Petflation November Update – Have prices peaked for the year?

The CPI data for November is out – a pretty “normal” month overall – for a change. The total pet market prices didn’t change much +0.17%. Every segment was up. Pet Supplies prices were up but the increase was less than half that of 2013. The Pet Food CPI was up – just barely. Service prices were both up about 0.2%. This is about twice the normal November increase. So we stand at what is the “normal” pricing peak for the year. In recent years December has brought precipitous drops in Food and Supplies prices, driving the Total Pet Market pricing down.

Key 2014 November Facts:

  • All segments showed price increases
  • Supplies and Food were up slightly less than “normal” for November
  • Vet and Pet Services were up more than a usual November
  • Overall result…Total annual projection still basically unchanged from last month

Here are the specifics:

    • Vet Service CPI – Up 0.18% over October – Higher than normal.
      • Up 2.74% since Dec.
      • Projected – Up 3.59% for year. (last  month’s projection was 3.63%)
    • Pet Services – Up -0.21% over October – Higher than normal.
      • Up 1.79% since Dec
      • Projected – up 2.98% for the year (last month’s projection was 3.08%)
    • Pet Supplies – Up 0.31% over October– About ½ usual   jump for November.
      • Down -0.26% since Dec.
      • Projected – down -1.19% for the year (last month’s projection was -1.26%)
    • Pet Food – Up  0.03% from October – Essentially flat.
      • Up 0.32% since December
      • Projected – down -0.37% for the year (note: last month projection was -0.39%)
    • Total Pet – Up -0.17% from October – All segments up.
      • Up 1.03% since Dec
      • Projection – up 0.64% for the year (last month’s projection was .62%)

Here’s what it looks like along with updated annual projections:


The Total Pet 2014 CPI projection is inching upward. It’s now at +0.64% versus + 0.62% last month and +0.60% two months ago. This is primarily being “fueled” by increases in the Supplies Segment. The Service segments have slowed their rate of increase and Food Prices have become essentially flat.

Here’s what the last 15 months of CPI’s look like.


Here’s how we stand in pricing in November 2014 versus a year ago or 2 or 3:



Pet Services – Prices are 2% higher than they were 1 year ago. The increases have slowed in recent months. Expect December prices to go up about 0.2% to produce an increase in the annual CPI of 3.0%

Vet Services – Prices are 3.2% higher than they were a year ago. The usual Fall price increases have been lower than normal. In recent years, the December CPI change has been inconsistent in this segment, ranging from No Change to +0.6%. Expect an increase of about 0.3% in December and an annual CPI increasea of 3.6%. Much of this was driven by strong increases in the first half of 2014.

Services Total – There will still be a 3+% increase in prices for the year but it was almost all generated in the first half of the year as price increases have slowed markedly since June. As was stated in an earlier Post, without the increases in Vet & Non-vet Services, Total Pet Prices would be down for the year!

Pet Food – Pet Food prices are -0.1% lower than they were a year ago. They are also only 1.0% higher than they were 2 years ago. That means that the prices in this largest Pet Segment have been essentially flat or down for 2 consecutive years. The Food and Treats segment has become increasingly price competitive as the Consumers have become more “value conscious” in their shopping habits. Expect prices to drop -0.4% in December and the overall CPI to fall -0.4% for the year.

Pet Supplies – Prices went up 0.31% in November, which is just slightly less than ½ of last year’s increase (+0.7%). Three consecutive months of strong increases have brought Supply prices back somewhat, -0.5% below where they were 1 year ago. They are still -3.5% below the prices in November of 2011. Expect prices to drop -0.7% in December, resulting in a CPI drop of -1.19% for  the year.

Pet Food & Supplies – These segments are about -0.5% below where they were in November 2013 and -0.3% below 2012. Taken together the prices in these Product segments  have basically been flat to just “below the surface” for about 2 years. Expect a drop of -0.6% in December and -0.9% for the year.

Total Pet – Prices are 0.8% higher than they were 1 year ago. This is driven totally by the Service Segments as Pet Products prices are down. We should see an overall increase of 0.64% in the Total Pet CPI for 2014. This would be second only to 2010 which had a 0.62% price increase over 2009. It will be close. In fact if Service Price increases are less than expected and Product Prices have a deeper drop…we could see a new low.

Question for December – Will the price drop in December be even greater than expected? We noted in a recent post that overall the November Retail Lift for 2014 was about the same or a little less than 2013. In fact, sales in the Miscellaneous Store Channel (includes Pet & Gift Stores) were actually less than 2013 – no lift, a drop. Will the pressure to make yearend numbers result in even deeper and more widespread discounts than usual? We’ll see.

Prices are prices…Why the concern about inflation or deflation?

Because extremes of either, especially over an extended period of time, can severely affect a segment or even the whole market.

Let’s look at an inflation example – Veterinary Services. For 16 years the annual inflation rate averaged 5.0%. The segment continued to show growth beyond just price increases…until 2011, when for the first time consumers actually bought less in terms of the amount of Veterinary Services. In 2012 they bought even less and the amount of Veterinary Services in 2013 was effectively the same as it was in 2010. What’s next for this segment remains to be seen. Pet Insurance, consolidation of clinics, an increased number of OTC medications, home testing…all could be possibilities…if they help to mitigate the cost of Veterinary visits. The consumer has become more value driven since the “great recession” and price increases must be reasonable…or they find an alternative or buy less. This behavior is most noticeable in discretionary spending but it also affects “essentials” like food and veterinary services.

Deflation is most common when a product group becomes commoditized and there is an abundance of supply. With no demonstrable difference in quality, price becomes the overriding factor to the consumer. Let’s look at a nonpet market that affects us all – oil. OPEC producers have decided to keep oil supplies extraordinarily high. This has produced a precipitous drop in gasoline prices…great news, right? Initially, yes. However, there may be some costs to the consumer in this strategy. OPEC countries produce oil cheaply and have a greater profit margin than some of the alternative production methods being employed elsewhere. These producers have a lower margin. They must be competitive so a substantial drop in retail prices results in either NO sales or turns low margins into NO margins…they can’t afford to run their businesses…so they will start to close them. This will ultimately cost thousands of jobs but gasoline prices are still low, right? That’s right. However, when a substantial number of “alternative” competitors have gone out of business, the OPEC members could decide to start scaling back production. As supplies fall, the prices start back up. To what level? With less competition, the OPEC members now have greater control…so it’s up to them. They can sacrifice margin for a period of time to reduce competition. As prices rise, some of the “alternative” competitors will come back…but fewer than before. Of course, the OPEC members can start the whole process over again.

