Interview: Where The Smart Money Is Going Into Pet Trends
Sector investor David Cunningham describes the trends that he sees leading the pet industry
As our living arrangements evolve, so do the relationships that we have with the animals we bring in to our homes. PSFK founder and editor-in-chief Piers Fawkes recently ran a podcast that explores how the trends impacting human lives are also influencing the pet space. To get some context around pet trends, he spoke to David Cunningham of VisioCap, an investment firm that specializes in the sector.
David: Today, pets are clearly an accepted member of the family. The way people live with pets is very similar to how they would treat a family member.
Every aspect of the products industry and the services industry is trying to meet that consumer need, which didn’t really exist 10 to 15 years ago. Maybe even more recently than that.
What matters in that context? Both mental and physical health and well-being. The trend touches food. It also impacts the accessory space and how technology—and non-technology—enabled products are trying to meet the need to entertain your animal. It also fuels the services space, which has emerged as providing a need to pet parents both in terms of just the practical kind of daycare boarding space, but also playing to the guilt with not wanting to leave an animal home alone.
Piers: In pet food, we know we see trends such as customized meal kits. How do you see that space developing?
Similar to the human side, people are generally seeking the best nutrition for their pet. How you define that is very personal.
In the human space, that might mean a gluten-free diet, or that might mean a vegetarian diet, or that might mean certain quality ingredients such as organic. People are applying the same approach to pet diets.
For some, that means a really scientifically based diet that meets the nutritional needs in a consistent form and fashion. With others, it might mean wanting to physically walk into what would look and feel like a deli of freshly prepared ingredients being cooked or lightly cooked for your animal.
At the end of the day, people are trying to do what’s best for their pet. It’s not clear if there’s a benefit difference for the animal. I think this is about how the pet owner perceives the nutritional benefits.
We’ve also seen a lot of wellness tracking—people have been tracking their steps and other things for a while now. That trend is being adopted within the pet space as well. Do you see opportunity there?
There’s the old adage, “What gets measured, gets managed.” If you’re more aware of your physical activity—via Fitbit or a device like that—it encourages you to focus on that. You’ll likely walk more if you’re tracking your steps just by the nature of tracking it.
The price of the technology is dropping, as is the accessibility, so people are tracking their animal’s activity. Again, I think it falls under this broader umbrella of pet-parent guilt: If they’re at work they can track and make sure that their animal’s getting a healthy dosage of activity—however they define that—and feel better about themselves as a pet parent. That’s definitely a driving factor.
The devices on the market offer this remote engagement, where people can see and even interact with their pets online. Is there any particular area that we should watch when it comes to services around pets?
Feeding. Typically, you put food out for an animal and they’re going to consume it at their pace. With technology, you’re seeing devices created that can measure, monitor and, in some respects, control some of that consumption behavior.
Where that leads to, I’m unsure, but we’re definitely seeing a use of technology as a feeding device. That’s showing up in a bunch of places. A lot of different manufacturers are pursuing that.