A lot of people say dogs and their owners start to look alike. The British humorist Terry Pratchett said of cats being worshipped in ancient times, “they have not forgotten this.” And Churchill was fond of pigs, saying that, while “dogs look up to us and cats look down, pigs treat us as equals.”
Whatever you say about animals, they’re big business—global estimates hover near $100 billion dollars a year, with that number expected to double by 2025. We’re a small, very proud part of that ourselves—we’ve touched everything from Milk-Bone, Meow Mix, and 9 Lives to Purina’s livestock feed packaging and Merck’s animal health business—and we go so far as hosting our own office Puppy Bowl the Friday before the Super Bowl.
We get pet.
And that’s what brought us to Orlando at the end of February, to check out the Global Pet Expo and see what’s new and fun in the animal world. The show is traditionally one of the biggest of the year and kicks off the season. Circumstances as they are, more than 100 Asian-based companies pulled out of the show due to COVID-19 concerns, but that didn’t stop the show. Five takeaways, for those of you who couldn’t make it down:
1. Pets are trending
According to industry veterans, and against common assumptions, the Boomer generation owns about 30 percent of pets. Younger people struggling with rising costs of living are moving toward pet ownership instead of children. Expect the industry to continue its rapid growth.
2. Pet food slightly lags human food
We’re talking selection, not quality (not that we eat much pet food). The trends that have reshaped our own eating in the past few years—health and wellness, vegan, CBD, raw—are rapidly influencing the development and marketing of pet foods, and that’s now coming to bear on what the industry (read: owners) is looking for. It makes sense, if you look back to the first observation and what we know about the closeness of pets and pet owners.
3. It’s a big, big business
Yes, we’ve talked numbers and expected revenue. But anyone coming to a pet show with thoughts of dogs and cats is seeing only a tiny portion of the world. Sure, rabbits and fish and snakes and hamsters were everywhere, but the pet business is broad and deep. Grooming tools and toys, catalogues, chews, supplements, medicines, training, housing, psychology—the options are endless. Spotted this year: cake recipes for dogs.
4. Animal people are fun and “punny”
No question, the energy at a pet show is pawsitive. Sure, it’s a business conference and businesses depend on the relationships that are built and nurtured at the Expo, but the tone and energy are a lot more playful than at most conferences, and that goes beyond the dogs I played catch with, the rabbits who ran up my arm, and the cats who sat regally unleashed at booths. There is flippancy and fun in the naming of companies and products, and the people at pet shows are having a great time too—passion + purpose at your day job can do that.
5. Nothing beats puppies
It’s a little hard to say as a cat owner (well, co-habitant), but nothing beats puppies. I couldn’t count the number of exhibitors who devoted exhibit space to lightly fenced-in areas to help local strays find homes, and some of the bigger brands brought in breeder puppies to give away. And they went—within a day, nearly all had been spoken for, but joyously left for the rest of us to play with until the show finished. See a crowd at a pet show? Ten bucks says it’s a puppy.