US pet industry reset: Pet spending during COVID-19

Learn about the continued strength of the pet industry, as categories unexpectedly grew in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The pet industry grew in 2020, in spite of the many economic challenges COVID-19 brought to pet owners and businesses alike. | (frender | iStock.com)
The pet industry grew in 2020, in spite of the many economic challenges COVID-19 brought to pet owners and businesses alike. | (frender | iStock.com)

Editor’s note: This article is the second of a three-part series on the pet industry reset in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The first article focused on physical vs. digital channel shopping trends. The third article, coming out in the June 2021 issue, will address pet acquisition and adoption.

Both because of and despite the COVID-19 pandemic, as reported in Packaged Facts’ “U.S. Pet Market Outlook 2021-2022” (March 2021), consumer spending on pet care increased in 2020 across all four pet industry product and service sectors. For pet care overall, a higher percentage of pet owners reported spending more on their pets in 2020 as opposed to less, with 35% of pet owners overall increasing spending and just 7% decreasing spending. The gap was widest for pet food, at 29% increasing vs. 5% decreasing (see Table 1), and impressive as well for non-food pet supplies (22% vs. 8%) and veterinary services (25% vs. 10%). Even non-medical pet services, hard hit by the travel bust and at-home sheltering, saw slightly more pet owners reporting a spending increase (14%) rather than decrease (11%). 

The endurance of the pet industry

Dollar-wise, therefore, the overall impact of COVID-19 on the pet industry in 2020 looked nothing like what seemed unavoidable during the early months of the pandemic, when the national shutdown, economic stress and housing insecurity, and Americans staying at and working from home suggested a tightening of purse strings for all-but-essential pet care spending. 

Instead, 2020 turned out to be a banner year, with overall revenue growth of 9%, well above the pre-pandemic expectation of approximately 5% and the 2014–2019 compound annual growth rate of 5.4%. Total pet industry sales for products and services reached US$107 billion. Pet food and treat sales jumped 15% to reach US$44.4 billion. For “COVID 2020,” this figure equates to average pet food spending of US$604 per pet household.

The pet industry has long had a reputation for being recession-resistant, a key factor to its popularity among investors. But 2020 took things to another level, with an immoderate unleashing of pet love extending across pets of various types and anchoring a trend to multiple-pet ownership by types of pets and/or number of pets.

Factors in 2020 pet industry success

The pet industry performance in 2020 ties to a number of factors, including the addition of millions of pets in suddenly more home-centered households; the heightened focus on health and wellness among pet owners in closer contact with their pets and even more reliant on them for comfort and companionship; the established e-commerce platform; and the extraordinary adaptability of consumers, marketers, retailers and service providers. These adaptions included expanded curbside pick-up options by brick-and-mortar retailers, a new focus on same-day delivery from retailers and e-tailers, curbside “concierge” services from veterinary clinics and direct-from-manufacturer shopping and shipping.

For the 2021 pet market outlook, with a pet acquisition surge continuing throughout 2020 and with COVID-19 vaccines now rolling out faster than expected, the pet industry is entitled to not just a sigh of relief, but robust optimism about what the future holds.

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