["In a February/March 2013 survey, 83% of pet owners agreed with the statement “I consider my pet(s) to be part of the family.â€\u009D", "Product humanization and premiumization will continue to drive much of the growth in the pet market."]

The all-important human/animal bond is helping to insulate the pet market during the recession and boding well for ongoing market growth, as marketers across all pet categories solidly position their products on pet owners' affection for their animals. In Packaged Facts' February/March 2013 online survey, as reported in our Pet Market Outlook 2013-2014, Â 83% of pet owners agreed with the statement "I consider my pet(s) to be part of the family," with 59% agreeing a lot and 25% agreeing a little. This "pet parent" sentiment has never been stronger, putting premium and superpremium products that rise to "human grade" standards at the forefront of the U.S. pet market.

Various data show Â this premiumization trend in play. It's evident in channel shopping trends, where the pet specialty channel continues to steal shopper traffic from the mass market. According to Simmons national consumer survey data from Experian Marketing Services, the share of pet owners who shop in the pet specialty channel edged up from 53% in 2010 to 57% in 2013. Over that same period, the share of those who shop for pet products in supermarkets slipped from 50% to 46%, while the share of those who shop in discount stores edged down from 29% to 26% (see Table 1).

Correspondingly, IRI mass market sales-tracking data for supermarkets, discount stores (other than Walmart) and drugstores for the 52 weeks ending third-quarter 2013 show volume sales down nearly 5% for dog food and 2% for cat food. Within these mass-market channels, however, pet pampering food segments that echo human products are making some noise (see Table 2). Dollar sales of frozen or refrigerated dog food, led by Purina's Frosty Paws frozen novelty treats, were up 13%. Dollar sales of frozen or refrigerated cat food, with brands focusing on freshness-increasingly a top if not the trait sought by health-conscious human food purchasers-were up 28%.

Similarly, the surging Â popularity of cat treats attests to the strength of the human/animal bond and the increasing humanization and thus premiumization of feeding pets. Simmons data show that the percentage of cat owners who purchase cat treats or snacks jumped from 40% in 2007 to 50% in 2013 (see Table 3). Even though cat owners continue to trail dog owners in the dispensing of pet treats-partly reflecting their higher propensity to use wet petfood for pet-pampering purposes-the writing (or maybe the paw print) is on the wall. 

Product humanization and premiumization will continue to drive much of the growth in the pet market. Dovetailing with premiumization is a strong focus on pet health and wellness, along with a preference among many consumers for natural and organic products and ingredients, particularly given ongoing concerns about pet product safety. To meet consumer demand and justify the higher prices of premium products, virtually all pet product marketers are focusing more intensively, and in ever more customized ways, on pet health.

But even in Â this era of elevated and humanized standards for pet products, a simultaneous insistence on true value-meaning not just low price on the one hand, and not simply conspicuous consumption on the other-means that competition for sales and growth remains intense. Even premium and superpremium positioned products must make a compelling case for their benefits, and then live up to pet parent expectations.

Read more: For more on the humanization of pets and human food trends in the petfood industry, see "Human food trends and the petfood industry," www.petfoodindustry.com/49394.html.