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Report: ‘Petflation’ Outpacing National Inflation Rate

By Pet Age Staff//February 16, 2024//

Report: ‘Petflation’ Outpacing National Inflation Rate

By: Pet Age Staff//February 16, 2024//

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  • Despite an overall slowdown in inflation in January, Petflation (inflation in the pet industry) remains strong, with a rate of +4.7 percent, 51.6 percent above the national inflation rate of +3.1 percent.
  • Petflation has been on the rise since 2022, reaching its peak in January 2023, and continues to exert influence on consumer pet spending, especially in discretionary pet segments.
  • The Petflation rate for December 2021 was +4.1 percent, and it has consistently outpaced the national inflation rate since then.

 

Inflation slowed in January; however, according to the Pet Business Professor John Gibbons, Petflation remains strong. The monthly Consumer Price Index (CPI) peaked back in June 2022 at 9.1 percent then began to slow until turning up in July/August 2023. Prices fell in October>December but turned up in January. However, the CPI actually decreased to +3.1 percent from +3.4 percent due to a big monthly price lift in 2023. Grocery inflation continues to slow. After 12 straight months of double-digit year over year (YOY) monthly increases, grocery inflation is now down to +1.2 percent, 11 consecutive months below 10 percent. According to Gibbons, even minor price changes can affect consumer pet spending, especially in the discretionary pet segments, so he will continue to publish monthly reports to track Petflation as it evolves in the market.

Petflation was +4.1 percent in December 2021 while the overall CPI was +7.0 percent. The gap narrowed as Petflation accelerated and reached 96.7 percent of the national rate in June 2022. National inflation has slowed considerably since June 2022, but Petflation generally increased until June 2023. It passed the national CPI in July 2022 and, at 4.7 percent in January, it is still 51.6 percent above the national rate of 3.1 percent. Gibbons looks deeper into the numbers. This and future reports will include:

  • A rolling 24-month tracking of the CPI for all pet segments and the national CPI. The base number will be pre-pandemic December 2019 in this and future reports, which will facilitate comparisons.
  • Monthly comparisons of 2024 vs. 2023 which will include pet segments and relevant human spending categories. Plus:
    1. CPI change from the previous month.
    2. Inflation changes for recent years (2022>23, 2021>22, 2020>21, 2019>20, 2018>19).
    3. Total Inflation for the current month in 2023 vs. 2019 and vs. 2021 to see the full inflation surge.
    4. Average annual YOY inflation rate from 2019 to 2023.
  • Year to date (YTD) comparisons (Since it is January, this month’s numbers are the YTD rate).

 

In the first graph, Gibbons tracks the monthly change in prices for the 24 months from January 2022 to January 2024. He will use December 2019 as a base number to track the progress from pre-pandemic times through an eventual recovery. This chart is designed to offer a visual image of the flow of pricing. It will show the similarities and differences in segment patterns and compare them to the overall U.S. CPI. The year-end numbers and those from 12 and 24 months earlier are included. Gibbons has also included and highlighted (pink) the cumulative price peak for each segment. In January, Pet prices were up from last month as lifts in Services and Supplies overcame drops in Food and Veterinary.

(click to enlarge)

In January 2022, the cumulative CPI was +9.4 percent and Pet prices were +5.6 percent. Like the CPI, prices in the Services segments generally inflated after mid-2020, while Product inflation stayed low until late 2021. In 2022, Petflation took off. Food prices grew consistently but the other segments had mixed patterns until July 2022, when all increased. In August>October, Petflation took off. In November>December, Services and Food prices continued to grow while Vet & Supplies prices stabilized. In January>April 2023, prices grew every month except for one dip by Supplies. In May, Products prices grew while Services slowed. In June/July this was reversed. In August, all but Services fell. In September/October this was reversed. In November, all but Food and Vet fell. In December, Supplies and Vet drove Total Pet prices up. In January, Food and Vet prices fell while Supplies and especially Services prices surged.

(Note: With cumulative inflation, all but Supplies are now at or within 0.4 percent of their pricing peak.)

