Pet spending in the U.S. has risen every year since 1994, and is projected to reach upwards of $100 billion by the end of this year, per a study from APPA. Pet food and treats is by far the largest spending category, making up more than 30% of sales. Consumers are increasingly willing to pay for quality products—and not just for themselves—but for their pets. Here are some of the biggest trends we’ve seen transcend the consumer market into the pet category.
Humanization is a driving force in pet spending. Consumers are more discerning about the food they eat themselves, with health and wellness driving many personal choices, and this extends to the foods and treats they serve their dogs, as well.
A survey of pet owners conducted by the Michelson Found Animals Foundation found that 70% of those who follow a diet for themselves have also put their pet on a special diet. For instance, 45% of pet owners on a protein-rich diet feed their pets protein-rich foods. Pet food and treats with functional claims that promise to support joints, skin and coat health, and endurance and digestion, are gaining in popularity. Awareness of ingredients, like protein, and a preference for “clean label” or minimal ingredients, is growing, mirroring the human food market.
Food and beverage quality has increased significantly, and consumers are seeking higher quality experiences, exploring artisanal offerings, new flavors, and unique new products. Manufacturers in the consumer sector have responded with elevated offerings, including human snacks and treats. Once only available at specialty stores, premium products are migrating to traditional retailers or sold direct to consumer via e-commerce.
This phenomenon is well underway in the pet food space, as exemplified by brands like Freshpet, a refrigerated product that claims to offer an experience “Just Like a Home Cooked Meal.” Their heavy advertising schedule is expanding the market for premium pet foods by delivering the message that a loving pet owner doesn’t skimp on quality. Innovation is highly valued. Many new pet food formats, such as dehydrated or freeze-dried, are fetching premium prices.
Consumers shop around. The average consumer shops at four different food retailers per month, and just 13% are loyal to a primary store, per FMI. But that doesn’t include other retail formats, like drug stores, convenience stores, specialty stores or online, all of which are capturing a bigger piece of consumer spending. As one would expect, this same behavior extends to pet products.
Pet food shoppers will seek variety, innovation and quality wherever they can find it. Increasingly, that means traditional grocery stores. These stores are welcoming new premium and natural food offerings that were previously only available at pet specialty competitors, leading to increased visibility. What’s more is that healthier, premium offerings are moving into larger pet specialty stores, too.
The expertise, methods (and budgets) that have defined the Consumer Packaged Goods industry is transforming the pet category, as food conglomerates diversify and chase opportunity (specifically the “wholesome” segment of the pet food category which is experiencing the most growth.) J.M. Smucker acquired Rachel Ray’s Delish premium pet food brand, and General Mills, makers of some of the most respected consumer brands on the planet, purchased Blue Wilderness (for an astounding $8 billion).
The upshot for the pet category: branding is elevated, packaging is more eye-catching and effective, messaging hierarchy is carefully crafted, and marketing tactics are deployed to reach and influence the pet food shopper wherever, and whenever they are in shopping mode.
5. Ethics, Sourcing and Sustainability
Being transparent about business practices, ingredient sources and processing methods, and demonstrating some respect for the environment and/or sustainability can be considered “table stakes,” if you want to get into the healthy food game. This is true of pet products as well. Pet owners are well informed and diligent about vetting products before buying them.
Pet ownership has increased significantly in the past decade, and today it’s estimated that 49% to 68% of U.S. households have pets (depending on the source). It comes as no surprise that as this category grows, so will the permeation of consumer trends affecting the pet market. As they say, these trends are “going to the dogs”—but in this case, it only means positive things for both the brands, consumers, and their pets.