As we have noted in an earlier post, deflation in the Human Toys market began in 1997 and prices have fallen ever since. The result: There are far fewer manufacturers competing in this category. We have only 1 major Retail Toy store chain left and they are on shaky ground. The retail sales in this market have migrated to general merchandise stores and the internet. In fact 30% of all toy sales are done by 1 National General Merchandise Store chain.

We are seeing indications of consistent deflation in the Pet Supplies segment and some initial signs in the Food Segment. Driven by the commoditization of more and more categories, overall Supply prices have been generally falling since 2009. This reduces margin which makes competing more difficult so companies start to “opt out”. There is less money to fund innovation and it becomes increasingly difficult for start ups. At retail, consumers start migrating… looking for value.

What’s in store for Pet? That’s up to us.

I know that you’re tired of hearing this…but since the great recession the consumer has demonstrated every day that they are driven by:

  1. Value
  2. Convenience
  3. Selection
  • Run your business more efficiently. Keep price increases to a minimum. Consumers expect prices to go up over time, but reasonably. What is reasonable?…only the consumers decide and they don’t tell us in advance. For the overall Pet Market it looks like a CPI increase in the 1-2% range is reasonable.
  • Need more $? Innovate! People will pay more for a demonstrably better product.
  • There is a lot of emotion in Pet Ownership. Consumers will also pay more for products with an “emotional” value. Some licensed products fit this description.
  • Convenience – Business and life in today’s world are both tough. Look for ways to make being a pet parent easier. “If you find it, they will come.”
  • Selection – Manufacturers and retailers should understand the consumer buying decision tree in each category and make sure they offer choices at the key decision waypoints. Retailers – Face it. You can’t build a store as big as the internet. You can offer online ordering with a larger selection…and when it makes sense, give them an in store pick up option…with a discount for their in store purchases.

Get a fast start in 2015 and make it your best year ever!

It’s the Holiday Season – How’s the lift going?

Recently we took a look at the history of the Holiday Lift. As you recall, overall the peak has dropped considerably since 1992. At that time the peak of the lift was over 40%. In 2012, it was down to +23% – a  decrease of over 40%.

Remarkably, the lift for November has remained relatively constant through the years at about +7% – despite the increased hype over Black Friday and even with the kickoff time being pushed up to Thanksgiving day and earlier.

The Census Bureau just released the Advanced Retail Sales for November. Let’s take a look and see how we’re doing this year in retail sales compared to 2013. To make it easier to view the results from different channels, we’ll break the data into 2 charts and compare:

  • Year to date Retail $ales through October (before the start of the holiday lift)
  • November 14 $ vs November 13 $
  • Year to date Retail $ales including November vs the same period in 2013



  1. The Retail less Auto and Restaurants is the most relative overall view for the Pet Industry. Note that November was up 2.4% over last year. However, since October YTD was up 2.7% November sales actually lowered the YTD increase.
  2. Grocery had a good month but not enough to make a difference in YTD overall.
  3. November is traditionally not a good month for Drug. This year, November didn’t match the YTD rate of increase.
  4. Building, Hardware and Farm stores – Fall/winter is not their season but they are holding their own.



  1. The General Merchandise Stores, including Department Stores, Discount Stores, Clubs, SuperCenters and Value stores expect and need a strong Holiday Season. November sales were up 2.3% – not much but it is better than the YTD rate so it helps.
  2. The Internet/Mailorder Channel was up 6.3% in November, slightly below their October YTD rate so November was a slight drag overall.
  3. Clothing and Accessory Stores had a good November. This channel depends on a strong Holiday Season.
  4. Sporting Goods, Hobby and Book Stores – November sales were up…finally. It will be very difficult for this Channel to break even for the year.
  5. Miscellaneous Stores includes outlets like Florists, Gift and Pet Stores (Pet is about 20% of the total outlets). November was not good…as sales were down -1.9%. December is the most critical month in this channel.

We have looked at November’s sales. Overall it was an OK month, give it a “C” or “C-“. How does this affect the anticipated Holiday Lift which starts in November? The next 2 charts will compare this year’s November “lift” to the ones in 2012 and 2013.

Here is the first group, including the overall National numbers:



  1. Overall the lift in November is definitely trending down. However, there is a factor that is “unseen” in the data. We have noted that VALUE is increasingly becoming the key driver in consumer purchasing behavior. Thanksgiving is the kickoff time to the holiday “deal” season. Consumers often delay purchases until then. In 2014 Thanksgiving was on 11/27. In 2013 it was on 11/28. However, in 2012 Thanksgiving was on 11/22 – 5 or 6 days earlier. This meant that in 2012 the November portion of the holiday season had almost a week more of intense shopping so it is not surprising that the lift was higher.
  2. Retail Less Restaurants and Auto – Had almost an 8% lift in 2012. The extra 5-6 days of shopping probably pushed November up close to an additional 1%. However, even allowing for this “bump” in 2012, the subsequent years are still trending downward.
  3. Grocery is not traditionally a channel with a big holiday lift. However, you can see that this big segment is steadily improving.
  4. The lift in Drug usually occurs in December. November is often flat to down.
  5. The late fall and winter months are not a “lift” time for Building, Hardware and Farm stores. The drop in 2014 was similar to the pattern in 2013.

In the next chart we will take a look at Miscellaneous Stores which includes Pet and Gift outlets along with some channels that are impacted early and strongly by the Holiday lift.




