Pet food buyers shifted many patterns during the first months of the ongoing pandemic. Some of these pet food sales trends gradually returned to where they were pre-COVID, while others remain below previous levels, Sean Simpson, associate client director for Nielsen Global Connect, said during his presentation at Petfood Forum CONNECT.

Large pet food bags sales recover

Following a massive stock-up period in March, sales of pet food in general dropped dramatically. Pet foods packaged in large bags tended to rebound in sales faster than small or medium sizes. In mass market and pet specialty stores, sales of bags over 28 pounds increased 32.8% year-over-yar during the four weeks leading up to March 31. Bags under 7.5 pounds increases sales by 20.8% in that time. During the next four week period, small bag sales dropped 28.4% year-over-year, while large bags declined 16.4%. As of the four weeks ending August 8, large pet food bag sales were down only 1.9% compared to the same time in 2019. Meanwhile, small bag sales still lagged 13.9%.

Non-natural and with-grain pet foods outperform

Compared to 2019, all pet food sales remain down in 2020. However, in addition to bag size, specific types of pet food performed better than other varieties. Simpson compared pet food sales from November 9, 2019 through March 7, 2020 before the pandemic to sales from April 11 to August 8.

Natural pet food and grain-free formulation both underperformed conventional varieties.

“While still both in red, we do see non-natural pet foods’ year-over-year growth rates are quite a bit better than we're seeing for natural pet food. Non-natural declined 1.4%, but natural pet food declined 9.1%.”

“There's been a lot of activity surrounding grain-free, with DCM, so a lot goes into this, not just COVID, but you can still see sort of a reversing of trends within the total brick and mortar category,” he said. “For grain-free and with-grains in our current period, climbing 15% year over year for green-free, with grain-in still negative only 1.5% year over year.”