A Short History of the Pet Industry




This week, as part of another project for Pet Business magazine, I’ve been talking to a number of industry veterans—people who have been in the industry for decades, who have seen its rise and evolution, and who have helped, in many ways, shape it into what it’s become.

The rich history in the industry is something that fascinates me—for example, did you know that the first pet stores mostly catered to birds, in the 1840s?

Or that the pet food industry began when one man watched sailors feeding dogs dry biscuits on the docks in approximately 1860, and decided to create the first commercially prepared pet food to sell to English country gentlemen for sporting dogs? (That first diet was made up of a mix of wheat meals, vegetables, beetroot and beef blood. Forget about the “protein first” expectations of many consumers today.)

A century later, the 1960s saw the launch of the first national pet store franchise, and by 1970, the fledgling pet industry was being shaped and helped along by two organizations that continue in that role today. The American Pet Products Association (APPA)—back then called the American Pet Product Manufacturer’s Association—was founded in 1958, with the Pet Industry Distributors Association (PIDA) conceived 10 years later, in 1968.

Industry veterans share that when they used to claim they worked “in the pet industry,” they were greeted with laughter. Back then, they say, the industry was all about the industrious entrepreneur—those souls who saw the potential in it and decided to invest.

Small manufacturers, family-owned distributors, and mom-and-pop pet stores all worked together to help create what we have today.

Today, the industry is unrecognizable from what it was in those early days, bringing in over $69 billion dollars in 2017 alone. It’s incredibly diverse, from small independently owned business to huge multi-billion dollar brands. And it continues to grow.

But I want to take a minute to just appreciate all that history… and note that much of it, unfortunately, has not been written down. With Global Pet Expo just around the corner, I’d like to recommend everyone who plans to attend try to squeeze in just one more meeting this show…find an industry veteran to buy a cup of coffee and ask about the early days.

Not only will it give you a chance to learn a bit more about the fascinating history of this industry that pays our bills, it’ll give help provide a bit of perspective as you plan the remainder of the year (and years) ahead.


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