  1. General Merchandise stores are big drivers in the Holiday Sales Season. They are big promoters and try to push the kickoff time up a little bit. The lift has increased slightly in November each year since 2012.
  2. The Internet/Mailorder has had the greatest overall holiday lift. In this chart you can see that, while still substantial, the November portion is trending down. Part of this is due to the fact that this segment has substantially increased everyday sales so the Holiday lift is less pronounced.
  3. Sporting Goods, Hobby and Book Stores – A substantial increase every year since 2012.
  4. The November lift has remained relatively strong and steady for Clothing stores.
  5. Miscellaneous Stores (includes Pet and Gift) didn’t have a good November. The bulk of the lift in this segment comes in December but in 2014 they’re starting out “in a hole”.

In November the Retail Sales for all channels less Restaurants and Auto was $314B – up $7B (2.4%) from 2013. It will be the third biggest month of 2014 – behind only May and of course December. By the way, a reasonable estimate of December sales this year is $365B vs last year’s $356.5.

Regarding the November portion of the lift, it seems to be trending down slightly. Moving up the kickoff of Holiday shopping may help…at least when it is done by the calendar…and especially when November 1 is on a Thursday, which can give us up to 6 more “official” holiday shopping days in the month.

By the way, in the midst of the Great Depression, President Roosevelt tried to move Thanksgiving to the third Thursday of the month (from the last Thursday) in the years 1939-1941. Some people say he was urged to do this by Retail executives in order to extend the Holiday shopping season. The effort ultimately failed and Thanksgiving was set as the fourth Thursday of the month by an act of Congress which was signed by the President on December 26, 1941…less than 3 weeks after we entered World War II.

So I guess we could write our Congressmen….or better yet…..Enjoy the Holiday Season and have a great New Year!

Petflation October Update – Truly Mixed Signals!

The CPI data for October is out – with truly “mixed signals” – up, down and sideways. The total pet market prices didn’t change much +0.14% over September. Pet Supplies were up, but the increase was slightly lower than 2013. However, the Pet Food CPI dropped, which is unusual for October. Service prices were both almost “flat” – up less than 0.1%, very low for the Fall. Since the October Total Pet CPI surpassed June prices, the previous high point, we’re back on track for November to once again be the priciest month for the consumer to buy pet supplies and services.

Key 2014 October Facts:

  • Another large price increase in the Pet Supplies Segment – up 2.1% in 2 months. Huge.
  • Prices continue almost flat in Service segments.
  • Food prices drop slightly…. the norm is an October increase
  • Overall result…Total annual projection basically unchanged from last month

Here are the specifics:

    • Vet Service CPI – up 0.08% over September – Increases “flattening” out.
      • Up 2.55% since Dec.
      • Projected – Up 3.63% for year. (last  month’s projection was 3.66%)
    • Pet Services – up 0.03% over September – Continuing essentially flat. Unusual.
      • Up 1.57% since Dec
      • Projected – up 3.08% for the year (last month’s projection was 3.21%)
    • Pet Supplies – Up 0.69% over September– Normal jump for October.
      • Down -0.055% since Dec.
      • Projected – down -1.26% for the year (last month’s projection was -1.39%)
    • Pet Food – down  0.05% from September – Small change but Oct drop is not normal
      • Up 0.29% since December
      • Projected – down -0.39% for the year (note: last month projection was -0.42%)
    • Total Pet – Up -0.14% from September – Back on track…barely.
      • Up 0.86% since Dec
      • Projection – up 0.62% for the year (last month’s projection was .60%)

Here’s what it looks like along with updated annual projections:


Once again there is little change from last month’s overall  Total Pet projection…up 0.62% for the year versus up 0.60% for the year. However, Food prices dropped, which is very unusual for October. Service prices were almost flat. In fact the only normally performing segment was Supplies which had a reasonable increase. It has been a while since we have described Supplies as performing “normally”.

I think the monthly pattern helps us all to get a better understanding of what is happening in the market and what may occur during the balance of the year. I added the October numbers to the graph that I produced last month.

Here’s what the last 14 months of CPI’s look like.

Oct14MonthlyCPI Hopefully, the graph makes it easier for you to see both the similarities and the differences between segments and how they blend together to produce the overall industry total.

For the balance of 2014

Pet Services – The biggest price increases in this segment tend to come in Spring and Summer and slow down in the Fall and Winter months.This segment is performing according to the expected pattern. However, the Fall increases are considerably lower than normal. We can expect slight price increases in November and December.

Vet Services – This segment is not performing according to the expected pattern. The biggest price increases come in the Fall and Winter months. While prices have moved up since August, the change has not been of the usual order of magnitude. We can still expect increases in November and December. The only question is, “How big will they be?”

Services Total – Overall the prices have been basically flat since June. There will still be a 3+% increase in prices for the year but it was almost all generated in the first half of the year. These segments have had almost an identical pricing performance “footprint” since February of 2014. Without the increases in Vet & Non-vet Services, Total Pet Prices would be down for the year!

Pet Food – As you know, Food is the largest segment and is the biggest “driver” for the Total Pet Market. Food and Treats have become even more intensely competitive, driving prices down and resulting in somewhat erratic behavior in terms of pricing. The pricing in this segment still has a roller coaster pattern but it has been all downhill as prices this year have consistently remained below 2013. Also in recent years prices rise through November, then drop sharply in December. August and September had “normal” increases but October produced a rare price drop. We should expect some sort of increase in November followed by a December drop. The question is how big of a drop? It does seem to be a pretty good bet that overall Food prices will be down for the year – for only the second time in history.

Pet Supplies – Prices went up 0.69% which is just slightly less than  last year (+0.8%). However, with last month’s 1.38% increase, it means that prices are up 2.1% over 2 months. The last time that happened was Jan-Mar 2009. As you recall, Supply prices hit their all time peak in 2009 and have been deflating ever since.

With the October increase, prices are only 0.1% below what they were in October of 2013…and equal to June of 2008. What about November and December? Prices should continue up in November but how much? This has been a steep rise in prices. Let’s put it in perspective. If we have a 0.0% increase in November, this 3 month price increase “run” would still be the 6th largest in history. While we are unlikely to overtake the #1 spot , a 3.2% increase from June to September of 2007 (before the recession), it still is concerning. And how steep will December’s drop be? The recent increase has certainly mitigated the deflation in supplies…now expected to be less than 1.3% for the year. However, it has also reinforced the “volatility” of this segment.

