Market analysts observed that pet food retail sales in the United States have not returned to the level they had reached before the COVID-19 pandemic, but the figures are returning to 2019 levels. Sean Simpson, associate client director for Nielsen Global Connect, elaborated on pet food sales patterns in 2020, during his presentation at Petfood Forum CONNECT.

“We can see that pet food sales in 2020 have slowly and continuously improved now at the point, ahead of 2018 levels and ahead of 2019 levels,” Simpson said. “Still not quite at the level we saw prior to COVID, but we are starting to approach that level of normal again.”

COVID-19 pandemic effects on pet food sales

In March, sales accelerated faster than ever as pet owners stocked up. Dry pet food saw the largest jump in the four weeks ending March 21, with 28.4% growth over the previous year, Simpson said, but at the same time Nielsen analysts saw a big jump in wet food, up 24.1%, and treats, up 18.9%.

“Not as large as the spike we saw for dry food, but still pretty significant,” he said.

Sales plunged in April as movement restrictions reduced shopping trips. Through the summer sales of dry pet food remained lower than previous years, as pet owner worked through stockpiles. Wet food and treats grew slightly over 2019 during the summer.

Gradually, U.S. pet food sales increased until they began to approach 2019 levels in July. By the four weeks leading up to August 8, wet food and treat sales were 7.9% and 9.5% higher that during that period in 2019. Wet food and treats sales rebounded faster in mass market retailers compared to pet specialty.

Simpson compared pet food sales from November 9, 2019 through March 7, 2020 before the pandemic to sales from April 11 to August 8. Following the onset of the pandemic, dry pet food’s dollar share of the market dropped 3.6 points, while wet increased by 2.1 points and treats by 1.5.

As of August 29, overall pet food sales volume still lagged behind last year, but value had returned to last year’s figures.