As I write this, everyone around the world is marking a grim anniversary: OnMarch 11, 2020, the World Health Organization designated COVID-19 a pandemic.One headline (among many) observing the date stated it succinctly: “The dayeverything changed.”

That has been no less true for the pet food industry. The pandemic swiftly andsignificantly affected every aspect of the supply chain, manufacturing,distribution and all the way to consumers buying food for their pets.

Recently, I participated in a video interview broadcast to pet-related clientsof an investment firm, and one of the questions posed to me was about how thepet food industry responded to COVID-19. Looking back over the past 12 months,it was enlightening and heartening to reflect on the many lessons learned andimpressive adjustments made by pet food manufacturers, suppliers, retailersand pet owners.

None of these are new, but I think they warrant restating and praising.

Overcoming shortages of pet food, supplies, workers

When lockdowns happened across the globe in March 2020, pet food consumersrushed to stock up on food, including for their pets, resulting in instancesof owners not being able to find their preferred pet food brands or not beingable to buy them in a timely manner if trying to order online.

Similarly, while most governments declared pet food manufacturers essentialbusinesses, so they were able to stay open, some experienced shortages of keyingredients, often caused by shipping and distribution disruptions from thelockdowns. Manufacturers also had to ramp up their worker safety programs,adapting lines and processes to allow for social distancing and otherprotocols. In some cases, finding enough workers was a challenge, too, due toCOVID-19 illnesses, quarantines or concerns.

Pet retailers were also declared essential businesses in many countries, yetstruggled to compete with surging online sales.

A year later, some of these challenges persist, at least intermittently or inspecific cases. I’ve heard anecdotally of pet food shortages in somecountries, along with shortages of certain ingredients. A pet treatmanufacturer told me recently that his company is still experiencing workershortages and problems with exporting products due to shipping disruptions.And many independent pet retailers have missed out on pet food and pet caresales booms.

Yet overall, the industry has responded well, with most manufacturers findingways to quickly adjust whatever was necessary: formulations, distribution,safety protocols, consumer outreach. The proof of this collective successfuladaptation is that healthy sales growth. Though pet food and pet care salespredictably plunged after the initial spikes in March 2020, they reboundedlater in the year. Packaged Facts projected the U.S. pet food market to finish2020 up 7% over 2019, while globally, the overall pet care market gained 5% insales, according to Euromonitor.

Another indicator of coming out the other side of this crisis: the manylessons learned that pet food brands, manufacturers and retailers can carryforward and apply as life and business continue to change—because very fewthings will likely be the same as they were heading into 2020.

Pet owners, and pets, leading the way

Probably the most robust and inspiring response to the pandemic has come frompet owners. Most have done all they could to keep their beloved pets—and keepfeeding them well—no matter their financial and other hardships. Even better,many also took in additional furry family members or adopted pets for thefirst time.

If every pet owner didn’t already realize just how much comfort and joy petsprovide, they certainly do now after weathering this pandemic. Perhaps themost important lessons we’ve all learned over the past 12 months is how to beflexible and resilient, and to appreciate the good things in our lives. Nodoubt our pets are near or at the top of that list.

Source: Debbie Phillips-Donaldson Petfood Industry

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