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June 15, 2021

Pet spending up despite delays, disruptions

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Pet owners are spending more on pet products, but shipping difficulties that started with the pandemic may endure into 2022.

Officials with the American Pet Products Association and the Pet Industry Distributors Association jointly reported March 24 that Americans spent more on pets and pet products in 2020 than they did in 2019, including a 7.2% rise in spending on veterinary care and veterinary product sales, to about $31 billion. The report also indicated people spent about 9.7% more on pet food and treats, coming in at $42 billion, and 15.1% more on a combined category of pet supplies, over-the-counter drugs, and live animals, which totaled $22.1 billion.

While $8.1 billion was spent on other services such as grooming, dog walking, and boarding, according to the APPA, this was a 21.4% decline from the previous year. As quarantines are lifted and consumers venture out, the use of these services is expected to rise, the APPA projects. In all, sales of pet products and services in the United States reached $103.6 billion in 2020, the highest level in industry history.

Owners with their dogs shopping for food bowls in a pet store

From a retail perspective, every channel showed an increase, especially e-commerce, which is consistent with the following consumer shopping trends overall:

  • Total retail sales increased by 6.7% from 2019 to 2020.
  • Forty-seven percent of pet owners reported they increased the number of times they purchased online.
  • Pet specialty and independent retailers experienced solid growth.
  • Thirty percent of pet owners spent more on pets and pet supplies, with only 10% saying they spent less.

But pet product companies and distributors also noted that shortages in ground transportation equipment and space on container ships, along with delays from jammed ports on the West Coast, caused ongoing transportation difficulties. Companies also reported having higher shipping costs, according to the report.

Steve King, CEO of the APPA, said the rising consumer spending is directly related to an increase in pet ownership during the pandemic, and so is the forecast for ongoing growth.

“We’ll continue to see increases in demand that exceed historical averages,” he said.

The delays in pet products result from a mix of factors, King said. People who would have spent money on travel, concerts, and other entertainment turned to shopping, he said, and manufacturers and shipping companies are seeing global increases in demand.

Importers of products from China and other countries in Southeast Asia are dealing with traffic jams of container ships at ports and, once the products are on shore, shortages of shipping containers and truck chassis, King said. Domestic manufacturers are dealing with a labor shortage, and King said he has heard of shortages of certain components such as pork meal and corrugated cardboard. He urges patience among retailers.

Authorities for the Port of Los Angeles reported the first quarter of 2021 was the port’s busiest in its 114-year history, and authorities from the Port of Long Beach reported the quarter was its second busiest on record. Authorities from both California ports, the two historically busiest in the country, reported March was their busiest month on record.

An announcement from the Port of Los Angeles indicates cargo volume also doubled in March from one year earlier, when global trade slowed early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Los Angeles port’s executive director, Gene Seroka, said in an announcement that, as Americans get vaccinated and businesses reopen, “consumers continue to purchase goods at a dizzying pace.”

Demand for pet food rose and remained higher during the pandemic, a Hill’s Pet Nutrition official confirmed in a statement provided to JAVMA News. The company says it’s working to replenish any products when supplies become low or run out, and the statement encourages pet owners to talk with veterinarians about alternatives if they have trouble locating certain pet foods.