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National, Local Pet Industry a Steady Growing Market

Even through the recession, pet spending has increased each year for the past two decades

Posted: June 21, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: June 21, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Pet Supply Santa Clarita owner, Chris Hoeflich, helps customers Marcia and Jerry Harvey of Valencia as they decide on a nutritional science diet product for their dog Wolfie, who suffers from digestive problems.

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As retail spending plummeted in 2009 and the country suffered as a whole, the multibillion dollar pet industry grew year by year, according to industry experts.

Since the early 90s, total expenditures have increased by about a few billion dollars each year, and the local market has largely mimicked the national trend.

“During the recession, people were making sacrifices elsewhere,” said Bob Vetere, president and CEO of the American Pet Products Association. “People would stop spending on things for themselves, but they continued to spend money on their pets. During a bad time, they wanted to come to happy pets and wagging tails.”

Changing demographics and a trend toward the humanization of pets and pet products have contributed to steady growth since the 90s, Vetere said.

At the same time that pet ownership is increasing, people are also caring for more pets at one time, Vetere said. Pet ownership has increased to an all-time high of 72.9 million, and nearly 40 percent of all pet-owning households have multiple pets, according to 2011-2012 APPA statistics.

“The baby boomers are at the forefront of that trend,” Vetere said.

As their children began moving on, the generation of “empty nesters” took in more pets and began caring for them longer; however, their adult children also affected the market.

“The young singles singles are delaying marriage and putting their careers first, especially through the recession, and they are looking for companionship,” Vetere said. “It feeds the same trend.”

As many Americans increased hours spent at work, it became more important to greet pets after a long day, Vetere said.

In the early 90s, a humanization trend of pets of and their products emerged, alongside increased pet ownership, according to APPA.

“We used to be hovering over our kids; now we’re hovering over our pets,” Vetere said. “People think about their pets differently now than they did decades ago — they now consider them as part of their family, not just the dog in the backyard.”

When people begin to think of their pets as family, they take measures to keep pets healthier and happier, longer, Vetere said.

The humanization trend has led to increased productivity in nearly all sectors of the pet industry, according to the APPA. As pet owners more closely model their pets’ services after their own, for example, the sector grew, despite its previous consideration as discretionary spending.

“People are working longer hours, and they want pet sitters and walkers,” Vetere said. “It’s been one of the fastest growing segments over the last years.”

Pet ownership used to drop off around age 60, but now people are keeping their pets until about age 70, Vetere said.

“They are turning to services to maintain flexibility and ensure their pet stays healthy,” Vetere said.

Bringing attention to the pet’s overall well-being, natural and organic pet foods have become more popular. Organic food and attention to quality ingredients is trending in the human food market, so people want to give the same experience to their pets, Vetere said.

“If there is a trend on the human side, I guarantee you will see it on the pet side within two to three months,” he said.

Though food has consistently dominated the market as the largest spending category, pet insurance recently claimed the second largest spending category, according to APPA statistics.

Veterinary care led the health related spending categories with more than $13 billion in spending in 2012, and it is predicted to lead with more than $14 billion in 2013, according to APPA.

Today veterinary specialists are available to treat almost any kind of illness a pet has, and the advancements in technology have helped drive the industry, just as the market has shown support for the advancements, Vetere said.

Though changing demographics contributed to the industry’s growth in the last two decades, an upcoming shift in demographics could shake the industry.

“The baby boomers will have kids leaving home for the next three to five years,” Vetere said. “After they age, there won’t be a group following them with that kind of buying power and propensity to buy in our market.”

The fastest growing populations in the U.S. have lower instances of pet buying than the current white majority, Vetere said. About 68-69 percent of the white population has at least one pet, Vetere said.

“But as science begins to support the human health benefits of pet ownership, I expect the marketplace to continue to grow as it has,” Vetere said.

Localizing national trends

Though Santa Clarita’s pet industry has had a few hiccups in the last couple decades, one independent supply store found its niche and staying power.

“There have been some ups and downs in the national upward trend,” said Chris Hoeflich, owner of Pet Supply Santa Clarita in Saugus. “The economic downturn hurt the pet industry, taking it from its peak, but it’s all coming along better now.”

Though growth may have slowed during the recession, the small pet supplier, started in 1999, identified the products that buyers considered essentials and tailored the its offerings to cater to every price range.

“When the economy wasn’t doing well, we focused on the premium pet food business, providing it for every price range,” Hoeflich said. “We expanded our scope to include a much broader choice of products because people still need the food.”

Premium pet food excludes allergens, corn, wheat, soy, byproducts or chemical preservatives, Hoeflich said.

“We concentrated on a good variety of premium dog and cat food because if people buy their food here, it establishes a buying pattern. Then hopefully they shop once a month and get whatever else they need here, as well,” Hoeflich said.

Hoeflich said he didn’t want to create a business that was dependent on disposable income, and today, people are feeding their dogs like they’re feeding themselves.

“You find very few people today that don’t consider their pets as part of their family,” Hoeflich said.

That mentality allows people to think of healthy pet food as an absolute essential.

“I think the economy will keep getting better, smoothing out any lumps the recession caused,” Hoeflich said.


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