Adventures in Pet Food

Debbie Phillips-Donaldson, editor-in-chief of Petfood Industry, shares her insights and opinions on all things pet food, addressing market trends as well as news and developments in pet nutrition, food safety and other hot topics for the industry.
Pet Food Market Trends
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Pet food ranks among top-selling consumer product goods

Pet food is now among the top-selling consumer product goods (CPG) categories in the U.S., according to IRI’s Consumer and Shopper Insights Advantage report. At number five, pet food trailed only cigarettes, beer/ale/alcoholic cider, salty snacks and carbonated beverages in sales for the 52 weeks ending June 13, 2021, totaling US$22.2 billion for that period. (Cigarettes ended significantly ahead at US$36.6 billion, while sales for the other three categories, ranging from US$26 billion to US$27.4 billion, did not outpace pet food by much.)

The sales for pet food represented a 3.4% increase over the previous 52-week period, indicating ongoing growth as the world continues to navigate the pandemic. Yet that growth happened not because consumers bought even more pet food than in 2020; unit sales decreased 1.5%. Rather, the price/volume ratio for pet food rose 5.8%, matching that for carbonated beverages and only slightly lower than wine and spirits/liquor among the top 10 categories in sales.

Pet treat growth outpacing pet food

If pet food in the U.S. has done well the past 12 months, pet treats have performed even better, increasing 13.7% in sales, 11.3% in volume and 6.1% in price/volume. Yet the category’s US$6.3 billion in sales ranked it at only 43. Pet supplies ranked 16th, with US$11.8 billion in sales and 10.6%, 7.3% and 3.1% increases in sales, units and price/volume, respectively.

As an aggregate category comprising pet food, treats and supplies, pet product sales grew 7.1% by mid-June 2021, its highest growth rate since 2017, the IRI data showed. In addition, the shopping basket size for consumers buying pet products rose 6.4% in the past 52 weeks, reaching an average of US$79.76. Previously, from 2017-2020, growth in pet product basket size amounted to only 3.4%.

Treats purchased more during pandemic, likely to continue

IRI also dove into consumer preferences and sentiments for the second quarter of 2021 via its Consumer Connect survey. Pet owners participating in the survey (59.3% of total respondents) said they’d purchased more pet treats during the pandemic, with 32% doing so, the most of any type of products named. The next highest category named, pet products, was chosen by only 17%. In addition, 14% reported buying a different pet food to accommodate their pets’ lifestage.

Looking ahead at what these pet parents anticipate needing in the coming year, treats came out on top again, though only at 19% and with the next category, grooming services, close behind at 18%. Different pet food based on the pet’s lifestage also ranked, this time chosen by 13%.

When it comes to what factors they consider important in choosing a pet food, there were few surprises. Over half (51%) of pet-owning respondents said meeting health and nutrition standards for their pets, followed by pets’ taste or preference at 46%. Price was third at 42%, trailed closely by high quality (39%). Then came ingredient-related factors, such as non-inclusion of specific types of ingredients (grains, fillers, artificial ingredients) or the reverse, inclusion of desired ingredients; both were chosen by 32%. Preferred brand showed up at 26%.

These findings seem in keeping with other recent surveys.

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