I joined Petfood Industry nearly 10 years ago, which at times makes me feel depressingly old but, more often, presents an opportunity to celebrate and reflect. Following and learning about the global pet food industry has been a wonderful experience so far, especially getting to know the smart, dedicated, caring, usually warm, fun and funny people who comprise it.

Among the first people I met were researchers from Packaged Facts, who my company was starting discussions with over partnership opportunities. In 2006, Packaged Facts, like Watt Publishing (now Watt Global Media, parent company of Petfood Industry), seemed to be beginning to fully understand the power and potential of the fast-growing pet food market, and how so many people from within and outside the market were hungry for data and information on it.

Thus, we started working with David Lummis, Packaged Facts’ lead pet market analyst (and one of the nicest people you’d ever meet anywhere, let alone in the industry). In 2007, he presented his first overview and outlook for the US pet food market at Petfood Forum, and it quickly became one of the most popular recurring sessions each year. Then he took over our Market Report column in 2008 and wrote it bimonthly until about three years ago.

Lummis had to turn his focus elsewhere, and his pet food column and presentations were very ably taken over by his colleague, David Sprinkle. Yet I still keep in touch with Lummis and follow the pet market column he writes for Pet Product News. In his July 2016 column, he wrote something that really resonated with me: “Much as computers have always been there for them, millennials know only a world where treating pets like fully entitled family members is normal, if not expected … and expensive.”

Think about that for a minute. Lummis is right: Pets being part of the family is as familiar and ingrained for millennials—something they seldom think about, if ever—as are mobile phones, social media and indeed the air they breathe. It’s second nature for them to feed their pets well and spend a decent amount of money to do so. That’s a pretty astounding and positive concept for our industry and market.

Up and coming pet parents

In his column, Lummis discussed the remarkable ongoing strength of the overall pet industry and how it has only continued to grow since he first became lead pet market analyst in 2003. That ongoing growth is a fairly rare and extraordinary feat, particularly compared to many other industries, and he attributed it in part to two concepts he said he first started seeing and writing about in 2006: humanization and premiumization. Coincidentally, that’s the same year I began covering what I’ve found to be such a dynamic, interesting industry. (And you can blame Lummis’ column for my waxing nostalgic in this blog post!)

What’s more, the outlook for the market continues to be positive: Packaged Facts projects overall US pet industry sales to reach nearly US$100 billion by the year 2020. Globally, Euromonitor expects pet food sales to hit US$88 billion by that year, up from US$78 billion in 2015. (About US$31 billion of those pet food sales last year were in the US, Euromonitor says, though the US Bureau of Labor Statistics has the figure at about US$26.8 billion.)

This upbeat outlook owes mainly to up and coming pet parents, namely, those “of course pets are part of the family, what else would we consider them?” millennials. In a recent Market Report column, Lummis’ colleague Sprinkle explained that millennial pet owners:

  • Number 43 million in the US: 62% of US millennials are pet owners, and among those who aren’t, 43% say they hope to have a pet in the future;
  • Are willing to spend on their pets, with 64% indicating they are spending more on pet products than they used to and 52% saying they would rather spend money on pet products than on products for themselves;
  • Make a priority of buying pet food with natural ingredients (64% of millennial pet owners say this), especially millennial men (34% versus 29% for millennial women);
  • Actively factor food safety or contamination concerns into the pet foods they buy (over half do this), along with a pet food brand’s participation in pet welfare and pet rescue causes (again, millennial men show the strongest tendencies toward both safety and pet welfare);
  • Agree, at 68%, that keeping pets is a good way to prepare for having a (human) family;
  • Are buying more pet products online, with 53% saying this;
  • Use social media to share their pet parenting experiences (62% do so, and I’m surprised it’s not higher).

Perhaps even more compelling is the bottom line: In 2014, US millennials spent US$10.6 billion on their pets, over 15% of the approximately US$60 billion spent on US pets that year. That will only continue to increase, which will help fossils like me continue to follow and enjoy this exciting market for years to come.

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dphillips@wattglobal.com