Interview: How Human Trends Have Migrated To The Pet Business
Petrics CEO Ed Hall discusses how wellness and fitness tracking trends among humans are influencing products and services for pets
As millennials substitute the love of children with the attention of a dog and cat, a whole range of products and services have arisen to satisfy these ‘pet parents.’ PSFK founder and editor-in-chief Piers Fawkes recently ran a podcast that looks at the sector. As part of the episode, he spoke to Ed Hall of Petrics to understand how wellness and customization trends were driving this sector.
Piers: Can you help me understand the key trends in the pet sector?
Ed: The common trend is customization. That’s what we’re seeing a lot of at Petrics. You’re seeing it with the custom meal plans where people are doing the ‘Blue Apron’ approach for pet food. You’re seeing it with custom wellness plans through things like Banfield Insurance and different pet insurance companies. You’re also seeing a lot more specialty diets that are being produced—breed-specific diets by the big manufacturers, like Royal Canin.
The other thing with the pet industry, as I’m sure you’re aware of, is the humanization trends. A lot of what we adopt into our own personal lives, we’re starting to see migrate into pets’ lives, which makes sense, especially now with millennials being such a big portion of the pet ownership—they’ve actually overtaken baby boomers as the largest generation of pet owners in the U.S.
Because they’re having families at later stages in life (they’re not getting married and having kids at 22 anymore), what has been created is this concept of the family pet/family member. Instead of millennials having children, they’re having pets as children. They’re treated as such.
It’s a very big part of the industry right now. A lot of the bigger players in the industry that have been typically marketing and selling to older generations—let’s say baby boomers—they’re now trying to figure out ways to appeal to millennials. They never really had to do that before. There’s a very lucrative opportunity for the businesses in that space.
Remind us how Petrics works. How does it tap into the health and wellness of the pet?
We really wanted to build this system to passively collect data on the pet’s health metrics and their behavior. That’s where the name Petrics comes from: “pet” and “metrics” put together.
We wanted to get these pet metrics to help spot health issues early. That’s a problem for pet owners—typically the detection of a health issue tends to be further down the road as opposed to spotting it early when it starts.
Pets can’t speak. I can tell you if my stomach’s not feeling well, but a pet may not be able to. Because they can’t speak, it makes it harder. Usually, pet owners only spot the issue when an illness has progressed a lot further.
Cats are notorious for it, because they typically don’t let you know until it’s really bad.
By monitoring the pet through these devices, we can actually let you know immediately when we start to spot these trends, so you can get ahead of it and maybe knock it out with antibiotics or some other fairly simple procedure, rather than having to go down the surgery path, or irreversible damage, or even worse, death.
We also unveiled the world’s first smart pet bed at CES. This pet bed tracks your pet’s weight on a consistent basis. When they use the bed, it will track the pet’s weight and update the mobile application.
It has heating and cooling to keep them in their optimal temperature zones because there are a lot of breeds that aren’t in conducive areas for their climate. You might have a husky in Florida where it’s 95 degrees. That’s very dangerous for the huskies, because of their coat density and all of that. They’re not made for that type of environment. They were never bred for that.
We wanted to be able to offer a bed that could do heating and cooling to help keep them in those safe temperature zones, and also, it helps for therapeutic reasons.
Also, for geriatric pets for instance, a lot of times they have issues when it comes to their bones and joints. If it’s cold and rainy, it hurts them. It aches just like a human. When you have osteoarthritis, you don’t want to be around cold, rainy weather. The same thing with pets as they get older.
On top of it, the bed also comes with an activity tracker. That way we know the activity behavior of the pet and how many calories they use on a daily basis, and if based on their breed, they’re getting the right amount of exercise they need.
If we notice a deviation where their activity is decreasing or their weight is sporadically fluctuating in a certain pattern, those would be flags of a possible health issue. We can notify you early on, so you can get your pet to the vet and hopefully take care of the issue before it becomes more serious and costly.
What format is the regular Petrics tracker?
It’s a universal collar device, so you just attach it to your pet’s existing collar. That way you can still use the collar that you prefer, but you’ll be able to get the tracking benefits of it.
Then on top of it, we built a mobile application. It will be free to download—it’s basically a companion application. We designed this app to help pet owners with not just being able to track those metrics, but also other things in their caregiving needs, whether that’s sharing information with a veterinarian, other family members or an emergency contact. If you have a pet sitter, they are also able to track the pet’s medical records and how many calories they need on a daily basis.
We also have one of the first true nutrition-recommendation engines with thousands of foods and ingredient breakdowns. If your pet has a specific need or you have specific things that you’re looking for in foods, then we can go through 15,000 foods and treats and tell you which ones best fit the profile for your pet.
That way you can quickly find the ideal foods and treats for your pets based on their needs and not just based on the marketing or branding of these big companies.
How is the industry reacting to some of these trends?
For us, we saw the whole ‘Blue Apron of the pet food industry’ trend coming where small food manufactures were saying, “We can custom make food meals based on your pet’s needs.”
There’s no way that they’re actually making a custom meal specifically for that pet. They’re definitely doing generalized meal plans where they consider the ingredients.
It’s really not that hard to do. The problem with that is, it’s very expensive. I’ve seen some as high as $5 or $6 a meal for your pet. That’s not feasible when you have three pets.
At the end of the day, Nestlé Purina, Mars Petcare and similar companies have some of the best nutritionists behind their foods. They have some of the most extensive data and they could have made custom meal plans a long time ago. They didn’t because it’s very expensive to produce. You have to re-set up your machinery to create new meals for a specific pet. You just can’t do that with all these pets. There are over 82 million households in the U.S. that own cats or dogs.
Listen to more pet tech trends experts in our recent PurpleList podcast ‘Living Alongside Pets.’ More insights on the topic can be found in the PSFK Research Paper Enhancing Pet Ownership, Care & Experience.
PSFK’s CXI 2018 conference brings to life key trends in customer experience through talks and activations by pioneers at well known and new companies.
Jared is partner at Pioneer Fund, a a venture fund that pools capital and expertise from 170+ Y Combinator alumni to make diversified investments in select YC companies. He is also founder and CEO of Crowd Med, a company that has raised over $4M in venture capital to date from several top-tier Silicon Valley venture funds to solve difficult medical cases.
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