In February, pet food market analysts with Nielsen Global Connect observed that mass market wet pet food sales were growing year-over-year at 6% for conventional shelf-stable varieties and 32.9% for refrigerated pet foods. Similarly, premium wet pet food sales in pet specialty sales growth stood at 18.6% for shelf-stable, frozen at 44.3% and refrigerated pet food growing 22%. Then the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic radically altered established pet food customer buying patterns. As of the four weeks ending August 8, refrigerated wet food had reached a higher sales growth rate than before the pandemic in pet specialty retailer outlets and in food, drug and mass market.

“We can see prior to COVID…both of these segments performing very well, with refrigerated growing quite a bit faster than shelf stable wet food,” Sean Simpson, associate client director for Nielsen, said during his presentation at Petfood Forum CONNECT. “The COVID spike saw a pretty big bump for both of these segments. But post COVID we could see that shelf stable dropped into negative and flat, [then] quickly returned to positive, but refrigerated food held consistent.”

Wet pet food sales during pandemic

As of August in mass market retailers, refrigerated pet food sales had dropped from their COVID stock up spike of 51.7% growth down to 13%, but it stayed positive and returned ahead of year over year growth rates that they saw previous to COVID, 44.1% compared to 32%, Simpson said.

“Within the traditional pet specialty retail side, we again can see premium wet food growing much faster than traditional shelf stable wet, prior to the COVID spike, during the COVID spike and then post COVID spike as well,” Simpson said. “Refrigerated stayed positive throughout the COVID lockdown period. Frozen food stayed positive throughout this period within pet retail. Dropping down from 44% growth to 4% growth, but staying positive and eventually jumping up to about 13% growth year over year. Refrigerated wet food was similar to what we saw on the total channel. It dropped down into the negative, then improved to positive, with refrigerated or fresh food performing better than shelf stable wet. Heading into August, seeing the highest growth year over year for the wet food category within traditional pet retail at 25% growth year over year.”