    • U.S. CPI – The inflation rate was below 2 percent through 2020. It turned up in January 21 and continued to grow until flattening out in July>December 2022. Prices turned up January>September, dipped in October>December then rose in January; however, 30 percent of the 22.4 percent increase in the 49 months since December 19 happened in the six months from January>June 2022 – 12.2 percent of the time.
    • Pet Food – Prices were at or below Dec 19 levels from April 2020>September 2021. They turned up and grew, peaking in May 23. They have essentially stabilized at this record level, with 93 percent of the 22.9 percent increase occurring since 2021.
    • Pet Supplies – Supplies prices were high in December 2019 due to added tariffs. They then had a “deflated” roller coaster ride until mid-2021 when they returned to December 2019 prices and essentially stayed there until 2022. They turned up in January and hit an all-time high, beating the 2009 record. They plateaued in February>May, grew in June, flattened in July, then turned up in August>October, setting a new record. Prices stabilized in November>December but turned up in January>February 2023. They fell in March, peaked at a new record in May, then continued their rollercoaster ride with lifts in December>January.
    • Pet Services– Normally inflation is 2+ percent. Perhaps due to closures, the rate slowed in 2020. In 2021 consumer demand increased but there were fewer outlets. Inflation grew in 2021 with the biggest lift in January>April. It was stronger in 2022 but it got on a rollercoaster in March>June. It turned up again July>March 2023 but the increase slowed in April. Prices fell -0.3 percent in May, turned up June>August, fell in September>December, then surged to a new record high in January.
    • Veterinary – Inflation has been consistent. Prices turned up in March 20 and grew through 21. A surge began in December 21 which put them above the overall CPI. In May 2022, prices fell and stabilized in June causing them to fall below the national CPI. However, prices rose again and even with dips, they have stayed above the CPI since July 22. In 23 prices grew January>May, stabilized June>July, fell in August, grew September>December (which Gibbons notes was a record high) then fell in January.
    • Total Pet – Petflation is a sum of the segments. In December 2021 the price surge began. In March>June 2022, the segments had ups and downs, but Petflation grew again from July>November. It slowed in December, grew January>May 2023 (peak), fell June>August, grew in September/October, fell in November then grew in December>January to a new record high. The January lift came from Services (+5.6 percent) and Supplies (+0.7 percent) which overcame drops in Food and Vet. However, the YOY CPI fell from 5.1 percent to 4.7 percent.

 

Now, Gibbons will turn his attention to the YOY inflation rate change for January and compare it to last month, last year and to previous years. We will also show total inflation from 2021>24 and 2019>24. Petflation slowed to 4.7 percent, down from 5.1 percent in December but it is still 1.5 times higher than the national rate. The chart will allow you to compare the inflation rates of 2023>24 to other years but also see how much of the total inflation since 2019 came from the current pricing surge which took off in 2022. Again, Gibbons has included some human categories to put the pet numbers into perspective.

(click to enlarge)

Overall, Prices were +0.5 percent from December but were +3.1 percent vs. January 2023, down from +3.4 percent last month. Grocery inflation is down again, to +1.2 percent from +1.3 percent. Seven of nine categories had a price increase from last month – only Vet and Pet Food prices fell. There were five increases in December. Pet Services had a big turnaround. After four monthly drops, prices rose 5.6 percent. The national YOY monthly CPI rate of 3.1 percent is only 48 percent of the 2022>23 rate and 41 percent of 2021>22. The 2023>24 inflation rate is below 2022>23 for all categories but Veterinary Services. In the 2021>24 measurement, Gibbons notes that over 65 percent of the cumulative inflation since 2019 occurred in all but two segments – Medical Services and Haircuts – both Services categories. Service Segments have generally had higher inflation rates so there was a smaller pricing lift in the recent surge. Pet Products have a very different pattern. The 2021>24 inflation surge provided 95.6 percent of their overall inflation since 2019. Gibbons says this happened because Pet Products prices in 2021 were just starting to recover from a deflationary period. Services expenditures now account for 64.1 percent of the National CPI so they are very influential. Their current CPI is +4.9 percent while the CPI for Commodities is +0.1 percent. According to Gibbons, Services are driving virtually all of the current 3.1 percent inflation.