Pet Food & Supplies – These segments are only about 0.1% below where they were in October 2013. However, they have basically been “below the surface” in the interim months. Both should rise in November and drop in December. The question is how much?

Total Pet – As we said earlier, without the price increases in the service segments, prices in the Total Pet market would be down for the first time ever. As it is, we are on track to compete for the lowest increase of all time – 0.6% in 2010. This may be a very real possibility. If Service prices continue their current pattern of minimal increases and Food and Supplies prices have their normal December price drop, then 2014 could beat 2010.

The pricing in the Total Pet Market is being driven consistently up by the Services but gets its rollercoaster pattern from Food & Supplies. While service price increases have been happening for a long time, this rollercoaster pattern in Food & Supplies just started in 2009. In the years prior to 2008 these segments were less erratic and prices grew at a relatively slow and steady rate. Prices on Food actually went up in December in all but 1 year (1998) prior to 2009. In 2008 prices started sharply upward. The biggest price increases in history occurred in 2008 & 2009 – during the teeth of the recession. Then in September of 2009 the bottom dropped out of food and supply prices and we have been on a rollercoaster ride ever since.

It would be nice to get back to “normal” but all the major business publications say that the recession changed the U.S. consumer forever…with value (price+quality) becoming the overwhelming factor in purchase decisions. It seems that this new “normal” is contributing to the erratic CPI in the segments in our industry.

Why Invest in the Pet Industry?

Why Invest in the Pet Industry?  To answer that question, let’s look at the numbers.

In sheer numbers, America has a lot of pets – 400M – more companion animals than people. According to the APPA there are:

  • Cats – 95.6M
  • Dogs – 83.3M
  • Birds – 20.6M
  • Small Animals – 18.1M
  • Freshwater Fish – 145M
  • Saltwater Fish – 13.6M
  • Reptiles – 11.5M
  • Horses – 8.3M

But how widespread are they in society? In September of 2014 the U.S. Census Bureau released updated data. In 2013 there were 125,670,000 Consumer Units (Households) in the U.S.

The APPA reports that the % of pet ownership among U.S. Households is:

68% have a pet(s) = 85.4M H/Hs

  • 46.7% have a dog = 58.7M
  • 36.3% have a cat = 46.9M
  • 5.7% have a bird = 7.1M
  • 5.7% have a small animal = 7.1M
  • 11.8% have freshwater fish = 14.8M
  • 1.5% have saltwater fish = 1.9M
  • 4.5% have a reptile = 5.8M
  • 2.3% have a horse = 2.9M

As expected, Dogs and cats are by far the most popular. Let’s put some of these numbers in perspective:


As you can see, Pets are a major part of American life and have become part of the family. However, we are talking about business so how much do Americans spend on their pets?

The U.S. Census bureau just released their annual study on consumer spending which found that the average U.S. Consumer Unit (household) spent $460 annually providing for their pets. That’s for all households – with and without pets. ..and does income matter?  Let’s take a look:


Income does matter as the rate of pet spending  increases radically with an increase in income.

So what is the top line? According to the APPA, Pet Spending in the U.S. in 2013 was $55.72B The U.S. Census Bureau’s estimate is actually higher…$57.95B. Either way, it is a lot of $…and more than is spent on alcoholic beverages (at home), non-alcoholic beverages, dairy products or men’s clothes…to name a few categories that Americans are fond of.

Where do we spend all this money? A review of a recently published list of the top 100 U.S. Retailers from the National Retail Federation is very enlightening. Before we take a look at the summary results, we should note that this report just reflects the top 100 Retailers. It doesn’t include approximately 8000 other Pet Stores and thousands of other outlets selling pet products across many distribution channels.

So how do the Top 100 Retailers feel about selling Pet Products? Let’s see…


Obviously, Pet Supplies are sold in a huge number and wide variety of outlets…all across America. There is another factor to consider. How important is shopping for Pet Supplies to the U.S. consumer? A.C. Nielsen has done a survey which gives some insight into how the consumer feels and acts.

The Nielsen survey addressed the nature and number of consumer shopping trips. They divided them into 4 segments:

  1. Immediate(need) – $15 ave.
  2. Fill-in – $51 ave.
  3. Routine – $98 ave.
  4. Stock up – $242 ave.

Here’s how the trips broke out.


As you can see most trips are smaller – with 82% at $51 or less. Let’s take a look at the immediate trips. These are “need” driven and make up 61% of all of Americans’ “forays” into the retail market. What “needs” motivate these trips?

According to A.C. Nielsen, 9 of the top 10 are for “food”. Ranked in order, the top 10 reasons for an immediate shopping trip are:

  1. Milk
  2. Bakery (bread)
  3. Pet Care
  4. Cheeses
  5. Salty Snacks
  6. Soft Drinks
  7. Frozen Meals
  8. Fresh Produce
  9. Ice Cream
  10. Cereal (ready to eat)

Number 3…behind Milk and Bread…It looks like their companion animals are pretty important to American Consumers or should I say “pet parents”.

What then is the bottom line for the Pet Industry? How does it stack up against the total U.S. retail industry? One last chart…


Through good times and bad, at full retail or adjusted for inflation, since 1997 the Pet Industry has performed at least 50% better than the overall U.S. retail market.

It is different from many industries because of the emotional element in caring for and providing for companion animals. Americans have almost a “family like” connection to their pets. They also have proven that they are very willing to put their money where their heart is.

So to answer the question, “Why invest in the Pet Industry?”… Because it makes $ and sense!

The Holiday Lift – I’m dreaming of a “green” Christmas!

Many consumer Product categories have strong seasonality. The pet industry is no exception. Of course, consumers buy pet food and supplies all year round. However, many segments, like Collars and leads experience a big boost at retail in the Spring as people and their Pets spend more time outdoors. By the same token, the Fall chill brings the promise of Winter’s inevitable cold, so apparel and “indoor” product sales begin to climb.

In terms of retail “lifts” attributed to a particular date, Halloween has become the U.S.’s second biggest retail holiday. The Pet Industry has jumped on board with hundreds of millions of dollars in pet costume and toy sales.

