2021 was another growth year for the pet food industry, and in spite of global challenges presented by an ongoing pandemic, money continued to flow into the industry and spur growth (see Table 1). Two significant ways companies benefitted from that can be found in the robust M&A activity throughout the industry, as well as production investments by companies to increase their capacity and ability to meet demand.
M&A growth: Whitebridge Pet Brands and Partner in Pet Food
Whitebridge Pet Brands saw the most growth out of all our top pet food companies in 2021, recording 172.7% growth over 2020 numbers according to Petfood Industry Top Companies data. Whitebridge itself was formed in January 2015 from the merging of Cloud Star, a pet treat manufacturer, and Petropics, maker of the Tiki brand of pet foods. In 2017 the company acquired Arthur Dogswell, which produced jerky treats, and in 2020 it acquired Cardinal Pet Care, maker of Pet Botanics and Crazy Dog training treats. Whitebridge continued its growth and expansion in the pet food space in 2021, adding Grizzly Pet Products, a pet supplements company, to its list of acquisitions in March.
With all this activity, it’s no surprise that private equity investors took notice — in August 2021, Belgium-based investment firm NXMH acquired Whitebridge from Chicago, Illinois, USA-based private equity firm Frontenac, which had held Whitebridge as a portfolio company to that point.
“The new combined scale and footprint will allow us to continue to build our platform and accelerate our development, with more innovation, geographic expansion and new acquisitions,” said Olivier Amice, CEO of Whitebridge, in a press release announcing NXMH’s acquisition.
Whitebridge currently has eight pet product brands covering food, treats, vitamins and supplements, and considering Whitebridge merged with Agras Pet Foods in April 2022 (both companies are now wholly owned by NXMH, and Amice will take over as CEO of the combined business), it’s safe to say that business will continue to grow.
Hungary-based Partner in Pet Food, which grew by 58.1% from 2020 to 2021 according to Petfood Industry Top Companies numbers, has also leaned on acquisitions to help expand its business. In just two years (2020 and 2021), the company acquired Swedish pet food manufacturer Doggy, Italy-based Landini Giutini Pet Food and Polish pet food maker Mispol.
Partner in Pet Food’s goals in these acquisitions are to expand its international reach as well as grow its product offerings, a strategy that appears to be successful so far: The company supplies wet and dry dog and cat food to more than 600 customers in Europe, including traditional retailers, discounters, specialty pet retailers and ecommerce sites.
“[Our vision is] to be the most successful European pet food company in terms of growth, profit and employee experience,” Partner in Pet Food says on its website.
Investing in production growth: Lider Pet Food and Kormotech
Lider Pet Food is headquartered in Turkey and saw 69% year-over-year growth from 2020 to 2021, according to Petfood Industry Top Companies data. The investments have come from within: In the past five years Lider has increased its production capacity by double digits (to 220,000 tons), and in 2021 the company expanded with a second factory. The company now boasts a five-line production facility; 400 different pet food, treat and cat litter products under 13 brand names; and exports to more than 60 countries.
Lider is also keen on diversifying its product options for pet owners. The brands cover the spectrum from economy to superpremium, and there are both wet and dry food options for dogs and cats. The company’s cat litter investment has also continued to expand, with Lider beginning production as Lider Pet Bentonite in August 2021 with a cat litter facility capable of producing 50,000 tons of litter per year.
Ukrainian pet food manufacturer Kormotech is currently succeeding through adversity as Russia continues its invasion of Ukraine, determined to continue a pattern of growth that saw a year-over-year increase of 43.2% from 2020 to 2021, according to Petfood Industry Top Companies data. That number can be attributed to expansion: In 2020 the company opened a new wet pet food plant in Lithuania expected to boast an annual production capacity of 20,000 tons. Kormotech also penned agreements with partners in 10 new countries — Norway, Denmark, Spain, Italy, Malta, Armenia, Bahrain, Jordan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia — to expand its exports to 37 countries.
Now, of course, Kormotech’s priorities have multiplied. The company shut its Ukrainian factories down for two weeks at the beginning of the Russian invasion in February 2022, continuing to pay its workers and even helping some of them relocate away from the worst of the battles in the eastern part of the country. Kormotech launched the (ongoing as of June 2022) Save Pets of Ukraine initiative, hoping to ease the burden of pet owners, zoo volunteers and shelters trying to take care of their animals in the midst of a war. Things have been difficult, but not impossible.
“However, since [the start of the invasion] the situation has become more stable, and all our Ukrainian plants now work 24/7,” said CEO and Co-owner Rostyslav Vovk in April 2022. “The domestic demand for pet food has also rebounded, and we’re nearing our pre-war sales level of about 1,200 tons of wet and dry pet food per week. “We had a turnover of about US$110 million [in 2021] and, depending on the situation in the coming months, we will at least repeat this result, or even exceed it.”
Pet food M&A off to fast start in 2022