Pet Food Market Trends

Something to Chew On: What will consumers do now?

"No more fear." While that may sound like a marketing slogan or rock band (in fact, it is the latter), Mintel sees it as an overall theme for how consumers will behave this year. "While in 2009, fear played an important role in shaping consumer behavior, 2010 will see a return of confidence and adaptation," says Richard Cope, Mintel director. "Balance has become the new mantra."

Mintel breaks that balance motif into seven key consumer behavior characteristics. Considering the petfood market has survived the recession better than most industries, not all of these trends are directly relevant-but a few offer clues that could help with developing and marketing petfood products.

1. Resilience:  Mintel believes consumers now have better attitudes and a new resolve thanks to their ability to recover from and adjust to the many changes dealt by the economy.

2. Review/re-evaluation:  The "Great Recession" has caused people to re-evaluate everything, including how they spend money. Mintel expects consumers to continue to search for the best deals and values, meaning they are willing to purchase higher-priced products if convinced of the value and if engaged with the brand. Both "ifs" have implications for petfood, especially superpremium and niche products.

Yet some consumers are still price sensitive, which has many more turning to private label products. Both Mintel and Packaged Facts predict this segment to grow for petfood, including in the US, which to date has not been a major market for private label petfoods. (With human food, Mintel says nearly four of 10 Americans now buy private label.)

3. Accountability:  Consumer confidence declined significantly in 2009; this year people are still seeking proof and results behind marketing and label claims, plus transparency from marketers. Among the US petfood companies that recovered the most quickly and successfully after the 2007 recalls were ones that proactively shared their testing results and safety programs. Today more pet owners are demanding to see the research-translated into language they can understand-behind nutritional and other claims by petfood manufacturers.

4. Escapism:  Mintel and Packaged Facts project consumers will start to splurge a little this year after cutting back considerably on vacations, gifts and other goodies. This could mean pet owners buying more treats for their furry ones or trading up to higher-priced petfood brands.

5. Media evolution:  The need for increased transparency mentioned in #4 also meshes with the huge rise in the use of micro-blogs and social media such as Twitter and Facebook -Mintel reports four of 10 Americans have at least one social networking profile-which many petfood companies are already incorporating into their communications. But with the landscape evolving so quickly, marketers must closely monitor how consumers are using these media and ensure their messages are hitting the right notes. Engagement and interaction are key, traditional advertising not so much.

6. Ethical responsibility:  As businesses rebuild and recover from the recession, they may need to shore up their brands. A key way to do that, Mintel says, will be to give consumers an emotional reason to buy. More and more, consumers are responding to "ethical" messages and products, which for petfood can mean niches such as sustainable, "green," fair trade, locally grown, natural and organic.

Growth rates in these categories have outpaced overall petfood market growth for several years now. On a larger scale, Mintel reports 90% of US consumers buy green products at least sometimes and nearly 40% of consumers say they're still purchasing organic products despite the recession.

7. Stability:  On the heels of a very scary period, consumers worldwide are becoming more stable in their spending habits, turning toward moderation and preparation. Mintel predicts this trend will carry over to the types of products purchased, including food. That should extend to petfood, as pet owners lavish care and comfort on that warm, furry, constant presence in their lives.

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