Was 2020 a dog’s dinner or the cat’s pyjamas for the pet care sector?

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04 January 2021
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Tony Raeburn, CEO of pet food manufacturer Pets Choice, which acquired Bob Martin, one of the UK’s oldest petcare brands, in 2019, takes a look back on a challenging 2020, and gives his predictions for what 2021 has in store for the pet sector…

Established in the 1890’s, Bob Martin has weathered its fair share of crises over the years; from the Great Depression to both World Wars. At its helm is Tony Raeburn, CEO of pet food manufacturer Pets Choice, which acquired Bob Martin, one of the UK’s oldest petcare brands, in 2019.

Tony reveals how the nation’s trend of buying Covid companion animals over lockdown has helped Bob Martin and Pets Choice’s other brands navigate a turbulent year. He looks back on a challenging 2020 and gives his predictions for what 2021 has in store for the sector…

“It’s certainly been a tale of two-halves for the petcare sector in 2020. On the one hand, the independent retailers have really struggled following the imposition of restrictions from the Government, but juxtaposed to this is the subsequent boom of pet ownership we’ve seen over lockdown; benefitting larger and online retailers.

“One in two households are now home to a furry, feathered, slimy or scaly friend. They’ve become even more intrinsically linked with family life over the pandemic. Our data has found a tenfold increase in demand for people looking to purchase a companion animal over lockdown, with online search volumes for dog and cat adoptions and purchases at an all-time high.”

A Turbulent 2020 for the sector?

“As a business, we’ve benefited from the growing demand for animals this year; we’ve hired new staff throughout the pandemic, avoided the need to furlough people, and our manufacturing sites have remained open. Our larger customers, such as the ‘Big Four’ supermarkets, have seen bumper sales - leveraging their adeptness at maneuvering business models, which has allowed them to thrive throughout the crisis.

“Local grocery retailers have benefitted from people working from home, but the same can’t be said for independent pet stores we support, who have really struggled with the restrictions. Just like these retailers, we will adapt like any other business to the new normal next year, but we’ve certainly fared better than most in 2020 and we’ve got really high hopes for 2021.”

What can the sector expect in 2021?

“We’ve seen a good deal of younger people enter the sector this year as they purchase pets to keep them company whilst working from home. As with other retail sector trends for Millennials, I anticipate a passion for wellness, pampering and luxury will also be reflected on their pets.

“Even though we might be facing uncertainty in the economy next year, as collateral damage from the pandemic continues to ripple on, pets will still need feeding, looking after and grooming - all key areas likely to prop up the sector. We’ll also want a bit of cheering up, so I think we’ll see consumers wanting to continue to treat themselves and their pets, whether that’s through snacks, accessories or treats.

“Market analysts are also pretty optimistic about the outlook domestically and globally too. Research from AMA is predicting “modest but continued steady growth” in the pet sector with an anticipated market value of £7bn in the UK.”

A difficult year for the independent retailers

“Although there has been a groundswell of goodwill from consumers moving away from larger retailers to buy local this year, independent retailers, and especially pet food stores, will need to learn from the “Big Four”; maneuvering and diversifying next year to keep afloat.

“Market research from Mintel will likely be welcomed by pet stores, as it showed half of respondents said “they would rather cut back spending money on themselves than on their pets”. As pets become part of the family like never before, the nation has wanted to pamper our pooches and spoil them; whether that’s through trends such as artisan natural food, stylish coats or unique accessories. Owners are increasingly mirroring trends and their own lifestyles on their pets, so expect to see new products in supermarkets mirrored to those found in pet aisles.

“Seasonal and novelty products catering to animals’ birthdays or Christmas presents will also likely continue to grow - retailers adapting to these trends will likely capitalise on the growing boom of pet ownership among their younger customers.”

A ground-swell of additional services

“A great deal of people have looked to establish dog walking businesses across the UK, in light of redundancies from the pandemic. Pet products and services like these are anticipated to grow by 25% by 2023, worth £1.7 billion to the economy in 2018 to over £2 billion by 2023.

“Services include pet health check-ups to ensure our pets are in the finest of fettle, dog walkers and pet-sitters. It is likely that pet-sitters and walkers will grow in demand as we all look for people to look after our pets when we head back to working from the office.

“New, innovative entrants to the market which best utilise tech will likely disrupt the sector next year, with businesses like Borrow My Doggy already proving popular as a result of the pandemic.”

Looking ahead

“I think the pet industry will stabilise next year after a tumultuous 2020. With responsible pet ownership growing, services will likely perform well, but as trends for premium products and food will grow, we anticipate further growth areas for Pets Choice and our brands.

“Retailers should consider stocking new and exciting products to cater to this, for example, exploring vitamin supplements for pets, vegetarian options for dogs or stocking natural treats. Pets Choice’s NPD, this year and next, fits perfectly into this growing market trend.

“Manufacturers and retailers will need to innovate, differentiate and adapt like never before to draw in this new boom of pet owners. But for those that do, 2020 could be the Cat’s Pyjamas for those that take advantage of Britain being a nation of pet lovers!”

For more information on Bob Martin, please visit www.bobmartin.co.uk