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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Do past pet food spending changes provide signs for 2023?

Comprehensive government data on pet food or any area of the economy tends to be the quintessential lagging indicator. Case in point: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) just released full pet spending data from 2021 at the end of 2022.

Yet, changes in pet food spending that year, helpfully extracted from all the BLS data and analyzed by John Gibbons, may provide indicators for what’s to come in 2023 and beyond.

Who spent more on pet food?

The 2021 pet food spending data is somewhat of a letdown, especially after the 2020 BLS data showed an 18% jump in U.S. pet food spending from 2019. Though that was largely driven by pandemic stockpiling, it was a welcome boost.

In 2021, U.S. household spending on pet food came back down to earth, declining 6.6%, or US$2.44 billion, to a total of US$34.41 billion spent. (And no, this doesn’t quite track with U.S. pet food retail sale increases reported for 2021 by Packaged Facts and several other sources; that’s because retail sales and consumer spending are not exactly the same thing, and the respective data is gathered in very different ways.)

What may be most instructive is looking at the demographic groups where pet food spending changed the most, especially in terms of increases, from 2020 to 2021. The spending gainers among consumer units (CUs, similar to households) included:

  • CUs with incomes of US150,000 or more
  • Ones with no earners (reflecting a strong year for retiree pet owners, according to Gibbons)
  • People in managerial or similar professions
  • The 45-54-year-old age group
  • White non-Hispanics
  • College graduates
  • Homeowners with a mortgage
  • Married couples only (no children)
  • Gen X-ers

The wild card: Pet food inflation

None of these are a surprise; and they correspond with other data from the key pandemic years (2020-2021), including from Packaged Facts, showing that pet ownership also increased in these types of households, yet not in ones with lower incomes, education levels, more likely to be renters and have children at home. This was true not only in the U.S. but also globally, according to Euromonitor, which shared data showing similar patterns in pet food spending changes.

What does this mean for 2023? The wild card is inflation. While it began rising in late 2021, it really took off in 2022, especially for pet food, settling in December at 15.2% year over year in the U.S. That may affect the spending power for even some of the households that spent more in 2021.

We likely will see preliminary U.S. pet food spending data for 2022, at least the first half of the year, within the next several months. Those should provide more signals to watch for what might happen this year.



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