  • U.S. CPI– Prices are +0.5 percent from December. The YOY increase is 3.1 percent, down from 3.4 percent. It peaked at +9.1 percent in June 2022. The targeted inflation rate is <2 percent so we are still 55 percent higher than the target. After 12 straight declines, we had two lifts, a stable month, two consecutive drops, now two lifts (which Gibbons notes is not good news). The current rate is 52 percent below 2022>23 but the 2021>24 rate is still 17.9 percent. That is 79.6 percent of the total inflation since 2019. Inflation was very low in early 2021.
  • Pet Food– Prices are -0.1 percent vs. December and +4.8 percent vs. January 2023, down from 5.1 percent. However, they are still four times the Food at Home inflation rate. The YOY increase of 4.8 percent is being measured against a time when prices were 17.3 percent above the 2019 level, but that increase is still four times the pre-pandemic 1.2 percent increase from 2018 to 2019. The 2021>24 inflation surge has generated 90.2 percent of the total 26.5 percent (now second highest) inflation since 2019.
  • Food at Home – Prices are up +0.7 percent from December, but the monthly YOY increase is 1.2 percent, down from 1.3 percent last month and radically lower than July>September 2022 when it exceeded 13 percent. The 26.4 percent inflation for this category since 2019 is 17 percent more than the national CPI and is in third place behind Vet and Pet Food, with 79.5 percent of the inflation since 2019 occurring from 2021>24. This mirrors the national CPI, but we should note that grocery prices began inflating in 2020>21 then the rate accelerated. It appears that the pandemic supply chain issues in Food which contributed to higher prices started early and foreshadowed problems in other categories and the overall CPI tidal wave.
  • Pets & Supplies– Prices were up 0.7 percent from December and 0.5 percent vs. January 2023. They still have the lowest increase since 2019. As we noted, prices were deflated for much of 2021. As a result, the 2021>24 inflation surge accounted for 100+ percent of the total price increase since 2019. They reached an all-time high in October 2022 then prices deflated. Three months of increases pushed them to a new record high in February. Prices fell in March, bounced back in April/May to a new record high, fell in June>August, grew in September>October, fell in November, then grew sharply in December>January.
  • Veterinary Services – Prices are -0.1 percent from December, but they are +9.6 percent from 2023, again the highest rate in the Pet Industry. Plus, they are still the leader in the increase since 2019 with 36.5 percent compared to Pet Food, 26.5 percent and Groceries, 26.4 percent. For Veterinary, relatively high annual inflation is the norm. However, the rate has increased during the current surge, especially in 2023 and now 2024, so 68 percent of the cumulative inflation since 2019 occurred from 2021>24.
  • Medical Services – Prices turned sharply up at the start of the pandemic but then inflation slowed and fell to a low rate in 2020>21. Prices grew 1.0 percent from December and after eight straight months of deflation are now +0.6 percent vs last year. Medical Services are not a big part of the current surge as only 42 percent of the 2019>24 increase happened from 2021>24.
  • Pet Services – Inflation slowed in 2020 but began to grow in 2021. January 2024 prices surged, +5.6 percent from December and were +4.8 percent vs. last year, a big change from +0.7 percent last month, but well below the 8.0 percent back in March. Now, 77 percent of their total 2019>24 inflation has occurred since 2021. Last month it was only 49 percent.
  • Haircuts/Other Personal Services – Prices are +0.7 percent from December and +4.2 percent from 2023, after two consecutive months below 4.0 percent. Inflation has been rather consistent as 59 percent of the inflation from 2019>23 happened in 60 percent of the time.
  • Total Pet– Petflation is 56 percent lower than the 2022>23 rate, but still 1.5 times the U.S. CPI. For January, +4.7 percent is the fourth highest rate since 1997 (2023: 10.6 percent; 2009: 10.3 percent; 2008: 5.2 percent). Vs December, prices fell -0.1 percent for Pet Food & Veterinary Services but grew strongly in Non-Vet Services, +5.6 percent and Supplies, +0.7 percent so Total Pet was +0.4 percent. A December>January price increase has happened 9 straight times and in 25 of the last 27 years with an average lift of 0.4 percent. In terms of Petflation, 2024 started just as we should have expected. Veterinary & Food are still the Petflation leaders, but all segments have an influence. Pet Food has largely been immune to inflation as Pet Parents are used to paying a lot, but inflation can reduce purchase frequency in the other segments.

 

Petflation is slowing, but it is still strong, with the fourth highest rate for January and 2023 had the second highest annual rate in history. It is also 1.5 times the national CPI. In 2021, it was only 75 percent of that rate. Gibbons notes that, even if it slows to 0 percent, you can’t ignore the fact that inflation is cumulative. Pet prices are 20.9 percent above 2021 and 26.1 percent higher than 2019. Gibbons sees those as big lifts. Since price/value is the biggest driver in consumer spending, he expects it to likely affect the pet industry. The Non-Vet Services segment will be the least impacted as it is the most driven by high income CUs. Supplies and Veterinary will likely see a reduction in purchase frequency. Food is the most needed segment so Gibbons believes the response will be complex, and it could include a movement to online shopping, switching to private label or even downgrading the quality of food.

In fact, one impact of high cumulative inflation will be very visible soon at the industry’s preeminent trade show, Global Pet Expo 2024. There are over 1,100 exhibitors with 120+ actively soliciting OEM (Private Label) customers. Because many have expertise in OEM, this private label trend has caused a record surge in foreign exhibitors, 36 percent of all booths, including 250 from China. Inflation has further enhanced  the importance of “value” to consumers.