Pet Business Trends 2012

Is there light at the end of the economy tunnel? Not that the tunnel was all that dark for pet-related spending during the recent “Great Recession”. Total pet spending topped $50 billion in 2011 for the first time. To put that in perspective, the pet industry tops book publishing ($31 billion) and women’s clothing ($41 billion) industries by a healthy margin. 2012 looks to continue the climb back to pre-recession normal, if there can ever be the old “normal” again.

All growth rates are annual unless stated otherwise.

Industry Trends

1. Veterinary Spending

An oncology specialist for your Boxer? An MRI for your cat? Allergy treatments for your Golden Retriever? Yes to all of the above! In many respects, pet owners can access the same quality of care and level of treatments for their pets as for themselves and recent veterinary spending increases of 8% show that pet parents are spending more on pet healthcare than ever before.

Veterinary inflation numbers from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics continue to show a slowdown in 2011 from about 7% in early 2009; however, inflation rates of 5-6% in 2011 are heading upwards from the prior lows of 3-4% levels in 2010, showing perhaps that veterinarians are feeling confident enough, or perhaps desperate enough, to start to drive veterinary prices up again.

Last year, we thought that the American Pet Products Association’s (APPA) 6.2% growth expectation for 2010 [1] was overly optimistic given the historically low level of veterinary inflation we were experiencing at the time; however, the actual rate of 8.1% growth turned out higher than expected indicating that, while the average cost per procedure (the inflation rate) was only increasing 3-4%, a combination of more expensive procedures chosen and an increasing number of vet visits drove up the overall expenditure.

2012 is likely to continue the trend of 8+% increases in veterinary spending and I expect that 2012 veterinary inflation will pop over the 6% level for the first time since 2008.

2. Spending on Pet Accessories and OTC Medicine Up

Have you noticed all those ads on Facebook and other social media for dog collars, kitty condos, and over-the-counter pet medicines lately? You are not alone if so.

The APPA reports that spending on pet accessories and OTC medicines grew at a respectable 5.2% in 2010 and projects 2011 to be a slightly more modest 4.2%. I expect both 2011 and 2012 to reach the 5+% range reflecting improved growth in retail sales in the last quarter of 2011 plus PetSmart’s store growth of 5+% in 2011.

3. Growth in Services for Pets Barking up the Right Tree

Last year, the APPA had a rather lowly 2.7% growth outlook for services, such as grooming, pet sitting, and boarding in 2010, which actually turned out a much more positive 4.5%. The APPA’s projection for 2011 is a little lower at 4.0% but, using PetSmart’s 8+% service growth in 2011 as an industry bell weather, we believe 2011 and 2012 will come in at around 4.5% just like 2010.

4. Pet Insurance Inching Into Mainstream

The US pet insurance industry reflected the recent recession by dropping growth rates from 25% in 2008 to 12% more recently. Gross written premiums (GWP) will reach $359 million in 2011 [2] up from $256 million in 2008. Market stalwart, Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI), reached $200 million for the first time at the end of 2011.

The three largest US pet insurers, Veterinary Pet Insurance, Hartville Group, and Pet Health, represented 73% of the market in 2011, a drop from 79% in 2010. VPI and Hartville experienced modest growth of 5% but Pethealth experienced a decline in premium of about 7% giving a blended growth rate of 3.8%. I expect to see the remaining companies’ growth of about 44% in 2012 compared to about 50% in 2011.

Next year will bring some interesting developments. At least two white-label extensions of existing products will appear in 2012, one in the online retail space, one in the banking channel. The retailer is building a new brand so expect to see significant money spend on awareness. Impact on pet insurance premium levels will be more obvious in 2013.

I expect overall premium growth of 12% in 2012 that will see the US pet insurance industry grow to approximately $400 million in GWP.

5. Preventative Care Becomes All the Rage

As the recession drags out and newer vaccination protocols mean fewer annual vaccinations for dogs, veterinarians have noticed a decrease in veterinary visits correlated with an increase in preventable diseases such as tooth decay, diabetes, and heartworm [3]. As a result, 19 veterinary associations and related industry partners formed the Partnership for Preventive Pet Healthcare (PPPH) in 2011. PPPH joins CATalyst, a non-profit group launched in 2010 to reduce the perception of cats as aloof pets.

