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

Which pet ownership survey should you believe?

Every two years, the American Pet Products Association releases its APPA National Pet Owners Survey, usually during or just after its Global Pet Expo trade show. So we're in luck, because the 2013-2014 survey results just came out, showing US pet ownership at an all-time high of 68% of all US households in 2012.


Specifically, 82.5 million US households now own some type of pet, including 56.7 million households with dogs (46.7% of US households) and 45.7 million with cats (37.3% of households). In terms of number of pets, that translates to totals of 83.3 million dogs owned and 95.6 million cats owned, many in the same household; the survey also showed that multiple-pet households increased to 53.4 million, another all-time high.


While the APPA data seem encouraging -- who doesn't like record numbers? -- growth trends remain relatively weak. The number of dogs owned increased only .64% from the last APPA survey two years ago, while the number of cats grew just 1%. This follows a disturbing trend: The 2011-2012 survey showed increases of just 1.5% in dogs owned and 1.8% in cats owned from the 2009-2010 survey. So, in fact, growth rates are trending down.


(On a happier note, ownership of other species has rebounded, according to the 2013-2014 APPA survey, with the percentage of households owning birds, small animals, reptiles, fresh- and saltwater fish and horses all on the rise, after many of those percentages had declined in previous years.)


But at least the APPA surveys show some growth. In January, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) released its US Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook, a survey it conducts every five years. The latest survey was conducted in 2012 based on numbers ending December 31, 2011 -- in other words, a year earlier than APPA's newest survey.


Yet the AVMA survey showed declines: 70 million dogs owned in 2011, down from 72 million in 2006, and 74 million cats in 2011, down from 81.7 million in 2006. The percentage of homes owning those pets were also significantly lower than in the APPA data: 36.5% for dogs and 30.4% for cats.


Why the discrepancies? Without knowing more about each recent survey's methodology, it's impossible to explain. AVMA said its latest survey was "drawn from a national survey of over 50,000 households." I imagine you have to buy the full survey to learn more.


I don't have the full 2013-2014 survey from APPA; its 2011-2012 survey describes its methodology as using Ipsos Inc. to conduct research in two phases: a screening phase in which 50,000 US households, members of an Ipsos panel, were mailed a two-page interview (it had a 66% response, and 62% of those panel members were pet owners); followed by a second phase in which 3,857 pet-owning Ipsos panel members were mailed a detailed questionnaire in one of eight categories (depending on type of pet owned), with a 71% response rate.


So, which survey should we believe? I tend to lean toward APPA's, and not just because it's always tempting to use positive data showing growth (even if it is only slight growth). For one reason, APPA conducts its survey every two years, as opposed to AVMA's five-year interval; I think the higher frequency builds some stability into the process. Plus, considering that it is a membership organization for veterinarians, AVMA's survey seems to focus on pet-owning aspects most relevant to vets, such as how often pet owners seek veterinary care for their pets. That data showed declines, which seems to match the decreasing pet ownership data. I have no clue if there's a correlation, but it all seems to make sense together.


On the other hand, the increases in pet ownership indicated by the AVMA survey seem to go hand in hand with rising sales of all pet products, including petfood; in fact, the 2013-2014 survey shows that dog owners spent US$239 on dog food in 2012 while cat owners spent US$203 on food.


No matter which set of data you choose to believe, the pet care industry (including petfood) has work to do in terms of growing pet ownership. One way to start is to target emerging demographic segments such as Gen X, Gen Y, Hispanics and other ethnic groups. You can learn more about that and other ways to grow your business at Petfood Forum, April 15-17, and Petfood Workshop: World of Ingredients, April 17-18.


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