However, nothing can hold a candle to Christmas. The lift associated with Christmas has been a long tradition in America. It is a season for gift giving and the increased retail “traffic” in the stores generally gives a boost to most categories – people products or pet products.

For many years, the Holiday shopping season officially kicked off on “Black Friday” – the day after Thanksgiving. That has changed. With Christmas items already out in many stores for over a month and Black Friday sales now starting on Thanksgiving day or earlier, the “push” for the consumer’s dollars gets more frantic every year.

How much of a gain in retail sales actually happens during the holidays and has the ever increasing hype boosted the overall “lift” in retail sales. The US Census Bureau historically tracks retail sales by month. Let’s use it.

  1. We’ll use June as the starting point and graph monthly sales for the following 12 months.
  2. Each monthly waypoint will be the cumulative % change from our starting month
  3. We’ll pick 3 years to compare 1992-93; 2002-03; 2012-13. This spans 20 years…..



  1. The first thing that you notice is the remarkable similarity of pattern. Remember these measuring points span 20 years in 10 year increments.
  2. The next thing is that the December lift is becoming much smaller
    • 25% less in 2002 than in 1992
    • 23.3% less in 2012 than in 2002
    • 42.5% less than it was 20 years ago
  3. The “lift” in November over the years is basically unchanged…. 7-8%
  4. In January, sales fall off a cliff…and reach about the same “bottom” every year.
  5. No matter how bad January is, February can go even lower.

So the lift is unchanged in November as people delay purchasing, waiting for the kick off sales. The December lift is about ½ of what it once was but the Jan-Feb trough is just as deep as ever. It doesn’t seem like the hype is helping. There is one other small factor to consider – profit. You may recall from the earlier posts on Pet CPI that the prices on Pet Supplies and Food drop precipitously in December. It appears that the big lift comes with a price tag…profit margin.

Regarding holiday lifts, not all retail channels are created equal. Let’s take a look at the 2013-14 season from the viewpoint of several large retail channels.



  1. The internet has the biggest lift in this group. Clothing Stores (not pictured) is the only other retail segment with a higher lift – 68%. The internet is by far the fastest growing retail segment. Amazon’s sales grew 25+% in 2013.
  2. General Merchandise stores, with a 38% lift are probably the closest to the pattern of Pet Stores. Notice the big drop in January. However, unlike the overall market, sales move up…slightly in February. Gift stores (not pictured) also show a 40% peak in December.
  3. Supermarkets have the smallest lift due to the everyday nature of their business.
  4. Drug stores actually have a pretty good lift…19%, as they now stock an ever widening array of “non-medical” consumer products, including pet supplies. December is also in the cold and flu season, which could be a factor.
  5. Hardware and Farm Stores – Although they may get a lift from holiday product sales, Christmas is not a lift season for their overall business. As you can see, Spring is the major lift for this channel.
  6. Put them all together. Nationwide for 2013-14, we got a lift of 22% for December. This is less than the 23% lift in the prior year. The November 2013 lift at 5% was also lower than 2012’s lift of 7%.

Percentages are one way to look at the situation. Let’s try looking at it with a slightly different “spin”.

  • Let’s assume the holiday lift & fall runs from November through February.
  • We’ll use the prior 10 months from January through October as a base for determining an average month’s business leading into the “season”.
  • We can then use this to determine how many extra days of sales are generated by the lift or…lost in the fall.
  • Here’s what it looks like for the Total Market and specifically for Gen Mdse stores.


  1. In the Total Market, we gain 9.1 extra days of sales (Nov+Dec) but…lose 4.2 days after the first of the year. The net gain is about 5 days of average business. It’s a 120 day period so we get an extra 4.2%.
  2. In the Gen Mdse store channel, the November lift of 5 days equals the Jan-Feb fall so the 13 days gained in December are all plus business. It’s about ½ of an average month’s business, a 10% gain spread over 4 months.

In terms of actual $ spent,

  • In November & December of 2013, we spent $663B. This is
    • $383B more than in 1992; +136%; Ave annualized growth rate of 4.2%
  • Now to put this in the perspective of “Scrooge” , the buying power of the $ in 2013 was only 60.8% of 1992
    • Adjusted actual growth was $123B; +43.8%; Ave annualized growth rate of 1.7%

Christmas holiday retail spending is still growing. However, despite all the publicity and work, the “traditional” retail holiday “lift” seems to be getting relatively smaller and perhaps less profitable. We have no choice but to keep it up. The competitive pressure is just too strong. However, maybe we should consider expending some time and effort to try to bring January and/or February out of their “traditional” trough…pad the “fall” with some extra dollars.

Later this month, we’ll do a CPI update. Will Pet Food and Supplies pricing continue to rise…?

Petflation September Update – Supplies Pricing Up…Way Up!

The CPI data for September is out. The big news again is from…Supplies – Prices Up, Way Up! This is the first September increase for Supplies prices in 5 years and at 1.38% – the 6th largest monthly increase in history. In recent years, driven by drops in Supply Prices, September had become the month for lowest overall pet prices…not in 2014.

Key 2014 September Facts:

  • Huge price increase in the Pet Supplies Segment.
  • Prices almost flat in Service segments.
  • Food continues “normal” Fall increase.
  • Overall result…Total annual projection basically unchanged from last month

Here are the specifics:

    • Vet Service CPI – up 0.19% over August – As expected – a little lower than anticipated
      • Up 2.5% since Dec.
      • Projected – Up 3.66% for year. (last  month’s projection was 3.68%)
    • Pet Services – down -0.03% from August – Essentially flat. Unusual.
      • Up 1.5% since Dec
      • Projected – up 3.21% for the year (last month’s projection was 3.36%)
    • Pet Supplies – Up 1.38% over August – First September increase in 5 yrs…and a big one.
      • Down -0.7% since Dec.
      • Projected – down -1.39% for the year (last month’s projection was -1.56%)
    • Pet Food – up  0.44% from August – Normal Fall increase continues
      • Up 0.3% since December – Finally got back to where we started the year.
      • Projected – down -0.42% for the year (note: last month projection was -0.47%)
    • Total Pet – Up 0.6% from Aug – Back on track
      • Up 0.7% since Dec
      • Projection – up 0.60% for the year (last month’s projection was .55%)

Here’s what it looks like along with updated annual projections:


Ultimately there is little change from last month’s overall  Total Pet projection…up 0.6% for the year versus up 0.55% for the year. However, the way that it was produced was interesting. Service Prices (Vet and Non-Vet) have slowed their inevitable climb while Pet Supplies started back up…in spectacular fashion

I think the best way to appreciate what is happening and to discuss what is possibly in store for the balance of 2014 is to look at the pattern by month.

