Coronavirus: How India’s $347M pet care industry is adapting to the nationwide lockdown
“Even though the pet care market is not prone to recession, it’s still not immune to it,” says Kamakshi and Dhruv Kumar, the husband-wife duo who run Gurugram-based Petveda.
“The coronavirus outbreak has impacted the pet care industry in a big way, especially the pet grooming sector,” they add.
The entrepreneurial duo, who specialise in developing organic, paraben-free, and DMDM Hydantoin-free products for pet care and grooming, especially suffered a setback in the light of the coronavirus-induced slowdown and lockdown. But even as their business reels from the impact and adapts to the new normal, they are not the only ones to take the hit.
India – home to a $347 million pet care market – has taken a blow at large. Driven by a surge in nuclear families, urbanisation, increasing spending power of the generation, and an increasingly humanising attitude towards pets, the industry has begun to show cracks – a sign that the upcoming months are going to get tougher with reduced spending power, shifting consumption priorities, and a decrease in fundraising activities.
Already, offline sales have dried up for many startups dealing in grooming products as portions of the pet care industry are being rendered out of jobs. These include boarding and day care facilities, pet spas, dog walkers and trainers, and the pet events segment. In its place, temporary clinics and virtual veterinary assistance through video calls have gained grounds in recent times.
Difficult times as these are, there is perhaps another side to the crisis that is drearier and absolutely disheartening.
Says Anushka Iyer, CEO and Founder of Wiggles, “One of the worst ways we are seeing this crisis impact the pet care ecosystem is through a high abandonment of pets due to fear, rumours or false information.”
Misinformation and panic buying
Pune-based Wiggles, run by Anushka and her father Rajh Iyer along with Co-founder Venky Mahadevan, is driven by a singular goal – to introduce transparency associated with costs, medication, nutrition, and wellness options across the pet industry. The startup has stepped up in many ways to face the extraordinary challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In light of the rampant spread of misinformation and unverified facts around pets and their immunity to the infection, the startup has taken upon itself the task of dispelling rumours and providing essential services to pet parents.
“We have launched Wiggles SmartVet in 72 hours, which enables pet parents to connect with our team of in-house vets through a video call and have also launched a temporary clinic at our headquarters in Pune so that no pet goes untreated,” says Anushka.
She adds, “We have preponed the launch of Wiggles Wet Food (in two variants, veg and non-veg) and are experiencing a surge in demand along with a high volume of orders and 100 percent retention rates, proving that the demand is indeed more than the supply of these products and services in India.”
Partly, this imbalance is due to the overburdened supply chain and logistics, which despite working round the clock, is showing signs of wear and tear. But to a certain extent, the gap in supply and demand is to be attributed to the fear-induced panic buying among pet parents.
“There has been a surge in the buying of pet food, medicines, supplements from pharmacies,” Anushka tells us, “and even the local shops are stocking up on pet food since there is a demand for it from their regular customers.”
Even as pet parents weigh up alternative options to feed their pets and keep them healthy during this time – the nutritional value of homemade food is also being considered – an unnatural trend in buying patterns has taken over. Particularly, in case of specific medicines for joint pains, pet diapers, cat food and litter, adds the Wiggles Founder.
How businesses are affected
Unnecessary and uncommon as it may be, the coronavirus-led panic buying has certainly resulted in a new kind of chaos. This kind of behaviour has created a situation where sudden hoarding and stockpiling of food packets, medicines etc., has resulted in an imbalance in stocks and supplies in most stores. And to add to this, several pet care startups are unable to cater to basic services, thanks to the unavailability of logistics.
“The outbreak has affected our sales offline, as the retail stores are shut,” Founders of Petveda explain, “and online also. Pet grooming is not classified under essential items, hence we are not able to deliver essentials items either through Amazon or through our own website as the delivery companies are not functional.”
“Even though we are operational, we are unable to supply our products to the customers,” they add.
The potentially fatal coronavirus outbreak has a short-term and a long-term impact on businesses. In the short-term, it seems to have impacted certain business verticals deeply, leading to the complete closure of segments like recreational activities for pets, celebrations of birthdays or other occasions, to avoid public gathering.
And in the longer span, its effects could mean a decrease in fundraising activities, according to Shekar Gaonkar, an avid animal lover and the Founder of Petcart. The Bengaluru-based startup, which bundles three verticals under one umbrella – essentials, health and wellness, and hospitality – has not been indifferent to the impact of the pandemic on the startup ecosystem, especially with its day packages including pet events, and pet birthdays on hold.
“Only in extreme cases and emergencies, we are taking boarding with a lot of precautionary measures in place,” he says, adding on an ominous note about the after-effects of this crisis. Even once all services are back to normalcy, it will take some time to gain the momentum and be on track, he opines.
What can pet parents do in the meantime?
As India enters its third week of the lockdown, a pressing question stares us in the face – when will things return to normal? Finding an answer to this question, unfortunately, means jumping through internet’s rabbit hole. And we all know, nothing good ever comes out of it. Especially with the current cycle of disturbing news online.
If you are a pet parent, now is the time, in fact, to read up, stock on only the essentials, and monitor the health of the furry members of your family closely. Precaution is better than cure, after all. And borrowing from this adage, there are a few, specific health and wellness related points, notes Dr
Srikant Veeranna, adhering to which could go a long way in ensuring the well being of pets.
“Pet parents need to limit taking out their dogs, as they may carry the infection through their legs and paw,” he explains adding, “cats should be kept indoors and should not be allowed to venture out.” With cats, the veterinarian notes that there is a risk that they can enter an endemic area or infected/quarantine house and spread the infection.
Researchers, after a study of over 100 domestic and stray cats in China’s Wuhan city – the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak – found that 14.7 percent of the felines were infected with the virus. But on whether cats and other animals can infect their caretakers isn’t clear yet, suggests Srikant.
The goal, hence, should be to practice caution and this includes the use of disinfectants, face masks (for those feeding stray animals), and other safety protocols.
“The thumb rule for a healthy living is balanced food and exercise,” reminds Srikant, adding maintain physical distancing, wear masks of someone is sick, and avoid non-emergency visits. “Opt for telemedicine for small issues, preferably from the vet who is aware of the pet’s history,” he adds.
(Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta)