Lockdown pets boom sees retail chain push through £1 billion sales for first time

Retailer and veterinary group Pets at Home has seen sales soar over the past year after it was boosted by the boom in cat and dog ownership during the pandemic.

Group revenues jumped by 7.9 per cent to a record £1.14 billion in the year to March 25.

The chain was buoyed by an increase in new pet owners, with the UK’s pet population rising by “an estimated 8 per cent in the 12 months following the first lockdown”.

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This particularly sparked a rise in a retail revenues, which passed £1bn in a year for the first time. Group like-for-like sales were up 17 per cent, measured on a two-year basis, providing a comparison with pre-pandemic times.

The Pets at Home chain has been boosted by a surge in demand for pets among Britons since the start of the coronavirus crisis while its essential status has allowed its stores to remain open throughout lockdowns.

Pets at Home said sales of puppy-focused products jumped by 26 per cent, while kitten products surged by 37 per cent.

It added that underlying pre-tax profits for the year dipped by 6.4 per cent year on year to £87.5m after it was weighed down by £30m in “Covid-related revenue restrictions and costs”.

The group also returned £28.9m worth of business rates relief to government coffers after it was able to trade during the pandemic.

It said it plans to invest around £70m over the current financial year, pumping money into its store transformation programme, digital growth and a new national distribution site.

Chief executive Peter Pritchard said the company will target £600m worth of further revenue opportunities to continue its recent growth.

“This has been the most extraordinary period in my 35 years in retail,” he added.

“The pandemic has brought about permanent changes to the way we work and spend our leisure time, removing historical barriers to pet ownership and strengthening the emotional bond between people and their pets.

“I am pleased to say that, thanks to our unique pet care ecosystem and the tireless efforts of our colleagues, we have taken a greater share of this growing market and are emerging from the pandemic a stronger business.”

On current trading, the group told investors: “The start of our current financial year has seen a continuation of the strong momentum across our retail and veterinary operations.

“While the emergence of new variants of the virus and the potential for higher transmission levels as the UK continues to unlock mean the external environment remains uncertain in the near term, our pet care model remains robust, and the changes we have made to our business enable us to continue providing pet care to our customers with minimal disruption.”

Freetrade analyst David Kimberley said: “One of the things we’re seeing now that a semblance of normal life is returning to parts of the world is the question of whether trends that began during the pandemic will continue after it.

“It’s hard to see it happening in some cases. Zoom calls, sourdough baking and high supermarket sales all look likely to drop off as we start to go out and see friends and family again.

“But Pets at Home’s success looks likely to continue. About three million UK households bought a pet during the pandemic.”

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