Best Business Ideas for 2022: Pet Care

The pandemic has seen a boom in pet ownership across the nation – but where will the industry’s biggest business opportunities be this year?

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If you’re thinking about starting a pet-based business in 2022, it's not just your animal instinct.

The pet sector has been one of the most well-publicised success stories of the past two years. When we were told to stay at home, households up and down the country invested in a furry friend for extra company. In the UK, it’s estimated that 17 million of us now own a pet – an astonishing 59% of households.

The pet industry often predicts trends for its people-focused offshoots, and 2022 confirms this theory. Consumers are expecting pet-based products, services, and even food to be of increasingly higher quality – generating more market competition and greater profit. For savvy business launchers, this presents some huge opportunities.

Given the importance our pets hold in our lives, this is a business trend that isn’t going to go away anytime soon. But, what are the biggest pet care ideas emerging?

Below, we break down the best pet-based business opportunities to give you your pick of this year’s lucrative litter of new business ideas.

Vet tech

Claude Bourgelat established the first school of veterinary medicine in Lyon, France in the 1760s. The field clearly has a long history, but it's overdue for a shakeup.

Pet owners have had to contend with rising vet's bills and increasingly confusing pet care costs. Plus, the industry is still behind on going digital, meaning many customers are having to visit physical locations for care and support services – costing both money and time. All of this presents an intriguing opportunity for disruptive new businesses.

One startup that’s aiming to change this and make vet access easier is Vet-AI, which we featured as our eighth-top startup in 2021 as part of our Startups 100 index.

Its Joii Pet Care app was launched in 2019 and offers pet owners round-the-clock remote consultations, with no out-of-hours charges. Customers can speak to certified vets and nurses in the comfort of their own homes – an obvious bonus during the UK’s various coronavirus lockdowns.

Joii Pet Care app

Joii Pet Care app

“Veterinary [price] inflation has caused real increases in the cost of care. We saw what was happening in the human healthcare sector, with rapid uptake of remote services and development of artificial intelligence. We wanted to make the same things available to help pets, so in May 2019 we launched the first version of our groundbreaking app, Joii. It has a free symptom checker and gives owners instant access to 24/7 veterinary consults at a fraction of the cost of a practice visit.

“We are part of a disruptive wave bringing change to a very traditional industry that has struggled to keep up in a world of rapidly evolving technology. There are other really exciting areas of development, such as genetic profiling, microbiomes, and wearable devices (Fitbits for cats and dogs). We are working actively with partners in all these areas to enhance the overall positive impact of the pet technology dawn.”

—Robert Dawson, co-founder of Vet-AI (our eighth-top startup in our 2021 Startups 100 index)

This is only the beginning of what industry experts are predicting will be substantial growth. In 2028, it’s estimated that the global veterinary care market will be worth £86.09bn – up from £73.50bn in 2020.

What are some vet-tech business ideas to consider?

Pet care consultancy

Veterinary training is expensive and long. In the UK, it costs an average of £32,000 in degree fees. But there are shorter expert courses you can take in specific pet care areas, like nutrition or grooming, which would allow you to sell expert services to consumers who are tired of expensive vet bills and want to find affordable advice on primary pet care.

Veterinary marketing agency

As more veterinary practices go online, they’ll be in need of branding expertise,  social media marketing and website creation. If you have previous experience in digital PR or advertising, this is a strong choice to consider.

Pet insurance

As you might expect, the pet insurance industry is closely linked to the number of animals we have in our homes. Over the past 22 months, as increasing numbers of consumers brought home new fluffy housemates, the market has seen promising levels of growth – bringing with it modern service offerings to feed big new appetites.

“Recent innovations in pet insurance have included lifetime cover. This provides a predictable cost for people taking out pet insurance, so policies do not rise to unaffordable levels over time.

As more information is gathered on pets, their susceptible conditions and their long-term costs, insurers can [also] make better decisions on product pricing by using digital platforms and automation. This allows pet insurers to offer more comprehensive and better value insurance to customers, which increases customer satisfaction.”

—Mark Colonnese, director of insurance market platform Aquarium Software

Some animal breeds, particularly dogs, have also skyrocketed in price as demand outstrips supply. The Pets at Home 2021 market report states that pre-COVID, the average puppy price was £876. In June 2021, it hit £1,873.

