covid-19 impact

Pet food shortages leave owners on the hunt for kibble and cat treats

Pet food shortages leave owners on the hunt for kibble and cat treats

A cat eats in a home in Amman. (REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed/File Photo)

CHICAGO, July 29

Black short-haired kitty Astra, one of millions of pets acquired during the COVID-19 pandemic last year, had to go without salmon-flavored Whiskas treats that were sold out at stores in New Orleans this month. Loki, an Alaskan malamute dog in Ontario, Canada, did not have his usual Royal Canin kibble in the food bowl.

North American pet owners are struggling to track down certain foods from major retailers like Amazon.com, Target Corp and PetSmart as the sector grapples with increased demand and strains on the supply chain.

Costs for pet food ingredients have climbed 8% to 20% since the pandemic began, according to U.S. industry group the Pet Food Institute, outpacing a 5.4% jump in consumer prices in the 12 months through June.

Higher prices of basic foodstuffs such as corn, soy and meat, on top of rising transportation and labor costs, are affecting all food supplies - both for animals and people - as the U.S. economy picks up steam. 

Donations of pet food are seen at the South Shore Pet Food Pantry near Boston. (South Shore Pet Food Pantry/Handout via REUTERS)

"The pet supply chain isn't that different from the food supply chain," said Coye Nokes, partner at OC&C Strategy Consultants. "That has obviously been really stressed by COVID – whether it's the ingredients, raw materials, processing or downtime at different facilities."

Prices for U.S. corn and soybeans, key ingredients in many pet foods, reached eight-year highs this spring, pinching manufacturers that use the crops.

Pet food makers are also facing increased competition for animal- and plant-based oils because more of those are going into renewable fuel supplies, according to the Pet Food Institute.

"Unprecedented price increases for ingredients and equipment jeopardize US pet food makers' ability to plan and execute strategies that will ensure America's dog and cat food bowls are filled," the institute warned U.S. agriculture officials in a June letter.

Supply constraints are taking pet owners by surprise, and there are many more owners since the pandemic began. About 12.6 million U.S. households indicated they acquired a new pet from March to December 2020, according to the American Pet Products Association.

In New Orleans, Aura Bishop, 39, searched local stores for weeks to find her cat Astra's favorite treats, made by Mars Petcare. The company, the world's biggest pet food producer, declined to comment.

The shortages were an inconvenience for the writer and actress, who said Astra helped her cope with anxiety and depression during the pandemic.

"I wish she was less of a finicky eater and would eat other flavors," Bishop said. "It does feel a little silly to go on this quest to find specific flavors of kibble and treats." Reuters

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