You can expect to see your veterinary practice using the PPPH’s canine and feline preventive healthcare guidelines and CATalyst’s “Cat Friendly Practice Makeover” program to increase awareness of the need for wellness and preventive care visits in 2012. Take your cat to the vet this year!

6. Veterinarians Start Getting Social

Facebook & Twitter

While social networking for pet businesses went mainstream in 2010, veterinarians lagged behind, not sure how to participate. Would clinic clients want to “friend” their clinic on Facebook? Would they like to tweet with their vet after-hours? You bet they would, and veterinary clinics worked that out in 2011. Chances are your clinic will be on Facebook in 2012 if they aren’t already there. Clinics like Austinburg Veterinary Clinic and Southern Colorado Veterinary Internal Medicine use Facebook to share pet health info with their clients as well as let them know about clinic happenings.

7. Large Retailers Start Medicating

Wal-Mart continues to wield its retail dominance by supporting H.R. 1406, the Fairness to Pet Owners Act of 2011, much to the chagrin of veterinary clinics across the US. The bill requires veterinarians to write a physical script for a prescription (not just dispense the drug) and provide a written disclosure notifying clients that they may fill prescriptions at the veterinary clinic or at an off-site pharmacy, amongst other things. Needless to say, Wal-Mart’s pharmacies would benefit greatly from pet owners filling their pet prescriptions with them instead of their clinics.

As you would expect, veterinarians are not impressed, since veterinary medications often act like wine at a restaurant, sales of which generate a large proportion of many clinics’ profits. The extra paperwork is also not welcome. Regardless, the bill sits in committee and given 2012 is an election year, it will be interesting to see if the bill is pushed forward as a voter-friendly sound bite overshadowing the uglier economic issues or languishes into obscurity. I’m thinking the former – happy voters means incumbents stay in place.

No matter what happens with HR 1406, Wal-Mart and Target are actively targeting pet medication sales. Target has launched PetRx, its pharmacy services for pets, joining Walgreen’s offering that has included pets for years, and Wal-Mart has started selling over-the-counter flea and tick medications, a precursor to the prescription meds that are bound to be coming in 2012.

8. M&A Activity Starts to Heat Up

According to Capstone Partners [4], pet-related mergers and acquisition was up 47% for the first half of 2011 compared to the same time period in 2010. Most of the activity was in pet product and animal health manufacturers, as well as animal health services. Merged companies mean, in theory, reduced cost and increased profits. It also can indicate that companies aren’t feeling confident in their ability to grow organically and are putting their capital to use in other ways to grow their business. No matter the reason though, increased activity indicates confidence that the economic environment is at least not going to get worse, and likely going to get better, so good news for all of us in the pet industry.

9. Single Doctor Veterinary Clinics Decline

Did your veterinarian recently retire and sell off his/her clinic? Veterinarians are not immune to demographic trends in the US and they are coming up to retirement in droves. For those with larger clinics, VCA has been scooping up all it can find, including specialty clinics. The veterinary world is destined to go the way of funeral homes. Your local undertaker might look like a small family operation, but likely they are part of a large corporation. 2012 will only continue this trend.

10. Spotlight Beginning to Shine on Breed-Specific Health Issues

While the Bulldog might be the fourth most popular breed in the US, it has a number of health issues associated with its smooshed face, skin folds and orthopedic structure. The NY Times recently published an article called “Can the Bulldog Be Saved?” highlighting these health issues and discussing the breed standards. High-profile discussions like these will start to draw attention to health issues of particular breeds. Will changes happen in 2012? Not likely, but just talking about these issues is a good start.

About the Author

Laura Bennett FSA CFA is the CEO and Co-Founder of Embrace Pet Insurance. Her career working in the insurance industry has taken her from Toronto, Canada and Dublin Ireland to the US, where she obtained her MBA from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. Laura was the first pet insurance actuary in the United States and was named to the Society of Actuaries Top 100 Actuarial Pioneers for her ground-breaking work in pet insurance. Laura strongly believes in furthering awareness of pet insurance across North America and leads that work in her current role of Chairman of the Board of NAPHIA, the North American Pet Health Insurance Association. Laura also writes a blog on pet-related issues, the Embrace Pet Insurance blog.