That growth came hand in hand with the horrible news of increased pet-nappings as criminals tried to cash in on market trends. This has made animal insurance a growing sector as consumers look to protect their pets.

Can I start a pet insurance company?

There are ways to enter the insurance industry without being an actual provider. But there are still some need-to-knows if you're thinking about starting an insurance company.

Firstly, the industry is one of the most heavily regulated in the world. The Prudential Regulatory Authority (PRA), which is part of the Bank of England, promotes the safety of insurers and the protection of policyholders. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) regulates how these firms behave, and also monitors the integrity of the UK’s financial markets.

Before starting an insurance business, you'll also need to apply for your FCA license and decide whether to become an insurance broker (finding customers the best-priced insurance for their needs, underwritten by a third-party insurance company) or underwriter (in which case your company would take on the insured risk). New insurer authorisation costs £25,000.

It's not the simplest industry to enter, but if you’ve got a background in finance, and want a specialised business idea you can really get your teeth into, this might be a good business idea for you.

What are some pet insurance business ideas to consider?

Specialist animal insurance

There are lots of different categories when it comes to popular pet breeds, but few providers cover more exotic animals such as tropical birds or fish, which tend to be much higher on the cost spectrum than cats or dogs. Becoming a specialist insurance provider for more niche animals is a good way to mark your territory in the market.

Affordable insurance

According to REaD Group, 32% of low household income pet owners had never had pet insurance for their dog, compared to 16% of high-income households. By offering less risky plans, such as for common pet breeds or innocuous ailments, you’ll be able to bring more competitive pricing to the market and target a previously untapped audience.

Premium pet food

Worth an estimated £3 million, this industry is capitalising on our growing obsession with our pampered pets. Thanks to the Instagrammable wellbeing movement that has swept across the UK, the general food industry is now striving for a more minimally processed and natural ‘feel’ — and the pet food market isn’t straying far from the trend.

After all, would you give a family member cans of tuna for dinner? Plus, as certain animal breeds are now worth thousands of pounds, it’s obvious that consumers are willing to spend top dollar to get the purrfect deal for man’s best friends.

“While 2020 saw a dramatic spike in demand for pets, 2021 has seen some level of stabilisation within the pet industry, in terms of both supply and demand. The pet food industry [will] move from strength to strength as puppies move on to adult food, while niche pet foods such as raw or insect food continue to gain popularity.”

—Lee Gibson, UK managing director of the UK's largest pet rehoming site, Pets4Homes

One successful case study is Butternut Box, a startup founded in 2016 that offers custom, grain-free, ‘human-grade’ dog food.

Scottish startup Bella and Duke is another example. After losing both of their dogs to cancer, founders Mark and Tony discovered that the processed food their beloved pets had been eating may have been a factor in their diagnoses.

Earlier this year, Butternut Box secured £40 million in funding, while Bella and Duke received £7 million from various investors — but don’t be fooled. Product-based business ideas largely rely on clever marketing and brand building, which means it’s something that can be done cheaply, if you’re smart about it.

Butternut Box

Butternut Box

Another area of pet food that's taken off this month is for the owners (or dogs) with specialist dietary requirements. Reflecting human trends such as sustainable eating, vegan pet food has become another market niche that's threatening to take off in 2022 – particularly as we kick off with the annual challenge of ‘Veganuary' in the first month of the year.

One startup that's helping to meet the new consumer demand is Lucy McKinna, a qualified vet and vegan from New Malden. McKinna struggled with the fact she didn’t eat meat but did feed it to her dog. She decided to create her own business called Noochy Poochy, which produces vegan dog food for ethically-minded paw parents.

The brand has already had great success; launching at the back end of this year in health, pet and vegan stores across the country, including zero waste stores.

“In the past there has been a lot of scepticism out there about feeding dogs a vegan diet but now, with recent supportive studies and a ‘complete’ food available, the plant-based dog market may well start to mirror the human food market.

“I had fully embraced a vegan lifestyle but I couldn’t find anything on the market I felt confident would provide my dog with everything she needed to stay healthy. People worry a vegan dog food will be lacking in things like protein, certain fats and amino acids but Noochy has a 28% protein content, higher than many meat based foods.

