Inside the $4b-a-year pet vitamins boom

Normal text sizeLarger text sizeVery large text size Each day, Gaynor Andrew’s dogs take a vitamin supplement to support their digestion. And the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel breeder encourages her new puppy owner clients to consider supplements for their own four-legged friends. “There is a big change in how people […]

Each day, Gaynor Andrew’s dogs take a vitamin supplement to support their digestion. And the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel breeder encourages her new puppy owner clients to consider supplements for their own four-legged friends.

“There is a big change in how people value their dogs,” Andrew says. “For the people 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-fuelled pet boom and a string of lucrative new business lines – from pet insurance to professional dog walking to pet-friendly yoga classes have emerged alongside the phenomenon. Another is the $4 billion-a-year animal wellness industry. Analysts describe an unfolding “humanisation of pets” – a shift in the way families value their animals that has made them keen to find pet equivalents of human wellness products, like vitamins.

Gaynor Andrew has been breeding Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and advising puppy owners on holistic health for more than 10 years.

Gaynor Andrew has been breeding Cavalier King Charles Spaniels and advising puppy owners on holistic health for more than 10 years.Credit:Eddie Jim

“There definitely is a trend,” Andrew says.

Billion-dollar, ASX-listed health supplements provider Blackmores has clocked the opportunity and has been telling investors that its Pure Animal Wellbeing (PAW) line of pet products will be a core part of its strategy moving forward.

The company now makes multivitamin chews for pets, a fish oil supplement for dogs and products for soothing stress and anxiety.

Blackmores chief executive Alastair Symington says consumers have become more in-tune with their pets after two years of working from home.

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

Blackmores boss Alastair Symington says pet supplements are a long-term opportunity.

Blackmores boss Alastair Symington says pet supplements are a long-term opportunity. Credit:Louie Douvis

Symington expects supplements for stress reduction to be a “very big product for us” as Australians return to the office, leaving their four-legged friends at home after two years of living in close quarters.

Last year, Blackmores outlined to investors that its pet products would be one of its three major brands, alongside the ‘Blackmores’ and ‘Bioceuticals’ products.

Competitor Swisse also has a presence in the space, with its parent company H&H Group buying animal supplements maker Zesty Paws last August.

Australia’s multibillion dollar pet supplies business was growing at around four per cent annually prior to 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 ‘fancy’ pet foods have boomed throughout this time, with dogs and cats not the only growing markets.

“Although cats and dogs constitute the vast majority of pets in Australia, exotic animals like ferrets, lizards and cockatoos also grace more homes than ever before,” he says.

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

There are around 6.3 million dogs and 4.9 million cats in Australia and the AMA estimates Australians spend nearly $31 billion just on them ($20.5 billion a year on dogs and $10.3 billion on cats).

Blackmores is also tracking growing pet ownership rates overseas, including in its key export market of China. More than 10,000 animal supplement products are already listed on the Chinese e-commerce website Alibaba.

“We have seen pet ownership skyrocket in places like China, and we’re geared more towards small feline and canines – because we know that’s what consumers have,” Symington says.

“I take vitamins every single day and so does my family, why wouldn’t you give it to a pet?”

Sydney cavoodle owner Natalie Headland

Portfolio manager at Blackmores investor Spheria Capital, Matt Booker, says sales of pet products at the vitamins maker are not yet material, but that is likely to change quickly.

“In the next 5-10 years it could be material, as the addressable market for pet healthcare is expanding – and the Blackmores brand and reputation lends itself to that.”

Head of China research at stockbroker Select Equities, Frida Wang, says Gen Z consumers are driving pet ownership in China and Blackmores has a “solid opportunity” to capitalise. “A partnership with a capable Chinese distributor to navigate the regulated and competitive category might be a good idea,” she says.

Meanwhile, over at Australian founded online animal pharmacy Pet Chemist, there are also supplements for lizards and a probiotic for birds. Earlier this year, ASX-listed dog sitting business Mad Paws bought Pet Chemist in a $25 million deal.

Pet Chemist boss Howard Humphreys says the online health trends seen throughout the pandemic translate to the world of animals, too.

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

Justus Hammer is chief executive of pet  sitting and wellness brand Mad Paws.

Justus Hammer is chief executive of pet sitting and wellness brand Mad Paws. Credit:Nick Moir

Mad Paws chief executive Justus Hammer says Pet Chemist was a natural acquisition for the business because enhancing the health of animals was now a top priority for owners.

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

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

Sydney cavoodle owner Natalie Headland has been trying vitamin supplements designed to calm anxiety for her two and a half year old dog, Bear.

Sydney cavoodle owner Natalie Headland has been trying vitamin supplements designed to calm anxiety for her two and a half year old dog, Bear. Credit:Oscar Colman

“He cried and he barked when we weren’t home… you want to do whatever you can to calm them down,” she says.

She was open-minded to trying new approaches to make it easier on her dog when she left the house, and has been using a stress relief product made by Blackmores.

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

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

Headland says she will look into more supplement options in future as Bear ages, including treatments to help with mobility.

“I take vitamins every single day and so does my family, why wouldn’t you give it to a pet?”

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Head of veterinary and public affairs at the Australian Veterinary Association, Dr Cristy Secombe, says there is “a lot of noise out there” about health products for animals. She advises pet owners to talk to their vet about whether their animal needs supplements before they make a purchase.

“As the vet has done all the reading, they can convert it to information that the pet owner can make a decision with. They [your animal] might not even need supplements – vets are best placed to give advice on when supplements are needed or not.”

Dr Secombe says that despite the explosion in wellness products for animals, the health of animals often comes down to “some age-old things first”, like the quality of pet food and how much exercise a pet gets.

“From a health and wellness perspective, it may not require you spending money on additional things.”

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