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Walmart Inc. has created an online pet pharmacy and will open more walk-in veterinary clinics in stores over the next year, a spokesman for the Bentonville-based retailer confirmed Tuesday.

WalmartPetRx.com fills prescription medications and over-the-counter treatments for cats, dogs, horses and livestock, as well as antibiotics for fish and birds. As with Walmart.com, the online pharmacy offers free two-day shipping on orders of more than $35.

Kieran Shanahan, senior vice president of retail for Walmart U.S. e-commerce, said in a news release that the retailer will also stock its store pharmacies later this month with the 30 most-requested pet medications.

Shanahan said Walmart has added more than 100 pet-food brands to its online assortment over the past year, including more organic and grain-free options. In addition, the company has developed more premium pet-food options with its private-label brands, he said.

Walmart also said it is increasing the number of veterinary clinics renting space in stores nationwide, from the current 21 to 100. It will start with nine clinics in the Dallas-Fort Worth area this month and next. Additional clinics will open over the next 12 months.

The clinics will be operated by VetIQ Petcare and Essentials Pet Care, which already run the retailer's clinics, the Walmart spokesman said. They will keep the same tenant-landlord relationship they currently have with Walmart, renting space at the front of stores alongside beauty salons, optometrists and other businesses.

In Arkansas, VetIQ Petcare has Wellness Centers in Batesville, Harrison, Mountain Home and Van Buren supercenters. Essentials Pet Care opened the first veterinary clinic inside a Walmart store in Port Richey, Fla., in 2016, and will operate the clinics set to open soon in Texas.

Both clinic chains provide vaccines and preventive care for cats and dogs and treat minor illnesses. Pet patients with serious ailments or needing surgery are referred to local animal hospitals.

Walmart's partnership with the vet clinic chains is part of a larger trend in the U.S. veterinary services industry, according to market research firm Packaged Facts. Long dominated by individual practitioners and small clinics, the industry is experiencing consolidation as national retailers, pet product manufacturers and even investor groups buy up veterinary and nonmedical pet-service providers.

Mars Inc., maker of several brands of pet food, has purchased some of the nation's largest animal hospital chains. Private-equity firms including Morgan Stanley, KKR and Shore Capital Partners also have added veterinary practices to their portfolios.

Perhaps most notably, PetSmart acquired the online pet product website Chewy.com for $3.35 billion in May 2017. Chewy filed documents on April 29 to prepare for an initial public offering.

Americans have ramped up spending on their pets in recent years. U.S. pet owners will spend about $75 billion this year on their furry companions, according to the American Pet Products Association. That's up from $58 billion five years ago and $46 billion in 2009.

Nearly half of the $73 billion spent in 2018 was on food, the association says, but more than $18 billion went to veterinary care. Another $16 billion was spent on pet supplies and over-the-counter medications and supplements.

Walmart's decision to have vet clinics in stores was "a smart move," Dave Marcotte, senior vice president for retail insights at Kantar Consulting, said in an earlier interview. "If you go in stores today, the most emotional part of the store is pets. It used to be baby, but now it's pets."

Once pet owners are in the store, he said, they are likely to get their pets' prescriptions filled at the pharmacy and pick up food, toys and other pet items. Also, the tenant-landlord model lessens liability for Walmart and helps the clinics keep prices down.

"Having store locations within 10 miles of nearly 90 percent of the country's population makes Walmart an ideal venue for our veterinary clinics," said Douglas Spiker, the founder and president of Essentials Pet Care. "Convenient access, as well as affordability, are often cited in industry research as key determinants in why millions of pet dogs and cats in the United States are not receiving even the most basic medical care."

Business on 05/08/2019

Print Headline: Walmart boosting pet-care offerings

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