Feeding Frenzy

Thanks to a whole lot of snow in Colorado I was pretty much housebound this week.  I was also reminded of the number of mouths I’m expected to feed. That total is nine… if I count the four horses, two cats, and one dog besides my wife & me. Now that I think about it, a horse eats enough for two so let’s bump the number to eleven mouths. And nine of those belong to animals.

A year or so ago I wrote a post called Sign Me Up!, where I marveled at the rapidly growing world of subscription-based services.  Among my own subscriptions I listed a magazine, a newspaper, and digital music, I also included Chewy, the online pet food supplier whose mission is “to be the most trusted and convenient online destination for pet parents (and partners), everywhere.”  At the time I was just trying Chewy out, not willing to go all-in with a subscription.  Today?  I’m fully on board and wondering why I didn’t sign up sooner.

Even the U.S. Post Office celebrates “fur babies”

Every time a Chewy pet food box shows up at my front door my first thought is, “Why didn’t I come up with this idea?”  Chewy’s concept is wonderfully simple… and wildly successful.  First, create a list of the world’s major suppliers of dog and cat food.  Second, negotiate bulk purchases of their products at a discount.  Third, set up a small network of fulfillment centers.  Finally, sell to customers with some of the discount, keeping the rest for your own operation and profit.  It’s a middleman’s recipe for millions.  Er, make that billions.

If you think this post is a plug for Chewy you’re darned tootin’ it is.  Chewy offers over 2,000 brands of pet food to 15 million subscribed customers.  97% say they’re satisfied.  Chewy’s net sales in 2019 were $4.8 billion dollars.  Nosh on that impressive number for a second.  $4.8 billion sounds like the GDP of a small country.  A small country with a lot of pets.

Foresight is everything here.  Ten years ago I wouldn’t have believed there were 200 brands of pet food, let alone 2,000.  If I go back to my childhood (way more than ten years ago) I can name exactly four pet food brands or products of the day: Purina, Friskies, Alpo, and a curious General Mills creation called Gaines Burgers (“The canned dog food… without the can!”)  Well, I also remember a variety box of dog biscuits called “Fives”, but that’s because I snacked on them every now and then when there wasn’t anything else in the pantry.  Fives were fit for human consumption.  At least, I think they were.

The pet food demand of the 1970s wouldn’t have sustained a subscription service like Chewy.  On the other hand, today’s market is a feeding frenzy, especially with more people opting for “fur babies” over children.  And don’t think Chewy hasn’t noticed all the doggy daycare and emotional support.  Now they also deliver food for your fish, your bird, your snake, and all those farm animals grazing on your backyard lawn (alpacas, anyone?)  Chewy even offers a pharmacy of over-the-counter meds when your pet is in some way under the weather.

Hello, “Chewy”!

I was going to wrap up this plug by smugly suggesting Chewy cater to our horses, but of course they already do.  I can’t subscribe to hay bales yet (I’m sure they’re working on that) but I can buy grain, treats, blankets, tack, and fly spray.  So instead, let me speculate it probably won’t be long before Chewy gets into the “human” food delivery business as well, to compete with Amazon, Wal*Mart, and Target.  With Chewy’s millions of subscribed customers, the new offering would take off like a bull in a china shop.  Or better, like a big, furry bad boy in a Star Wars movie.

9 thoughts on “Feeding Frenzy

  1. Well Dave – I no longer have a pet, but you’ve sold me on this brand. It seems like it is kind of like Amazon for pets. I like the concept of delivery to the house and signed up to be a Prime Member at Amazon at the beginning of the pandemic. I do like the perks of Prime membership, especially the streaming service since I don’t have cable. This sounds great … you and the crew ought to be in a commercial. 🙂

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  2. “….Amazon for pets”. That’s the perfect description for Chewy, Linda. If you go to their website you’ll be impressed how much more they have than just dog and cat food. Someone saw this market coming and took full advantage. What a great success story.

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  3. You can buy products called Canada Fresh from Chewy (made in Canada), but Chewy doesn’t ship product to Canada… maybe it is because of the dual language (English/French) packaging requirement in Canada.

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  4. I wondered about that, Margy, so thanks for letting me know. Maybe there’s an import tax to compromise profit? Regardless, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn Canada has a similar online pet supply business and it’s doing very well. Safe to say our love of domestic animals is universal across the globe.

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  5. I’m not surprised at all…..judging by the whole aisle in the grocery store devoted to pet food, and a whole aisle in Winner’s to pet toys and beds etc. I remember Alpo – gross stuff. My grandmother used to feed it to her German Shepherd.

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  6. Yes, Alpo had some bad connotations, Joni. Never knew anyone who actually fed their dog the stuff. Plenty of other options, even back in the 1970s.

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  7. If I could start over in life I would start a business that catered to pet owners. It would be hard to go wrong given the money spent on pets. I am still amazed at the local dog spa that offers blueberry facials for dogs. I am not kidding, and know someone who has actually paid for some for their dog. My wife doesn’t even get blueberry facials.

    My father used to buy Strongheart canned dog food, an old brand named after a German shepherd that predated Rin Tin Tin in silent films. I guess Chewy was named after a movie dog of a different sort?

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  8. I can’t speak to the origin of the business name, JP (though not for lack of research). A local mortgage company touts their low-interest financial products as “the biggest no-brainer in the history of mankind”. That’s how I feel about Chewy. Wish I’d had the foresight myself. And no plans to get a blueberry facial anytime soon 🙂

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