‘Humanisation of pets’: Inside the $4b-a-year pet vitamins boom

Every day, Gaynor Andrews dogs take a vitamin supplement to support digestion. And the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel breeder encourages his new puppy owners customers to consider supplements for their own four-legged friends.

“There’s a big change in how people value their dogs,” says Andrew. “For those I deal with, a dog is a member of the family. And dogs are under so much more stress than they used to be.”

Australia has just experienced a COVID-driven pet boom and a number of lucrative new business lines – from pet insurance to professional dog walks to animal-friendly yoga classes have emerged alongside the phenomenon. Another is the $ 4 billion a year animal health industry. Analysts describe an ongoing “humanization of pets” – a change in how families value their animals that has made them anxious to find pet equivalents for human health products, such as vitamins.

Gaynor Andrew has been breeding Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and advising puppy owners on holistic health for more than ten years – with dogs Lottie, Priya, Mayson and Dream. Credit:Eddie Jim.

“There’s definitely a trend,” says Andrew.

Billion-dollar, ASX-listed health supplement provider Blackmores has taken the chance and told investors that its Pure Animal Wellbeing (PAW) line of pet products will be a key part of its strategy going forward.

The company now manufactures multivitamin chews for pets, a fish oil supplement for dogs and products to relieve stress and anxiety.

Blackmore’s CEO Alastair Symington says consumers have become more in tune with their pets after two years of working from home.

“We spend as much on our pets as we do on anyone else,” he says. “For us, it’s about providing the natural healthcare solutions that you can incorporate into your daily routine.”

Blackmore chief Alastair Symington says pet supplements are a long-term option.

Blackmore chief Alastair Symington says pet supplements are a long-term option. Credit:Louie Douvis

Symington expects that stress reduction supplements will be a “very big product for us” when Australians return to the office and leave their four-legged friends at home after two years of living close to each other.

Last year, Blackmores described to investors that their pet products would be one of its three major brands, along with the “Blackmores” and “Bioceuticals” products.

The competitor Swisse also has a presence in the space, with its parent company H&H Group which bought the animal supplement manufacturer Zesty Paws in August last year.

Australia’s multi-billion dollar livestock supply business grew by around 4% annually before the pandemic, but revenue growth has more than doubled between 2020 and 2021, according to industry research firm IBISWorld.

IBISWorld senior analyst Tim Calabria says medicines, wellness products and “fantastic” pet food have flourished during this time, with dogs and cats not the only growing markets.

“Although cats and dogs make up the vast majority of pets in Australia, exotic animals such as ferrets, lizards and cockatoos also adorn more homes than ever before,” he says.

Nearly 70 per cent of Australian households now have a pet – and they are willing to spend big money. A survey of more than 1,000 pet owners by Animal Medicines Australia (AMA) in 2021 indicates that dog owners spend $ 3,200 a year on pet care, while cat owners spend $ 2,100 a year.

There are approximately 6.3 million dogs and 4.9 million cats in Australia and the AMA estimates that Australians spend almost $ 31 billion on them alone ($ 20.5 billion per year on dogs and $ 10.3 billion on cats).

Blackmores also tracks growing pet-owning prices abroad, including in its main export market in China. More than 10,000 pet supplement products are already listed on the Chinese e-commerce website Alibaba.

“We’ve seen pet ownership skyrocket in places like China, and we’re more focused on small cats and dogs – because we know that’s what consumers have,” says Symington.

“I take vitamins every day and so does my family, why would not you give it to a pet?”

Sydney cavoodle owner Natalie Headland

The portfolio manager at Blackmore’s investor Spheria Capital, Matt Booker, says that sales of pet products at the vitamin manufacturer are not yet significant, but it is likely to change quickly.

“Over the next 5-10 years, it could be significant, as the addressable pet care market expands – and Blackmore’s brand and reputation are apt for that.”

The head of China’s research on stock broker Select Equities, Frida Wang, says that Gen Z consumers drive pet ownership in China and that Blackmores has a “solid opportunity” to capitalize. “A partnership with a competent Chinese distributor to navigate the regulated and competitive category can be a good idea,” she says.

At the Australian-based pet pharmacy Pet Chemist, there are also supplements for lizards and probiotics for birds. Earlier this year, the ASX-listed dog grooming company bought Mad Paws Pet Chemist in a deal worth $ 25 million.

Pet Chemist Director Howard Humphreys says the online health trends seen throughout the pandemic are also being translated into the animal world.

“One of the biggest products we sell is a joint supplement, another is an anxiety supplement,” says Humphreys.

Justus Hammer is the CEO of the animal care and health brand Mad Paws.

Justus Hammer is the CEO of the animal care and health brand Mad Paws. Credit:Nick Moir

Mad Paws CEO Justus Hammer says that Pet Chemist was a natural acquisition for the business because improving animal health was now a top priority for the owners.

“It’s a big market and it’s growing fast. Online penetration is still low, but it’s also growing fast.”

Sydney Cavoodle owner Natalie Headland researched supplements for her two-and-a-half-year-old dog Bear in hopes of finding ways to calm him down when she returned to the office after a long period where she worked from home and was on maternity leave.

Sydney's cavoodle owner Natalie Headland has tried vitamin supplements designed to soothe anxiety for her two-and-a-half-year-old dog, Bear.

Sydney’s cavoodle owner Natalie Headland has tried vitamin supplements designed to soothe anxiety for her two-and-a-half-year-old dog, Bear. Credit:Oscar Colman

“He cried and he barked when we were not home … you want to do everything you can to calm them down,” she says.

She was open to trying new approaches to make it easier for her dog when she left the house and has used a stress relief product from Blackmores.

Bear has only been taking the product for a month, but Headland says he seems calmer and giving him the soothing treat before she leaves the house is positive.

“Just knowing that I can walk out the door and that I can give it to him as a treat is good.”

Headland says she will explore more dietary options in the future as Bear ages, including treatments to help with mobility.

“I take vitamins every day and so does my family, why would not you give it to a pet?”

Scanning

The Director of Veterinary Affairs and Public Affairs at the Australian Veterinary Association, Dr Cristy Secombe, says there is “a lot of noise out there” about animal health products. She advises pet owners to talk to their veterinarian about whether their animals need supplements before making a purchase.

“Because the vet has done all the reading, they can turn it into information that the pet owner can make a decision with. They [your animal] may not even need supplements – veterinarians are best placed to advise on when supplements are needed or not. “

Dr Secombe says that despite the explosion of fitness products for animals, animal health often comes down to “some ancient things first”, such as the quality of animal feed and how much exercise a pet receives.

“From a health and well-being perspective, it may not require you to spend money on additional things.”

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