Pet Age: The State of the Pet Industry: Retailers Get Real

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By:Alexandra Wepner


As the saying goes, “change is good.”

From the way that pet owners view their animals to the information they expect to see on product labels, one might say we’ve entered a new era of pet ownership. And retailers do not consider that to be the only driving force behind the current state of the pet industry. In fact, the players in the pet market have been shifting significantly in a series of mergers and acquisitions since the beginning of last year.

In April 2018, the J.M. Smucker Company acquired Ainsworth Pet Nutrition and, with it, the Rachael Ray Nutrish brand. Less than a year before that, Ainsworth Pet Nutrition had acquired Triple T Foods, a family-owned, super-premium pet food co-manufacturer based in Kansas. In March, Petmate acquired GAMMA2, best known for its Vittles Vault range; Kent Pet Group acquired FibreCycle Pty Ltd to strengthen its hold on the litter category.

Also in April 2018, General Mills announced it had acquired Blue Buffalo Pet Products in an all-cash transaction that represents an enterprise value of approximately $8 billion. According to a press release from General Mills, Blue Buffalo will be incorporated into General Mills’ financial results beginning in fiscal 2019.

At the same time, the industry has seen its fair share of expansion and/or rebranding. To celebrate the company’s 25th anniversary, Ware Pet Products announced in April that it would be transitioning from the Ware Manufacturing brand, introducing a new logo and launching a new website, Ware Vice President of Product Development and Sourcing John Gerstenberger said the move aimed to “better reflect who we are and who we want to connect with: people that celebrate pets as a part of the family.”

Gregori Lukas, director of education at Lukas & Berube Healthy Pet Markets, feels a responsibility regarding keeping up with these changes. He co- owns his store in Montclair, New Jersey, with his business partner, Marc Berube.

“Things are changing every day, and formulations are changed every day, and that affects our animals,” he said. “It’s my job on the front lines to realize what’s going on behind the scenes because the consumers don’t always see it.”

And those are only examples involving brands. Distributors have been growing as well, one example being Animal Supply Company’srecent acquisition of Bark to Basics, a family-owned business that serves independent retailers, day cares, kennels, animal hospitals and groomers in six states. As recently as March of this year, Central Garden & Pet purchased General Pet Supply, a Midwestern U.S. distributor of pet food and supplies. The move gave the company what Central Garden & Pet CEO and President George Roeth called “unparalleled distribution capabilities in the pet industry.”

But perhaps no acquisition affected independent pet retailers as directly as the one that took place in April 2017. That month, PetSmart, Inc., announced it would acquire Chewy, Inc., a popular online pet retailer. In response, brands like Champion Petfoods and Fromm announced they would withdraw their products from Chewy’s virtual shelves to avoid competing with independent brick and mortar stores.

Of course, the pet industry is an ever-changing one, and always has been. In the face of each new development, retailers are left to figure out where the pet industry stands and where to go from there.

Competing with a Click

Lukas suggests that the brands a store owner chooses to  offer is key. He points out that his store’s specialized and often holistic nature has protected it from the biggest challenges posed by online retail. In addition, some of the smaller companies that produce the items stocked by Lukas & Berube Healthy Pet Markets are careful not to disadvantage their independent, specialty retail partners.