Belgian households spent 7.8% more last year on pet food during lockdown and teleworking, according to figures from pet shop specialist Tom & Co.
“People are taking more care of their animals, and they are also buying more pets,” said Thierry le Grelle, CEO of the chain, formerly a subsidiary of Delhaize.
According to an informal straw poll carried out in the (virtual) office of the Brussels Times, animals take advantage of their owners’ constant presence to demand food at every opportunity – pressure owners appear unable to resist.
It began in March last year when the spread of a worldwide pandemic led people to panic-buy. Publicity went to toilet rolls, rice and pasta, but at the same time, they were hoarding pet foods and supplies like cat litter.
“Those were uncertain times, so people bought more food for their cat, dog or other pet,” said Le Grelle, in charge of the chain’s 174 pet stores.
The result was that Belgians spent €6.44 million in 2020 on pet food, or 7.8% more than in 2019. The growth, according to accountants GfK, was outstanding compared to other years, which were more in the low single figures.
Not that the dogs, cats and hamsters were eating more: in kilos, the quantities increased by only 4.7%, less than value. That suggests that pet owners were buying their animals better food, rather than more of the same.
“People tend to their animals more when they work at home,” says Le Grelle. ‘This trend has been going on for some time. People also buy more animals through homework. I know shelters that are almost empty. ‘
Le Grelle took over Tom & Co from Delhaize in 2016, when he was a manager for Delhaize. Since then the chain has made a profit only once – in corona year 2020.
The chain plans to stick by its target of opening 5-10 new stores a year, something that was missed last year. In time, Tom & Co aims to have 250 outlets, but not only in Belgium.
“The focus is on France,” Le Grelle said. “Delhaize opened its first stores there in 2011, but the expansion stopped afterwards. After the takeover, we continued. There are now 42 French stores. At first we only opened stores north of Paris. Now we are in the region around Paris and we are moving further south.”