How the Covid-19 Pet Ownership Boom Has Impacted Pet Brands

Petco, BarkBox, Chewy and The Dodo explain changes they've made

Pet care brands are dealing with one of the few positive effects of Covid-19: a surge in pet ownership.

While inadequate amounts of toilet paper and frozen pizza plague the nation, one shortage has been a welcome sight throughout the coronavirus pandemic: empty animal shelters.

Thanks to both local and national animal shelters across the country urging people to adopt and foster pets, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Association for Animal Welfare Advancement reportedly have not seen an uptick in animal intakes or surrenders at rescues. In fact, they’re seeing the opposite, as those stuck in confinement seek companionship with furry friends.

A surge in animal fostering, adoptions and purchases has been followed by a boom in consumer interest in pet products and services.

Major U.S. pet brands have had to find a balance between ensuring the essential needs of new pet owners are met while also keeping employees safe and supported. Here’s how BarkBox, Chewy, The Dodo and Petco are managing their businesses and adapting during the health crisis.

BarkBox ‘very flexible’ with subscribers

According to Suzanne McDonnell, chief commercial officer and head of ventures and partnerships at Bark, BarkBox is “well-positioned” because the company has “managed the business in a sustainable way with a long-term vision.”

“Speaking from a financial perspective,” McDonell said, “history has shown us that people actually spend more on their pets in an economic downturn. We are seeing our business grow, especially among retailers who also sell groceries. Not surprisingly, we are also seeing our online business grow significantly among brick-and-click partners.”

This March, BarkBox witnessed just how “recession-proof” the pet care industry is, seeing a year-over-year increase in its subscription business.

However, regardless of these internal successes, McDonnell understands that this is a difficult time for many people and their dogs. As a result, BarkBox has been committed to being “very flexible” in working with customers on their subscriptions to ease burdens.

Chewy staffs up for rising demand

To handle a spike in orders, DTC pet product retailer Chewy is “working quickly and diligently to adapt our practices and policies in a way that safeguards our team members’ health, as well as our customers’ experience,” vice president of communications at Chewy Diane Pelkey told Adweek.

In addition to Chewy hiring between 6,000 and 10,000 employees at its fulfillment center to meet higher demand, some of the Covid-19 measures Chewy has already adopted include new health benefits, updated work policies and elevated sanitation procedures.

Moreover, Chewy has partnered with GreaterGood.org to donate more than $3 million in pet food, healthcare supplies and other essential products to animal rescues and shelters throughout the country that have been impacted by the economic and social effects of the pandemic.

Reportedly, an investor call with CEO Sumit Singh earlier this month revealed that Chewy expects first quarter sales in 2020 of about $1.5 billion, a growth of 36% compared to the first quarter of 2019.

The Dodo’s ‘daily dose of joy’

Beloved Group Nine digital media brand The Dodo is expressly devoted to delivering positivity, inspiration and entertainment to audiences in the form of animal content.

YuJung Kim, who has served as president of The Dodo for over four years, said the company has found that, especially in times of hardship and uncertainty such as natural disasters like Hurricane Harvey and the Australian wildfires, election cycles or a global health crisis, people proactively seek out The Dodo’s content because it offers them respite and hope.

“During the past few weeks, we’ve been getting a lot of comments from people who say that watching Dodo videos is a bright spot in their day,” Kim said.

The Dodo’s content consumption over the last six weeks has grown significantly across key platforms YouTube and Facebook compared to the same period in 2019. Per Kim, YouTube watch time and views have risen more than 170% and 162%, respectively, while Facebook watch time and views are up 83% and 70%, respectively.

“We’re being intentional about counterprogramming for the negative emotions specific to Covid-19, recognizing that people want a meaningful escape from the crisis, not just pure fluff,” Kim said, adding that the brand seeks out stories that can be an antidote to isolation and helplessness.

Though the economic pressures of Covid-19 have not spared The Dodo—Group Nine to laid off about 7% of its more than 700-person staff across the company last week—Kim told Adweek that the brand considers itself fortunate to be in the position to continue creating content audiences love, even while working remotely.

“Audiences have always turned to The Dodo for their daily dose of joy, and we’re stepping up to the challenge of making that dose stronger than ever,” she said.

Petco is still open, with some changes

According to a statement from Petco, the international pet retail chain is keeping anxious pet parents updated on developments related to Covid-19 (including whether domestic animals can contract the virus). Petco tapped into its own veterinary staff as well as the PetCo Pet Wellness Council, a coalition of animal health experts, to provide updated information and insights on the coronavirus curated for customers.

As an essential retailer, Petco remains open, but is prioritizing providing products and keeping employees healthy. As a result, Petco has implemented a number of changes: Curbside pickup is available at most stores, which are undergoing more cleaning; stopped shipments of nonessential items like toys and apparel; discontinued adoption events; and suspended Vetco vaccination clinics.

Petco has also provided five days of paid leave specifically designed to support those directly affected by Covid-19, ranging from confirmed cases to required or voluntary self-quarantine due to being high risk or living with or caring for someone at high-risk.

In light of the coronavirus, Petco established the Petco Partner Assistance Fund, with $2 million from Petco and more from sponsors and executive leadership to directly aid Petco partners who have been impacted by the pandemic.

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