10 big business deals that are changing the pet industry

The pet industry has long been almost boringly stable, having proven itself to be recession-proof (or at least recession-resistant). But it has also been ripe for innovation, with new products and services and new ways of selling to consumers as customers’ behaviors and tastes change—along with the ways they project those behaviors and tastes onto their pets.

For more, see “It’s a dogfight at America’s pet stores as COVID-19 upends the $96 billion industry.”

In recent years, those factors have earned the $95.7 billion industry plenty of attention from mergers-and-acquisition bankers and tech investors alike. Here are some of the biggest deals of the past five years, in both spaces, according to data from Dealogic (for M&A) and Pitchbook (for venture-capital deals).

Big buys in the pet aisles

A big blue deal

In 2018, Fortune 500 food giant General Mills bought Blue Buffalo Pet Products for $8 billion. General Mills’ sales of processed food and cereals had been languishing; this deal made it a major player in the pet industry overnight.

Who owns your vet?

Mars PetsCare bought veterinary giant VCA for $7.7 billion in 2017. Mars is best known as a maker of food (for humans and pets alike). But this deal cemented its place as the top employer of veterinarians in the U.S.

A big retailer goes online

PetSmart, the nation’s biggest pet retail chain, bought online upstart Chewy for $3.35 billion in 2017. The big-box superstore had neglected e-commerce for years, and the Chewy deal was aimed at fixing that and gaining control of surging rival.

PB&J and kibble

J.M. Smucker Co bought Big Heart Pet Brands (maker of Meow Mix, Milk-Bone, and other well-known product lines) for $3.33 billion in 2015. The food conglomerate was eager to diversify away from instant coffee and jams, and this deal gave it an instant toehold in the pet food industry.

Targeting refined pet palates

J.M. Smucker added Ainsworth Pet Nutrition (maker of Rachael Ray Nutrish) to its portfolio with a $1.9 billion acquisition in 2018. This deal solidified Smucker’s place as a major pet food player, deepening its reach into the premium-food market.

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Tails of venture capital

Walking the walk

SoftBank pumped $300 million into Wag, a dog-walking startup, in 2018, in a deal some saw as embodying the frothiness of the tech bubble. SoftBank later reportedly sold its stake at a loss. Wag, like other companies offering dog-walking services, has seen a huge drop-off in business amid the pandemic.

Matchmaking for mutts

The VC firm First Round led a $155 million funding round in 2018 for Rover.com, a match-making app that connects dog owners with walkers and sitters. The round valued Rover at $925 million, almost enough to be a unicorn. But demand for its services are also taking a hit as people work from home.

Human-grade dining

L Catterton in 2019 invested for the second time in JustFoodForDogs, a high-end food brand that is now an important partner for Petco, making “human grade” food for its stores. The deal, which injected $68 million in capital into the firm, showed the market’s belief in “premiumization” of pet foods. (Despite its name, JustFoodForDogs also makes cat meals.) (For more, see “Why the pet industry hopes Americans will start treating their cats more like dogs.”)

Rural route

A group of VC firms in 2018 invested $39 million in premium food-maker The Farmer’s Dog, whose ads have graced countless New York City subway cars, valuing it at $209 million at the time.

Betting on health

Viking Global led a group of investors in 2017 that put $224 million into Covetrus, a provider of management technology for vet clinics. Pet healthcare spending has been growing even faster than spending on food and supplies in recent years, a trend that investors are eager to tap.

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