Pet supplements are in demand with pet owners. Are veterinary practices capitalizing on this opportunity?
First, the good news (and it’s really good). Over the last few years, a specific market segment in pet products and services has seen enormous growth. According to Packaged Facts’ Pet Supplements in the U.S., 8th Edition, pet supplement sales skyrocketed 21% in 2020 to reach nearly $800 million, following several years of growth in the 3%-5% range.
The future looks just as promising. Total supplement sales growth is expected to hit approximately 12% in 2021 and 9% in 2022, with a CAGR of 6% for 2021-2026, according to Packaged Facts.
So, what’s the bad news? Unless veterinarians become more receptive to offering pet supplements, those sales are trending away from clinics. Overall, veterinarians are trained and inclined to diagnose and treat medical diagnoses. But with the range of health and wellness concerns of pet parents, especially Millennial and Gen Z pet parents, there is a large gap, particularly in the softer wellness space, said David Sprinkle, publisher, Packaged Facts. “If veterinarians do not, or try not, or would rather not address those concerns, then consumers are going to find other ways to address those concerns. Certainly, pet supplements are one of those ways.”
In a recent interview with Veterinary Advantage, Sprinkle and Shannon Brown, an analyst with Packaged Facts, offered a glimpse into the market and the opportunity presented to veterinarians.
Human – pet health synergy
One of the biggest reasons behind the rise in pet supplement sales has been the increased focus on health and wellness in humans that has transferred to pets. “People are interested in maintaining health, rather than just fixing problems as they arise,” Brown said. “So, people are equating supplements as more of a preventative measure to sustain wellness and health in their pets, just like they use them for themselves.”
Amid the pandemic, people were around their pets a lot more, working from home, taking classes online, etc. “So, they were perhaps noticing changes in their pet’s health, and became more interested in doing things that did not involve having to go into a veterinary office or pay for expensive prescription pet medications that would help their pets with their various problems,” Brown said.
Sprinkle said there’s always been a sort of transfer from the human products market to the pet products market, whether it’s grain-free diets, mobility supplements, CBD products, etc. Those who take supplements are more likely, of course, to buy pet supplements if they have pets. “In addition, there can be a synergy when a person is using
joint mobility supplements,” he said. “They might notice that their dog or cat is also at the point where some joint mobility supplements will make sense. Because people more and more consider pets as part of the family, we think what works for us should work for our pets.”
The CBD craze
In its report, Packaged Facts placed sales of pet CBD products at just under $100 million in 2020, about triple the 2019 sales level, which was itself triple that of 2018. Cannabidiol (CBD), one of the active ingredients in hemp, has been making “tsunami-level waves” in the supplements market over the past few years, Packaged Facts reported. One of the factors leading pet owners to CBD products is the drive toward more natural remedies. A host of new CBD products were introduced in 2019 and 2020.
“Of course, that ties in with anxiety, and calming, in an age of crisis,” said Sprinkle. Pets channel the dysfunction, neuroses, and anxiety of their owners. Not only was there an increased emphasis on health and wellness, but also when people began to seek more supplements to calm their nerves, CBD product sales rose.
In its report, Packaged Facts noted that because many retailers where traditional (non-CBD) supplements are purchased, including many pet specialty chains and mainstream general retailers, don’t yet carry CBD supplements, purchasing trends for this type of supplement differ significantly from those of traditional supplements.
Dog owners more likely to buy supplements
Packaged Facts’ November/December 2020 Survey of Pet Owners indicated that 38% of dog owners and 19% of cat owners purchased pet supplements other than CBD in the previous 12 months, while 21% of dog owners and 10% of cat owners purchased CBD supplements.
Brown said as most cat owners know, trying to get cats to take anything that they don’t want to take is difficult. In general, dogs tend to be easier to dose, and cats tend to be much harder to convince. Cats are also a lot better at hiding their illnesses than dogs. “Owners are not as aware of their categorical health as dog owners are as attuned to it.”
Dog breeds can also be much larger, Sprinkle said, which can lead to more joint mobility issues.
Window of opportunity
Supplements represent a unique opportunity for veterinarians. Unlike pet medications, veterinarians are not in the majority with pet supplement sales, Sprinkle said. “There are a few conditions that veterinarians routinely recommend or dispense pet supplements.” But the market has primarily been brick and mortar, or increasingly, the internet.
Sprinkle said the veterinarian share will probably decrease because of consumer preferences in e-commerce, particularly with online pet pharmacy outlets. Other pet products that have been central to veterinarians are going online. Veterinary diet prescription pet foods, for instance. “Even though pet supplements are not necessarily on the pharmacy corner of those websites, the trend will be toward the internet, unless there’s some intervention.”
In Packaged Facts’ November/December 2020 Survey of Pet Owners, the recommendation of their veterinarian is a major factor among pet owners asked “Are any of these factors especially influential in your purchasing of pet vitamins/supplements?” cited by 37% of pet supplement purchasers.
If and when veterinarians become more receptive to pet supplements, that could be a real game-changer, Sprinkle said. “But I don’t know that that is likely to happen.”
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