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US pet food spending increased by US$18.91 billion in the 30 years from 1984 to 2014—a whopping 366%. This historical data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (USBLS), compiled and analyzed by John Gibbons of PetBusinessProfessor.com, shows just how far our industry has come, especially in its largest market. Though not at all an apples-to-apples comparison, it’s worth noting that from 1992 to mid-June 2015, overall US grocery store sales grew 85%; in that same period, pet food spending rose 180%.
The chart below, while showing data for just a few of the past 30 years, paints a representative picture of the sales history of pet food in the US since 1984 (the first year for which USBLS had this data). It’s gone mostly upward, but with “some plateaus and a few minor dips along the way,” as Gibbons puts it. (The red numbers in the chart represent a decrease from the previous year’s spending.) One of the plateaus happened in the last half of the 1990s, reaching a decline of -6.5% in 2000 from the previous year. That was followed by a huge growth curve through the mid-2000s, spiking as high as a 21.1% spending increase in 2005; then came the decline in 2010 from the Great Recession. A drop of -2.2% is not bad, though, considering that overall US retail sales fell nearly 8% during that time.
In 1984, the US$5.16 billion spent on pet food represented 54% of total pet spending, Gibbons said; by 2014, the share for pet food had fallen to 37.4% “as consumers spent more discretionary money on their pets,” he added, speculating that the mid-1990s may have signaled the birth of the “pet parenting” concept. (The last year that pet food accounted for 50% of total pet care spending was 1992.) Thus, while the annual growth rate from 1984 to 1999 was a healthy 4.5%, it became even healthier from 1999 to 2014, at 6%. (The overall annual growth rate for the 30 years was 5.3%.)
The first decade of the 21st century proved to be boom years for US pet food, when humanization of pets and premiumization of products for them really starting taking hold. Of course, the recession starting in 2007-2008 slowed the trend and likely “marked the beginning of extreme price sensitivity in spending,” according to Gibbons. This is supported by data from Packaged Facts’ February/March 2016 National Pet Owner Survey, in which 31% of US pet owners said they are spending less on pet products because of the economy. That percentage is down only slightly from 2011, when it was 35%.
Yet look at the growth just from mid-2014 to mid-2015, a very healthy 4.8%. And that increase is the main reason the overall US pet care sector increased to US$63.38 billion by mid-2015, Gibbons said, up 4.1% over the previous 12 months.
In 1984, pet care spending represented 0.48% of all US consumer expenditures, Gibbons added. By 2014, that had nearly doubled to 0.95%—further proof that pets indeed have become part of the family.