US Pet Market Outlook, COVID edition, is better than expected

When market research firm Packaged Facts took the unusual step of issuing a June update to their 2020–2021 US Pet Market Outlook, they wanted to account for lowered expectations due to the pandemic’s effect on market forces. Their June update predicted a 17% decline in retail sales of pet products and services in 2020, as opposed to their prepandemic prediction of 5% growth.

Luckily, they got it wrong.

According to Packaged Facts market analyst David Lummis, the company compiled the June report just as sales and survey data from the early days of the pandemic were starting to come in. But it wasn’t until after they’d issued the update that the true state of the market was revealed. “The numbers were better than expected. In some ways, [the pandemic] has even benefited the industry,” Lummis told NEWStat.

That’s not true for all sectors of the industry. Lummis said some have been harder hit than others, and the nonmedical pet services sector is taking the brunt. Pet boarding, pet sitting, and pet-walking services in particular are suffering, primarily due to shelter-in-place orders: “People are at home and able to take care of those pet-care tasks themselves.”

But stay-at-home mandates have had the opposite effect on other sectors. Many people adopted new pets during the pandemic, so there has been a sales boom for higher-ticket pet durables such as habitats, carriers, and bedding as well as pet toys and accessories.

And as for people who were pet owners prepandemic, “they’re suddenly spending a lot more time with their pets and they’re saying, ‘We need more gear!’” Lummis said. “So they’re buying pet products for use at home, such as grooming products, training products, pet gates, and backyard throw toys.”

All the numbers they’ve seen since June, with the exception of nonmedical pet services, indicate that, so far this year, the pet market is doing at least as well as predicted prepandemic, and in some cases, better, according to Lummis.

He also notes that the original report released in May was complied in March with numbers that had just started coming in when everything began going downhill. That meant a lot of last-minute revisions.

Since the June update, he says, they’ve conducted additional pet owner surveys and received more up-to-date retail sales data, both of which account for the rosier picture. And, as hospitals already know, veterinary visits are way up, which was a happy surprise to just about everyone, including Packaged Facts. “We expected [veterinary care] to be harder hit earlier on because of social distancing and people delaying nonessential procedures,” Lummis said. Instead, “that market has continued to grow.”

The really good news? Analysts like Lummis predict a substantial rebound in all segments in 2021 thanks to the underlying strength of the pet industry.

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