“Six months in, we have a steady stream of new customers, returning customers and great reviews. We’re being sold in vegan cafes and vegan supermarkets, and have even received interest from Good Morning Britain. The launch of our first product was so successful, we’re about to extend the range and are also looking for investment to take the business to the next level.”

– Lucy McKinna, founder of Noochy Poochy. 

What are some premium pet food business ideas to consider?

Premium pet food manufacturing

Obviously, developing pet supplements or food requires some background in nutrition or chemistry. But, these can be outsourced if required. The more important factor in pursuing this business idea is your ability to think creatively, which will help you invent recipes and manage resources as a small business manufacturer.

Specialist online sales

Given the huge range of pet food and supplements available, the industry is becoming confusing for consumers to navigate. Using a website builder — following in the fashionable footsteps of businesses like ASOS — could give you not just an online store, but a whole marketplace to showcase all the best products available.

Rental and borrowing services

Data and insight agency REaD Group recently carried out research which found that 18% more young people and 11% more full-time workers currently own a dog, compared to March 2020.

This would suggest that the biggest obstacles to owning a pet are work-life balance, as the post-COVID hybrid working model makes consumers better able to care for an animal.

Likely to replace the pandemic pet-buying trend, pet rental services — platforms that allow people to borrow animals from their owners for flexible hours — are on the up, creating a huge market opportunity as animal lovers don’t need a big garden or a completely stay-at-home lifestyle to indulge their passion.

Apps like Rover and BorrowMyDoggy have received millions of downloads between them. Job marketplaces like Bark.com have even begun offering as much as £50 to pet owners who offer their cats or dogs to help people with stress or anxiety.

But lending out your pet is still a difficult task for many owners — particularly in the current climate, as the value of certain breeds has increased exponentially. So what does this challenge mean for new businesses?

“With the recent increase in pet theft, leaving a dog in the care of a dog walker is a big step for owners — which is why we’ve invested so much time into our safety features. Our strict verification process for dog walkers means that owners can book with peace of mind and, once on a walk, owners can follow every step as the app tracks walkers via GPS. Encouraging walkers to share their live location creates a transparent and honest relationship with dog owners, whilst helping us to establish trust for the app and wider brand.”

—Sonny D’Avola, founder of the GoWalkies app, which allows dog owners to browse and book local dog walkers

It’s obvious that while lots of people love animals, having a pet requires a lot of attention. Pet rental services are excellent for helping users to lighten their pet care load — which makes this market a particularly exciting area to watch.

GoWalkies app

GoWalkies app

Sonny D’Avola added: “The dog walking industry is set to be driven mostly by new, innovative technology. GoWalkies, for example, is aiming to integrate blockchain technology in a bid to use smart contracts to make pet business insurance more affordable and much more flexible.”

What are some pet rental business ideas to consider?

Equipment rentals

Maybe a friend or family member is going away on holiday, and they need a few pet-friendly items while their dog stay goes on. Perhaps they’ve just bought a kitten and need items that their new companion won’t immediately outgrow. Running an ecommerce site that sells short-term pet equipment ownership is a great way to cater to this growing renter’s market.

Pet experiences

So-called ‘experiential retail’ is the new way forward for UK high streets, as online shopping means businesses need to offer more than just products that generate footfall.

If you’ve a hospitality background, or management experience, running a pet-based cafe is a popular way to attract customers to a leisure business. Cat cafes and dog parks allow members of the public to be pet owners for the duration of their cup of coffee.

Conclusion

Pet owners only want the best for their companions, and the industry’s continuous growth and innovation is proof that consumers will continue to look for high-quality products and accessible services for their furry friends.

As with starting any business, it won’t be a walk in the park — but if you’re an animal-loving entrepreneur, there is ample opportunity for your business or startup to capitalise on any one of the above trends.

As long as you have the motivation, the know-how and — most importantly — the idea, you’ll be barking up the right tree.

Helena Young
Helena Young Senior Writer

Helena "Len" Young is from Yorkshire and joined Startups in 2021 from a background in B2B communications. She has also previously written for a popular fintech startup.

Included in her topics of interest and expertise are tax legislation, the levelling up agenda, and organisational software including CRM and project management systems. As well as this, she is a big fan of the films of Peter Jackson.

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