Petfood Industry has been documenting the economic effects of the trend towards premium pet food for years as the world recovered from the global recession.

In 2016, sales of pet food in the US pet specialty channel have reached US$8 billion to date, said Maria Lange, business group director of GfK, in a Petfood Industry webinar entitled “Emerging pet food specialty retail trends to watch.” Most of the sales are coming from products labeled with the buzz words that combine to create the premium pet food category: natural, grain-free, limited ingredients, raw frozen, freeze-dried, dehydrated, novel proteins, small breeds.

Lange’s data show that from 2011 to 2016, pet food sales in the US pet specialty channel increased 29 percent, from US$6.2 billion to today’s US$8 billion, and the average price per pound has risen 34 percent, up to US$2.40. That rise comes from a 40 percent increase in the average price per pound for complete pet diets and a 67 percent rise for pet treats.

There are now 559 pet food brands on the market in that channel, an increase of 52 percent since 2011, and they have launched 2,880 new products in the past year (up 12 percent).

Continued rise since global recession

Even during the recession in 2013, Simmons national consumer survey data revealed that the share of pet owners who shop in the pet specialty channel edged up from 53 percent in 2010 to 57 percent in 2013, reported David Sprinkle, research director at Packaged Facts, in his column for Petfood Industry.

Correspondingly, IRI mass market sales-tracking data for supermarkets, discount stores (other than Walmart) and drugstores for the 52 weeks ending third-quarter 2013 showed volume sales down nearly 5 percent for dog food and 2 percent for cat food.

However, within these mass-market channels, pet-pampering food segments that echo human products were increasing sales. Dollar sales of frozen or refrigerated dog food were up 13 percent. Dollar sales of frozen or refrigerated cat food were up 28 percent.

Pet market premiumization: An industry update

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.