For weeks this spring, the shelves of pet food at Pettin Place in Reno’s Midtown were picked clean. Back in late March and early April, the coronavirus pandemic led to people panic buying a broad range of supplies — from toilet paper to flour to firearms. For many pet owners, their short list of supplies also included pet food.
“At first it was a bunch of food because people were afraid of the lockdowns,” said Marcia Sherman, manager at Pettin Place. “They were stocking up on food.”
It wasn’t just Northern Nevada, either. In March, pet food sales jumped roughly 28%, across the U.S., while sales of treats increased 19%, according to market research firm Nielsen.
More than a third (34%) of pet owners have increased pet-related spending since COVID hit in March, according to a survey by LendingTree, which also revealed, perhaps shockingly, nearly half (47%) of pet owners have pet-related debt, up from 36% in 2019.
Still, 80% of those who have pet debt would still be willing to get another pet, the survey found.
Sierra Le Bone, a pet supply store in Carson City, also saw demand for food and supplies increase dramatically at the onset of the pandemic, said co-owner Janice McMinn.
She said the combination of distributors limiting what businesses could buy due to COVID and having to rely solely on curbside business for a few months was a challenge — not to mention half of the store’s clientele is older, and thus in the higher risk group for contracting the virus.
“When it first hit, business dropped about 50%,” McMinn told the NNBW last week. “It’s slowly coming back, but it’s not anywhere near what it was before it (COVID) started.”
McMinn said Sierra Le Bone’s sales typically jump 20% during the holiday season, adding: “I can only hope that happens this year.”
It just might. A recent survey by consulting firm Deloitte found that pet merchandise is expected to be one of the top gift-giving categories this year.
About half of the more than 4,000 people surveyed said they plan to purchase pet foods and supplies during the holiday season. On average, they plan to spend $90 on pet items.
PANDEMIC PET BUYING, ADOPTING
Along with pet owners increasing their spending, many cooped-up Americans have been buying pets for quarantine companionship.
Pettin Place, for one, saw a rush of customers scooping up the shop’s birds and “furry animals,” including rabbits, hamsters, mice, gerbils and guinea pigs, said owner Linus McKibbin.
“At the beginning (of the pandemic), business was quite brisk,” said McKibbin, noting that Pettin Place’s sales were up 30% for the first few months. “People being at home more, they wanted something to play with and keep them busy.”
The nonprofit Nevada Humane Society is seeing the same effect, with more people taking in rescue cats and dogs from its Reno and Carson City shelters.
Since March, the nonprofit has fostered out more than 2,000 animals and adopted out close to 5,300 animals between Reno and Carson City, said Nicole Theodoulou, marketing director at NHS.
“With more people being at home, they feel like they have more time to be able to commit to helping an animal in need,” said Theodoulou, noting that NHS’s list of active foster volunteers jumped from about 150 to 600 people. “We have a really receptive, amazing community of supporters; they really stepped up to the plate to help us.”
To that point, Theodoulou said the number of adopted pets is on par with last year, despite the fact the shelters’ population of animals is less than half of what it was in 2019.
According to research company Packaged Facts, a boost to pet adoption was anticipated in 2020, considering ownership rates for dogs notched up in the wake of the Great Recession, rising from 35% of U.S. households in 2007 to 38% by 2011.
Illustrating that demand, NHS has seen its average length of stay for an available animal drop from 17 days to seven days, Theodoulou said.
“That’s a very, very quick turnaround time for a shelter pet to be sitting in waiting for their home,” she said. “And we’re really excited because that’s definitely one of our ultimate goals is to get them forever homes and get them out of the shelter as quickly as possible.
“We would love for this to be our new normal where one week is our average length of stay for an available pet.”