referencing the novel coronavirus hits your inbox (believe me, we’re feeling it on this side of the screen, too), in such uncertain times it’s vital to try to keep up with the daily twists and turns of this event that has so thoroughly affected the globe on an economic level.
My colleagues and I have extensively discussed the initial bumps various pet food entities received in sales as U.S. consumers stocked up in the wake of growing COVID-19 concerns and the resulting restrictions in each state. According to small-business-focused software company Womply, on March 13, 2020 Colorado pet stores saw sales jump 156% over the same time in 2019 — the same day the state announced its first COVID-19 death. New York, one of the most significantly hit states, has had multiple spikes in purchasing as conditions continue to deteriorate: there were some early spikes (162.2% growth on February 20 over the same time in 2019) in addition to the more predictable but still incredible 195.1% increase a month later on March 20 just before the statewide stay-at-home order went into effect.
As might be expected, however, such a stockpile means that in April sales are settling back down. Again, according to Womply, California is a strong example of this. In mid-March pet stores saw near-100% spikes in sales over the same period in 2019 as schools across the state canceled classes, restrictions against mass gatherings went into effect and a shelter-in-place policy kicked in. Immediately afterwards, sales dropped sharply — March 23, for example, saw pet sales 15.4% below the same time in 2019 and they remained lower through the beginning of April.
It’s likely that pet food companies will continue to see spiky revenue patterns alongside their retail partners for a while yet, as people stockpile with every increasingly restrictive directive from local, state and federal governments. The primary challenges facing the industry right now are stability of supply lines, manufacturing changes to react to restocking needs of retailers and the oncoming near-inevitable recession (which, according to some experts, we are already beginning to experience).
When exactly things will settle down is hard to tell. More people shifting to regular online purchases will likely play a key role, particularly if consumers take advantage of subscription options (which will naturally regulate purchases). Eventually, we will reach our new normal, but it’s clear now as we get a good look at the beginning of the second quarter of 2020 that whatever “new normal” will be remains to be seen.
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