Why the pet industry hopes Americans will start treating their cats more like dogs

Why the pet industry hopes Americans will start treating their cats more like dogs

Humans worshipped cats in pharaonic times and have been their servants, one way or another, almost ever since then. But until recently, the felines have not been getting that kind of deference in the modern-day United States from a pet products industry more focused on their canine counterparts.

It’s easy to see why doggos get so much attention from pet stores and manufacturers. Among U.S. pet owners, spending per dog last year was $1,381, while for cats it was $908, according to the American Pet Products Association (APPA). Most cats are much smaller than most dogs, so they consume less food. Cats are much more difficult to coax into a visit to the vet. And there are fewer cat owners to cater to: 43 million U.S households have a cat, but there are 63 million with a doggie.

Still, industry players, from big-box retailers to foodmakers to Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, are hopeful that they can eventually get pet owners to spend on their cats like they spend on their dogs—and thus expand an underexplored market. Those folks are seeing promising signs in some product lines: An AlixPartners analysis of APPA’s data found that expenditures on vitamins, treats, toys, and grooming aids are all seeing significant growth among cat owners. (For more, see “It’s a dogfight at America’s pet stores as COVID-19 upends the $96 billion industry.”)

Right now, cats account for only about 7% of the $7 billion spent annually on pet treats. Food makers think they can shake that up—not least because, in the era of Instagram and sheltering in place, teaching old cats new tricks is more rewarding for their owners. “You have cat parents who want to reward and engage their cats in new and different ways,” says Rob Ferguson, interim SVP for pet food, pet snacks, and supply chain at J.M. Smucker, which earlier this year launched cat treats under its Rachael Ray Nutrish brand. It remains to be seen whether cats feel the same way, but the industry is prepared to feed the beast, so to speak. “The cat treats market has been ‘doggified,’” says David Sprinkle, an analyst with research firm Packaged Facts.

Cat food has not seen the kind of proliferation of innovation dog food has seen. While dogs are omnivores who can be persuaded to eat such health food staples as quinoa and broccoli slaw, cats are mini-carnivores related to lions and tigers, with fairly limited dietary interests. “Cats…don’t gravitate toward natural food quite as well—they like the sound of a can,” says PetSmart CEO J.K. Symancyk. Of course, foodmakers know that convincing the owners of a food’s healthfulness is more important than convincing the cat: Smucker last year launched grain-free Meow Mix.

Cats…don’t gravitate toward natural food quite as well—they like the sound of a can.

PetSmart CEO J.K. Symancyk

In the startup world, new ventures in the pet space have also predominantly focused on dogs. Leonid Sudakov, president of Kinship, a $100 million investment fund set up by Mars Petcare, thinks that focus has something to do with Silicon Valley bros being more likely to own dogs than cats. But exceptions are beginning to emerge. Despite its name, JustFoodforDogs, which makes “human-grade” food, has a small but growing menu for cats. CatPerson, a startup that sends boxes of treats and supplies to cat servants, launched in March. And Kinship has put money into a Chinese company called Mollybox, a subscription service for food and supplies focused on cats, because he thinks they will spur the next big boom in pet products. (For more, see “10 big business deals that are changing the pet industry.”)

The coronavirus pandemic could also bolster veterinary spending on cats. Felines visit the vet far less often than dogs because of how traumatic leaving the house can be for them (and, these days, for their owners). Americans currently spend $650 per year per dog on vet visits, compared to $374 per cat. But the growing use of telehealth and virtual consultations could narrow that gap.

“Cats have been a strong No. 2 for a long time,” says Steve King, CEO of the APPA. That comment that would likely elicit a hiss from any feline that could be bothered to react. But if they cared, cats might find solace in the fact they could be catching up.

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Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff describes what office life will be like after COVID-19

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff describes what office life will be like after COVID-19

Life for thousands of Salesforce employees won’t be the same after they return to the office following months of working remotely during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff explained on Thursday during a Fortune CEOI video call about how the business software giant has been navigating the uncertain times, describing the crisis as “unlike anything I’ve ever been through.”

“This is my first pandemic Alan, so I don’t know if I have the right answers,” Benioff told Fortune CEO Alan Murray, who was moderating the event. 

Benioff said that 50 of the company’s 50,000 employees had contracted the coronavirus. Like other tech companies including Amazon and Microsoft, Salesforce urged its employees to work from home in early March, just before shelter-in-place rules started spreading across the country.

General anxiety about the coronavirus coupled with the isolation of being alone at home took an emotional toll on Salesforce’s workforce, with 36% saying they were experiencing mental health issues, Benioff said. The company now does daily mental health check-ins and calls with employees to gauge employee well-being, he explained.

Benioff cautioned that while Salesforce and other companies are starting to take steps “to get business happening” like it was previously, “we have to remember the virus is still out there.”

“That is a question mark,” Benioff said. “And there’s a high likelihood for the virus returning in the fall—that has to be taken into consideration.”

He noted that companies must take in account numerous scenarios for re-opening their businesses, even planning for the possibility of the pandemic extending until the middle of next year.

Salesforce workers in South Korea will likely return to the office on May 11, he said. Health experts have praised South Korea for its early actions to reduce the spread of the virus, such as quickly implementing nationwide coronavirus testing.  

But office life will be different for those South Korean Salesforce employees, Benioff said. Workers will have their temperatures checked daily and will need to tell management if they’re feeling sick.

Workers will be “queued into the elevator” in an orderly manner and they will be ordered to allow for “appropriate distancing on the floors,” Benioff said. Salesforce will use its own contract-tracing technology to warn others of any spread of the virus. Employees will be notified if fellow Salesforce workers get a fever, and all workers will then be required to work from home for at least two weeks, he said.

When Salesforce workers in San Francisco, where the company is based, return to the office during the first week of June (as is currently planned), Benioff said that they will face a similar situation as their South Korean colleagues.

“When you come back, we won’t have 10, 20 people in the elevator—we will have a few people,” Benioff said. “They will get a ticket [informing them] when they can arrive in the elevator, much as you would arrive at Disney for a ride.” 

Salesforce may even install plexiglass dividers at people’s desks, which would act like corporate versions of salad bar sneeze guards. 

As Benioff put it, “It will be a slightly different work environment than it is today.” 

“A jar of Gummi Bears is not going to be there,” Benioff said. 

More must-read tech coverage from Fortune:

—Remote work, online grocery shopping, cord cutting: What coronavirus trends will stick
—How T-Mobile shifted 12,000 employees to work from home in less than two weeks
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—The startup founder in India striving to improve mass transit through the pandemic
—Listen to Leadership Next, a Fortune podcast examining the evolving role of CEO
—WATCH: Zoom’s ups and downs since the coronavirus crisis

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