Here’s what the last 13 months of CPI’s look like.


This graph is definitely more interesting and makes it easier to “see” how the action in the 4 individual segments produce the overall industry total. There is a mix of slow steady climbs and…roller coasters.

For the balance of 2014

Pet Services – Basically climbed steadily for the first half of the year, then flattened out. Expect prices to climb to a peak in December. The prices in this segment have grown unchecked for 16 years at a 3.4% average annual rate of increase. They need to slow down or they will inevitably face a correction in the amount of services consumers buy. This “correction” has occurred in every other pet segment.

Vet Services – As you recall from a previous post, since 1997 Veterinary Prices have risen at a rate that is 46% faster than Human Medical Care. For the past 4 years the amount of Veterinary Services purchased by consumers has been effectively flat. Price increases have slowed since April and been minimal since June. The August “dip” this year was normal. Last year the “dip” was followed by 5 months of rapidly rising prices. Expect prices to continue up for the balance of the year – peaking in December.

Services Total – Since February 2014, these two segments have been performing in “lockstep”. You almost only need 1 line on the graph.

Pet Food – This largest segment of the market has been performing in “untypical” fashion. In a “normal” year Food prices climb from August through November and then drop sharply for 1 month in December. They start back up again in January. Last year, Food prices were essentially flat from August through November. They dropped in December then kept on dropping to the low point in March. The second quarter brought increases followed by a “normal” July drop. So far, August and September look pretty normal. Expect prices to rise through November with a fairly substantial drop in December. Note: the CPI for Pet Food in September of 2014 is almost exactly the same as it was in September of 2013. Expect overall prices to be down for the year – the second time in history.

Food Clarification: Although the segment is called Food. The USBLS includes treats in this survey. Basically, if it has calories, it’s a food. The consumer has a wide variety of pet foods to choose from, especially for dogs and cats. There are actually even more companies that provide treats. At SuperZoo and GPE, there were over 240 exhibitors (1 in 4) offering dog and/or cat treats. This enhanced competitive environment could be a factor in pricing pressure.

Pet Supplies – Although it came in an unexpected month, Supply prices finally went up…big time… +1.38%. Monthly price changes of over 1%, up or down, have occurred on average less than once a year. The last time that Supply prices rose in September was 2009. Prices then uncharacteristically dropped in October and November. In fact, October 2009 marked the starting point of the current 5 year deflation. Let’s hope that history doesn’t repeat itself.

Coincidently, the big increase in the CPI also put this segment at exactly the same level as it was one year ago – in September 2013. Although, we have a different perspective, as September was the pricing low point for last year. We also should note that prices are currently at the same level as they were in March 2008 – over 6 years ago. Expect prices to continue up in October and November, then drop sharply in December. Net drop for the year should be less than 1.5%.

Pet Food & Supplies – Both of these segments usually have an annual rollercoaster ride. Although, the peaks, valleys and monthly changes on the Supplies ride tend to be more extreme. Let’s note again that both segments are almost exactly where they were one year ago. Combined, the difference is less than 0.02%. Look for 1 more dip in this year’s ride – December.

Total Pet – The monthly performance of the Total Segment is also a roller coaster because of the influence of Food & Supplies. Services are pretty consistently up so they just tend to keep the prices in the market higher. The Food segment is the largest, so the overall market tends to mirror it’s pattern – except when there is a big disparity in performance. Look at August 2014. Services – Flat; Slight increase in Food; Big drop in Supplies. Result: Total Pet down slightly.

Expect prices to rise in October and November, then drop slightly in December. The amount of the December dip will depend on how much Food and Supplies fall. For the year, prices should be up about 0.6%, matching the lowest annual increase ever – which occurred in 2010.

Note: An updated printable version of all relevant 2014 posts is available. It has a table of contents for easy reference and is segregated by chapters to facilitate printing of specific sections. To receive an electronic copy (including this post) by e-mail, contact me at

Pet Spending Gets Its Own Category

We made the grade. Expenditures on Pets are now being reported as a separate entity on the annual Consumer Expenditure Survey done by the Census Bureau on behalf of the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. Previously, Pet expenditures were bundled with toys and playground equipment. (go figure)

What is the CE Survey and what does it mean? The first Consumer Expenditure Survey was done over a 3 year period in 1888-91 to look at worker’s spending habits. The spending of our workers was considered to be a factor in U.S. production costs and impactful on foreign trade. Over the next 90 years, 7 more expenditure surveys were done for various reasons usually in response to radically rising prices, a depression or an impending or current war.

The rapidly changing economic conditions of the 1970’s highlighted the need for more timely data. In late 1979 the current program of annual reports was begun. The primary purpose was and is to collect data to revise the pricing sample used in the Consumer Price Index and to provide information on the spending patterns on U.S. households from the viewpoint of a variety of demographics.

Since the CPI has become such an important factor in U.S. fiscal policy making, the accuracy is of paramount importance. The CE survey is somewhat complicated and the methodology is constantly being reviewed and revised to facilitate the process. Basically, it consists of 5 consecutive quarterly interview surveys with each participant in conjunction with a separate “spending” diary survey. This data is then merged into a summary report. The participating households change every year. (The households are selected but participation is voluntary.)

OK, enough background. The report lists 100 categories and subcategories of expenditures. I have cut it down to the “pet-essential” information and added some calculations. Here’s what the Pet Expenditures for 2013 look like from the viewpoint of household income.



