The pet food industry is experiencing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, notunlike the food industry. Pet food manufacturers qualify as essentialoperations, according to government agencies, and many facilities have had tohire additional staff, ramp up production, and make other operational changesto respond to demand surges.
MORE ADOPTIONS LEAD TO GREATER DEMAND
Many consumers are now working from home and self-isolating, and this changein lifestyle has inspired households to welcome new pets to the family. Sincethere’s no evidence yet that pets contribute to the spread of COVID-19,families and individuals feel safe turning to companion animals for mental andemotional support during this time.
With the help of coronavirus-related appeals in March, animal shelters aroundthe country have seen a significant uptick in dog and cat foster situationsand adoptions. For example, the ASPCA saw a 70% increase in fosters out oftheir New York City and Los Angeles programs. And some shelters have been ableto completely empty their kennels of adoptable pets.
Some of these animals may return to the shelters when conditions normalize.But, at least for now, this trend has caused an increase in pet food demandthat should help the industry weather this storm.
David Spinkle, the research director of Packaged Facts, says increasedownership rates for dogs, a pattern also seen during the Great Recession, may“help soften the blow of pet industry losses.” The research market firm nowexpects U.S. pet food sales to grow by only 4% in 2020, compared to its 6%prediction before the pandemic.
CONSUMERS ARE STOCKING UP AND ORDERING ONLINE
As pet owners try to plan ahead, many are stocking up on pet food, causing ashort-term boom in sales. Nearly 65% of consumers say they have enough food tolast for three to four weeks.
Compared to the same date last year, overall pet store sales were up by 92% onMarch 20 as pet owners rushed to stock up. In some of the hardest-hit areas,sales were significantly higher. For example, on the same March 20 date, NewYork City saw a 260% increase in sales. Blue Buffalo specifically noted aspike in its sales in mid-March, and the company expects pet food demand toremain strong.
In addition to emptying store shelves, the coronavirus situation has prompted17% of pet owners to purchase pet food online more than they usually would.Online pet retailer Chewy is experiencing a flood of orders and expects tohire 6,000 to 10,000 employees at its fulfillment centers to keep up withdemands.
MANUFACTURERS ARE INCREASING PRODUCTION, NAVIGATING SUPPLY CHAIN DISRUPTIONS
It’s hard to say how long the heightened demand for pet food will continue.But, in response, some pet food companies and suppliers are boostingproduction.
After seeing record sales and a 400% increase in e-commerce orders,JustFoodForDogs decided to up its production by adding overnight shifts. Thecompany also recently opened a 21,000-square-foot kitchen in Delaware, whichwill employ 50 workers and produce as much as 30,000 lbs. of fresh pet food aday.
J.M. Smucker is also ramping up production, with priority given to its high-demand products. However, there are some setbacks. “The company said becauseof supply chain complexities and other issues, it will not be able to offeradditional inventory above normal monthly demand for select Natural Balancedry dog food, all wet dog and cat food in the Natural Balance, Nature’s Recipeand Rachael Ray Nutrish brands, and Milk-Bone brushing chews.”
Several other manufacturers of pet food and treats are operating at maximumcapacity to satisfy heightened demands.
FACILITIES ARE IMPLEMENTING STRONGER SAFETY AND SANITATION PROTOCOLS
Pet food manufacturers already operate within strict sanitation guidelines,but many are taking additional precautions to minimize person-to-personcontact and exposure risks for employees who cannot work from home. Some ofthese safety measures include strengthening and communicating proper hygienepractices, limiting direct contact with truck drivers and visitors, andconducting complete sanitations and eliminating personnel contact during shiftchanges.
The FDA urges pet food facilities to follow current good manufacturingpractices and use sanitizing products registered with the EnvironmentalProtection Agency to protect against COVID-19 exposure.
PET FOOD BRANDS ARE GIVING BACK
Through financial contributions and pet food donations, many pet foodcompanies are helping out animal rescue organizations, homeless shelters, foodpantries, and struggling communities during these challenging times.
Nestlé Purina is primarily supporting three charities: the PetfinderFoundation, which has a COVID-19 fund for animal rescues and shelters;GreaterGood.org’s Rescue Bank, which is supplying animal rescue organizationswith pet food and supplies; and RedRover, which is offering emergency grantsto pet owners who are survivors of domestic violence and those who havecontracted COVID-19.
Purina also recently donated 17 palettes of dog and cat food to the ClintonHumane Society to serve the Clinton, IA, community, where one of itsmanufacturing sites is located.
Vital Essentials kicked off its “Vital Relief Challenge” with a $100,000donation to food pantries, shelters, and other nonprofits in the Green Bayarea. Through the challenge, Vital Essentials hopes to encourage other petfood companies to give as they can. “We encourage any and all businesses thatprovide essential pet products to dig deep and help locally,” Owner and CEOLanny Viegut said. “We’re asking our distributors, their suppliers, and otherbrands in the industry to do what they can, whether it’s a financial donation,volunteering or other kinds of support.”
Source: Food Industry Executive – published Global Pet
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