Mars' Linnaeus unit lays off veterinary specialists in UK

Announcement in tight labor market raises questions about demand

Published: April 04, 2024

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Linnaeus President Julia Hendrickson, who has more than 20 years' experience in retail, confirmed that the company was laying off veterinary specialists and staff in other roles at some of its more than 180 practices in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Mars Inc. is laying off some veterinary specialists at its Linnaeus business in the United Kingdom, citing a mismatch between staffing levels and demand for veterinary care.

The company has not given a number but said clinical and non-clinical positions at primary care practices and referral services are affected. A source inside Linnaeus said that fewer than 20 veterinary specialist positions are being eliminated.

Practice owners large and small are grappling with a moderation in demand for veterinary care, as pet owners contend with higher living costs. The layoffs could also signal a shift in what has been a tight labor market for veterinarians in the wake of Brexit and a pandemic pet boom.

Linnaeus owns more than 180 practices in the U.K. and Ireland, including 17 specialty referral hospitals, according to its website. The company has been owned by United States-based Mars, a privately held conglomerate with more than 2,500 veterinary practices worldwide, since 2021.

"Last week, we notified affected associates of our intention to consult on a small number of redundancies involving select Linnaeus practices where staffing levels do not currently meet demand," Linnaeus President Julia Hendrickson said in a statement supplied to the press.

Hendrickson's statement also said: "We are determined to support our associates through the process and reduce the impact — and have already begun identifying open roles in other Linnaeus practices that are actively recruiting."

Company spokesperson Rebecca Bannister said no hospitals will close as a result of these moves.

The layoffs come at a fraught time for veterinary consolidators in the U.K.

Last summer, IVC Evidensia, the country's largest consolidator with more than 2,800 practices worldwide, confirmed it was temporarily laying off a small number of veterinarians in Canada, and hundreds of support staff in Canada and the U.K. combined.

In a letter to employees, IVC Evidensia cited changes in market conditions and the demand for veterinary care as reasons for the move.

Richard Hoile, who worked at Linnaeus for a short time, suspects falling demand at its referral hospitals is being driven by high prices. Hoile was CEO of Anderson Moores Veterinary Specialists in Winchester, southwest of London, when it was sold to the Pets at Home group in 2016. He subsequently became the referral director for five specialty hospitals owned by Pets at Home, which were sold to Linnaeus at the end of 2020.

"One of the first things Linnaeus did when they came in, they instituted a series of price rises," said Hoile, who left in early 2021. "Pet owners now struggle to pay, and so volumes are dropping off."

Hoile, who worked in finance for more than two decades before helping to open Anderson Moores, described a difficult situation for Linnaeus. He said the company set a standard of paying very high salaries to its practitioners and now is carrying those salaries without the demand to support them.

Complaints about the cost of veterinary care in general have roiled the profession in the U.K. in recent months. Spurred by price hikes that have outpaced inflation, regulators have been investigating whether high levels of ownership concentration in the profession are causing pet owners to overpay for treatment.

Meanwhile, corporate practices may face challenges from an unexpected quarter: independents.

After leaving Linnaeus, Hoile opened a specialist orthopedic hospital that now competes with the practice he once owned. He said, "There's been a big increase in the number of people who sold out their practice — people like me — got a bit bored and are now setting up new independent businesses."

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