Consolidation of veterinary laboratories continues in Europe

Mars and JAB, owner of NVA, snap up Synlab assets in Germany, UK

Published: August 24, 2023
Synlab is selling its European veterinary reference laboratories to focus on its larger human health-care business.

German group Synlab has agreed to sell its remaining European veterinary laboratories to Mars Inc., adding to a wave of consolidation that is rapidly shrinking the number of players in the global veterinary diagnostics market.

The acquisition was agreed for an undisclosed sum and is subject to approval from competition regulators.

Synlab has more than 400 laboratories in 33 countries, but most of its business is focused on human medicine. It started offloading veterinary assets last year, when it sold its reference laboratories in the United Kingdom and Ireland for €84 million (US$91 million).

Synlab didn't state at the time who bought those assets, but documents registered with the U.K. government show they were sold to JAB, an investment firm that owns various pet insurance brands and National Veterinary Associates, which itself owns the third-greatest number of veterinary practices in the world.

The remaining Synlab veterinary assets, which Mars is buying, are located in Belgium, Germany and Spain, the company said in a press release. On its website, Synlab lists seven veterinary reference laboratories, all in Germany. Its veterinary diagnostic capabilities in Belgium and Spain appear to be associated with laboratories that also serve the human medicine market.

Synlab, which recorded revenue for 2022 of €3.25 billion (US$3.53 billion), said the deal ties in with a strategy to sell relatively smaller businesses and reinvest the proceeds elsewhere.

"Divesting the Synlab Vet business, which accounted for less than 1% of the total group revenue in 2022, is consistent with our increased focus on core operations," its chief executive, Mathieu Floreani, said in a press release.

Mars, for its part, said the deal will strengthen its growing pet empire.

"This acquisition will enable the Science & Diagnostics division of Mars Petcare to expand its veterinary laboratory business in Europe in addition to its full-service global veterinary diagnostic offerings across veterinary labs, point-of-care, imaging and software," the company said in a press release.

Mars, based in McLean, Virginia, and better known for making candy, owns more than 2,500 veterinary practices worldwide, including under the VCA, Banfield and BluePearl brands in the United States, plus pet food brands including Royal Canin and Pedigree.

The closely held company made a big move into U.S. reference laboratories in 2017, when it acquired VCA and its laboratory business, Antech Diagnostics. In 2020, Mars acquired Asia Veterinary Diagnostics, which owns reference laboratories in Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia.

Mars' Antech last year entered the U.K. market by establishing a reference laboratory at an existing referral hospital in Cambridgeshire. And just two months ago, Mars completed a $1.3 billion acquisition of Heska, adding point-of-care laboratory equipment to its lineup.

Veterinarians use point-of-care instruments to perform diagnostic tests at their practices, while reference laboratories conduct diagnostic tests off-site.

The veterinary diagnostics sector is increasingly dominated by Antech and Idexx Laboratories — the latter offering both reference laboratory services and point-of-care equipment and supplies. A third giant in the veterinary industry, the pharmaceutical company Zoetis, entered the diagnostics realm in 2018 with the purchase of Abaxis, a maker of point-of-care diagnostic instruments, followed by acquisitions of three independent reference labs.

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