Clarification: The study is based upon Consumer units. The term Consumer Unit is often used interchangeably with household but a household can have more than 1 financially independent consumer unit; ex: boarders, dormitory situations, permanent hotel residents, etc. The number of consumer units is always slightly greater (1-2%) than the number of households. The key is financially independent buying decisions. For our purposes the difference is not significant.


  1. Total Pet Expenditures in 2013 – $57.8B. This is a little higher (3.8%) than the APPA reported number of $55.7B, but very close.
    1. $30.0B (52%) spent by consumer units (CU’s) with income over $70K
      1. 40.5 million CU’s (32.2%)
    2. $27.8B (48%) spent by CU’s with income less than $70K
      1. 85.2 million CU’s (67.8%)
  2. Pet Expenditures per CU (all CU’s – pet owning & non-pet owning)
    1. $460 per year
      1. $743 for CU’s with income over $70K
      2. $326 for CU’s with income less than $70K
  3. Pet Expenditures for pet owning CU’s.
    1. Used 68% of CU’s (APPA number for % of households with a pet(s) )
    2. $676 per year (85.5 M Pet owning CU’s)
      1. $1093 for CU’s with income over $70K (27.5M CU’s)
      2. $479 for CU’s with income less than $70K (57.9M CU’s)


The results from this survey, while not in exact agreement with other sources, reinforce the size of the Pet Market and the spending in regard to income demographics. It confirms that slightly over 50% of the spending on pets comes from households with an income of $70K or more. This supports the assertion that there definitely is a market for “higher ticket” Pet items.

However, we also need to remember that $70K is not what it once was. Since 1997, the U.S. Dollar has lost 45% of its buying power. The numbers also highlight the spending disparity that goes along with income disparity. The under $70K households spend less than less than half as much on their pets as the over $70K group…and there are twice as as many of them – 58 million. In a non-pet related fact, take a look at the average total spending for the under $70K group. They spent 10% more than they made – usually, not a good long term plan.

Under $70K or over $70K, Americans are looking for a value. I believe that we are seeing this reflected in the current pricing deflation in Food and Supplies and in the slowed growth in the amount of Veterinary Services. There is also a retail consumer “migration” going on with Supercenters, Value Stores and the Internet becoming favored destinations. All these are issues which should be addressed.

In comparison to many other categories, the growth of the U.S. Pet Market has truly been a “success” story over the past 20 years. Driven by America’s growing love for their companion animals and nurtured by organizations, manufacturers and retailers, the Pet Market has become an economic force in the consumer marketplace. As you recall, the U.S. government first took note of the significance of the market back in 1997 when they established separate CPI measurements for each of the Pet Segments. In their most recent Consumer Expenditure Survey, published last month, for the first time they separated spending on Pets as it’s own category. This is another piece in the puzzle which will give industry professionals more data from which to make more informed and better decisions – critical to maintaining the industry’s strength.

On a final note, let’s put the $58B in perspective. In 2013, U.S. consumers spent $5 Trillion dollars at retail. Spending on Pets was about 1.2% of  the total. We are definitely becoming a bigger “drop in the consumer spending bucket”. Take a look at how we compare to some other categories.


The CPI for September will be released later this month. In recent years, September has been the low point in Pet Prices for the year. I will post an update as soon as possible.

Pet Market Pricing Update – August CPI Drops!

The latest CPI data for August is out. August is usually a fairly predictable and stable month. In over 70% of previous years…Vet & Non Vet Service prices usually take a little dip…and Food & Supplies go up. The overall Pet CPI has gone up in August 94% of the time.

However, as we have seen, this is not a “normal” year. Key 2014 August Facts:

  • The Pet Supplies Segment usually goes up in August. Not only did it not go up. It dropped almost a full percentage point from July.
  • The overall Pet CPI dropped in August. This has only happened 1 time in history and that was 15 years ago. This drop was largely driven by the Pet Supplies segment.

Here are the specifics:

    • Vet Service CPI – down 0.1% over July – As expected.
      • Up 2.3% since Dec.
      • Projected – Up 3.68% for 2014. (last  month’s projection was 3.73%)
    • Pet Services – up 0.1% over July – Not normal; Usually drops in August.
      • Up 1.5% since Dec
      • Projected – up 3.36% for 2014 (last month’s projection was 3.23%)
    • Pet Supplies – down -0.9% from July – Not Normal; Usually goes up in August.
      • Down -2.1% since Dec.
      • Projected – down -1.56% for 2014 (last month’s projection was -1.47%)
    • Pet Food – up -0.3% from July – As expected, but smaller increase than normal.
      • Down -0.1% since December
      • Projected – down -0.47% for 2014 (last month projection was -0.48%)
    • Total Pet – down -0.1% from July – Not normal – Dip in August hasn’t occurred in 15 years.
      • Up 0.1% since Dec
      • Projection – up 0.55% for 2014 (last month’s projection was .58%)

Here’s what it looks like along with updated annual projections:


For the balance of the year:

  • Service prices should continue steadily upward. The only break could be a possible dip in Veterinary prices in November. The peak month for pricing is invariably December.
  • Food has hopefully started the regular pricing climb which goes from August through November. Then comes a big drop in December. With the unusually low prices for the first 8 months, it appears very likely that the 2014 CPI will be less than 2013. An annual drop in prices for Pet Food has occurred only 1 other time – in 2010.
  • Pet Supplies prices continue to “plummet”. There is no other word for it. They are down 1.74% just since June. This is going into September which usually produces another drop and the price low point for the year. October and November generally bring CPI increases followed by the December Drop to close out the year.
  • Driven by ever increasing Service prices, Total Pet has never had a drop in annual prices. The smallest increase was 0.6% in 2010. This was driven by CPI decreases in both Food and Supplies. We have the same situation now and we are “on track” to meet or beat our record low.

The Pet Supply Segment is the ongoing concern. We saw that an unexpected big drop in Supplies prices pushed the whole Pet Market into negative numbers in August for only the second time in history and the first time in 15 years.

The Pet Supply Segment reached its all time pricing peak in May 2009. Since that time it has been working its way down – deflating. The price drop so far is 7.6%. How does that compare to other pet segments and key economic indicators. Take a look:


Somehow the 1% drops here and there and even the 7.6% drop over 5 years doesn’t seem like that much. Since Pet Supplies is going in the opposite direction from the other indicators, it’s hard to compare. Let’s use Pet Supplies as the “base” performance and compare these other categories to it to see what the overall differences are.

