With the COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacting the trend for pet adoption and care, the pet tech market has been laying down a more solid foundation. Several countries halted all non-essential services and imposed strict lockdowns and social restrictions amid the coronavirus crisis, of never-before-seen proportions, on their citizens. These lockdowns did fulfil their purpose; slowing down the spread of the virus. On the flipside, they ended up fueling cases of mental health and depression among people who were stuck inside their homes with little-to-no social interactions.
A July 2020 poll conducted by Kaiser Family Foundation on mental health found that a majority of the surveyed adults reported significant negative impacts of the pandemic-induced living conditions on their well-being and mental health. Approximately 36% and 32% of the participants reported difficulty sleeping and eating respectively, while 12% participants reported worsening of pre-existing chronic conditions because of the stress caused by the coronavirus.
An ‘unlikely’ solution:
Adopting companion animals has helped most of these people cope with mental health issues and tackle depression. Invariably, the spending on pet care product has surged during the pandemic, fostering global pet tech industry size, which is expected to cross $20 billion in value by 2027.
While the trend of having companion animals was already showing strong signs of growth pre-COVID, the pandemic delivered a significant boost to this consumer behavior. Several studies have shown that the company of a pet helps lower stress. Given that stress relief was the need of the hour, more and more people across the globe began adopting pets as companions to keep their spirits up through the isolation.
The situation has brought forth a paradigm shift in the pet humanization trend, wherein more consumers became inclined towards providing their pets with human-like products or experiences. This evolving consumer behavior has allowed pet industry players to rollout a slew of innovative products to the market, gearing itself up for the future of pet care technologies.
An emerging opportunity:
While the global pet industry has largely been a tech-free space since humans learned domestication, the advent of Industry 4.0 has shaken this notion to its core. With ongoing advancements in IoT, AI, and machine learning, new pet tech innovations are being made on an unforeseen level. These innovations are going hand-in-hand with the ongoing pet humanization trend, with a majority of consumers welcoming them with open arms.
Rise of pet tech 4.0:
Products such as smart dog homes, self-clearing litter boxes, microchip-enabled pet doors are quickly becoming common additions to pet owners’ homes. Globally, the pet wearable market size is anticipated to reach $10 billion by 2027. One of the emerging pet technologies is a smart pet collar. These products are available with a variety of features. GPS tracking is a common and expected feature of smart pet collars.
For example, the NVK dog training collar comes with a remote and up to three training modes. The product is suitable for commercial dog training purposes as well for serious home pet trainers. Speaking of potential home care products for companion animals, automatic feeders are gaining momentum among consumers. Rapid expansion of e-commerce platforms has helped the pet tech products to reach a broader consumer pool.
Today, technological advancements in the pet industry are not just focused toward novelty products, and are increasingly making their way into the veterinary sector, big data and AI have become highly instrumental in optimizing precision veterinary medicine for pets. Several veterinary tech products and equipment are being rolled out to make diagnosis and treatment more effective and accurate.
How the industry handled COVID-19:
The coronavirus pandemic has allowed the mHealth sector to bring veterinary care into the fold as well. As mentioned earlier, the pandemic saw many people adopting pets as companion animals, with a majority of them being first time owners who were not as aware about the medical needs of their pets. This created an immense need for medical pet care services in a time where people could not really venture out to make vet appointments.
As a result, the industry saw vets taking to the digital sphere as medical consultants to effectively help owners take better care of their animals and address any non-emergency medical needs from the safety of their homes.
The pet care market, and the pet tech industry by extension, has been witnessing vast amounts of growth from the APAC region. India, among other Asia Pacific economies, is taking up a notable share of this trend. Smart GPS collars and smart tags for cats and dogs are being bought by pet owners afraid of losing their pets. Smart harnesses can be used for ensure safety and proper handling of leashes, with the products witnessing a gradual demand in India.
According to the Free Press Journal, during the coronavirus-induced lockdowns pet adoption increased so much that sales of pet food recorded a jump of 20% in 2020. Mars Petcare India reported that there has been an exponential surge in companion animal adoption as Indians are spending more of their time at home, alone in most cases. As a result, more of the country’s younger generation is opting for pet adoption. In fact, in 2020, the rate of adoption for puppies went up into the 50% - 100% range, while the cat market grew by more than 40%.
The future of India’s pet tech industry:
India has been a relatively conservative market when it comes to getting consumers to spend on products that might be considered as ‘novelty’, especially when it comes to pets. However, given the proclivity of younger pet owners to make quality-of-life purchases for their pets, the gravity of this business growth challenge is likely to diminish in coming years.
Another factor that is expected to alleviate the risk of the aforementioned challenge is the growing trend of adopting strays. According to the National Geographic, India is home to more than 35 million stray dogs, and despite the common notion, many Indians are inclined towards bringing home a stray, making pet adoption free essentially. This leaves more wiggle-room for Indian pet owners when it comes to pet expenses, expenses that can go towards helpful pet tech products.
It is safe to say that the pet industry, and by extension the pet tech market, has found it difficult to find distinguished growth on a global level. However, it appears that the COVID-19 pandemic has not been as daunting of a challenge for the market as it has been to other industries.
Matter-of-fact, the pandemic has seemingly helped the industry draw in more growth. Now the question of the hour is whether the industry would be able to sustain this wave of growth it has built up over the forthcoming years, and how it would react to changing consumer perceptions, and people returning back to their pre-pandemic lifestyles.