That looks like this:


Except for Pet Food, there is over a 20% difference in the pricing performance of Pet Supplies vs other economic indicators. The difference in the services is understandable as the price of basically all services has been growing faster than the National CPI.

However, 20+% differences in pricing performance from food and beverages and the overall CPI are significant. Remember, all these categories were operating in the very same economic conditions. If you “do the math”, it shows that the gap has widened at an average rate of 4% or more, in every year since 2009.

Will the deflation continue? In recent years, September has been the “bottom” month for pricing in the Supplies segment so it is possible, even likely that we will see another CPI drop in September. The big question is when will this segment “put on the brakes” and start a true change in direction? A deflating market grows increasingly difficult for manufacturers, distributors and retailers.

Building A Pet Business…like climbing a mountain!

Building a Pet Business – Sometimes it’s like climbing a mountain.

In my consulting business, GPS For Pet Businesses, I have likened building a pet business to a road trip. You set a destination (your goal), plan a route, gather your resources…then you’re off. Delays and roadblocks occur – some expected, some not. You find the way – through or around – and continue on your journey – focused on the final goal.

As you can tell from earlier posts, I am “into” analysis. Why? Because developing a business requires decision making and decisions are only as good as the information they are based on. However, analysis and good decisions are not enough.

“Strategy is grand. Execution is crucial.” – I heard this phrase countless times from Tom Leonard when he was the President of Aspen Pet. So what does it take to execute…? It takes the will to succeed. You must be motivated. So all the analysis and strategizing will come to naught without the emotional strength to carry it through. However, never forget that the time for emotion comes AFTER the decisions have been made, not during the process.

In the Pet industry we are always noting the ongoing humanization of our companion animals so we are sensitive to drawing parallels between human and animal behavior. Recently I visited the “high country” in Colorado including the summit of Mt. Evans at 14,240 ft. Literally 3,000 ft above the tree line, the world at 3 miles high is something to behold.

I was fortunate enough to witness a “family” making their way to the very peak of the mountain. I watched in awe at their progress. During their quest I was struck by the similarities between their journey and the one we take in trying to build a business. Building a business is like a journey but sometimes it can seem like you are climbing a mountain.

Take a look.

First, a group comes together and decides to follow a leader on a journey to a higher place.


The path can be rocky from the beginning but the way is clear.


The road can get incredibly tough but they find a way and persevere


It makes sense to pause and prepare themselves for the final push!


Suddenly they’ve made it…to the summit…together!


Ah…the view from the top! That’s why “you” made the trek!


Mt. Evans, Colorado – Approximately 14,240 ft. – 3000 ft. above the tree line. Echo Lake in the picture is at 8,000 ft. – over 6,000 below. In the initial “feature” picture, you were looking up to the summit from the lake.

Watching this family of mountain goats was truly inspiring and a living reminder. Business and life can get tough sometimes. Sit down. Figure it out. Then do it.

“Failure is not an option.”- Gene Kranz, mission director of Apollo 13.

In my next post, we’ll get back to the numbers as the August CPI update will be available from the USBLS. In a normal year the prices for services – Vet and Non-vet should be down in August. Both Food and supplies should be up. However, this is not a normal year.

Petflation Update – CPI in July

The latest CPI data for July is out. Services prices are up. Food and Supplies prices are down. This is pretty normal for July. The details are:

    • Vet Service CPI – up 0.1% over June – no surprise.
      • Up 2.3% since Dec
      • Projected – Up 3.71% for year. (last month’s projection was 3.73%)
    • Pet Services – up 0.1% over June – as expected
      • Up 1,5% since Dec
      • Projected – up 2.39% for the year (last month’s projection was 2.23%)
    • Pet Supplies – down -0.9% from June – Normal to drop in July
      • Down -1.2% since Dec
      • Projected – down -1.47% for the year (last month’s projection was -1.55%)
    • Pet Food – down -0.6% from June – Normal for prices to drop in July but this is greater than usual.
      • Down -0.4% since December
      • Projected – down -0.48% for the year (note: last month projection was -0.39%)
    • Total Pet – down -0.5% from June – Not normal – If dip occurs, it usually comes in June
      • Up 0.2% since Dec
      • Projection – up 0.58% for the year (down about 0.2% from last month)

Here’s what it looks like along with updated annual projections:


For the balance of the year:

  • All Service prices usually drop in August then turn upward for the balance of the year…with 1 slight dip in Veterinary prices, usually occurring in November.
  • Food prices should start back up every month until the annual December drop
  • Supplies should start a “roller coaster” ride. Prices should go up in August, then fall to the lowest level of the year in September. October and November should bring rising prices…with a big drop in December.

However, it’s not a normal year. As you can see August should be a pivotal month. That CPI will be issued when we’re at the Total Pet Expo. I’ll do an update shortly after that.

My biggest concern is what’s happening in supplies. It appears that the consumer may have significantly changed their buying view on supplies during and since the recession. Prices have fallen since late in 2009 and this may be an indication that the segment is being systematically commoditized – a category at a time.

The chart below shows the CPI history for human apparel and toys – two categories that have largely become commodities and have parallels to a lot of the Pet Supply categories.

The Human Toy segment has truly become a commodity. Prices have dropped precipitously since 1997…over 60%. In terms of National Pet Toy Specialty retailers, only Toys R Us still exists. The vast majority of the business is now in discount stores and the internet. Wal-Mart is the largest toy retailer, with a 30+% market share.

The CPI period from 2009 to 2013 in Pet Supplies closely resembles the period from 1992 to 2000 in Apparel. This Human category has been commoditized in the clothing segment. The effect on the overall Apparel CPI has been mitigated because pricing in the shoe segment held its ground through 1998. However, the pricing in the overall Apparel market is now still 4% below what it was in 1997.

I don’t know how you feel, but neither of these other category “models” seems very appealing to me.

In my next post,
we’ll take a look at the overall consumer buying behavior today and how that relates to the Pet Supplies segment.