The COVID-19 pandemic is changing nearly every aspect of life and business as we know it, and that seems to go for consumer behavior toward pet food purchasing and the trends driving that behavior.

While convenience, technology and confidence have been key pet food drivers for at least a few years, and still are, they now mean different things to consumers, according to Rebecca Casey, senior vice president, marketing and strategy, for TC Transcontinental Packaging. She was one of three presenters for a webinar, “Pet food and COVID-19, part 1: market and business outlook,” on May 7. (Note: This is the first in a webinar series on how the pandemic is affecting the pet food industry and market.)

Shift in pet food drivers for consumers

To set the context, Casey discussed what these main pet food trends meant before the pandemic. For most consumers, convenience signified being able to find the products they wanted while on the go and having more flexibility and options, while technology represented the move to mobile access and online shopping, especially for younger generations of consumers. “Confidence” was Casey’s term for transparency and authenticity, and the desire and demand consumers had for brands to be honest about their values and how and where their products were made.

During COVID-19, the trends are shifting and will continue to change post-pandemic, Casey believes. Convenience now means one-stop shopping, fewer shopping trips that are closer to home and possibly switching of pet food brands to what’s available in store or online. (Switching to new brands or types of pet food could also result from economic pressure and consumers becoming more price conscious, she added.)

Use of technology – especially e-commerce – is now becoming more mainstream and habitual for more consumers, Casey said. That statement was supported by data shared by another webinar speaker, Sean Simpson, associate client director of the pet vertical for Nielsen: In just one month – from February to March 2020 – online sales of pet food in the U.S. jumped by US$281 million, or more than 51%, he said. Year over year (YOY) compared to March 2019, pet food -ecommerce this March rose 77%.

In terms of technology and pet food, Casey said it also now means that consumers expect increased content and communication from brands. And confidence now commands an even stronger focus and suggests well-being in many forms: health, financial, availability of supplies and at the community and even national levels. In fact, she commented, while health has always been an important driver for consumers for both pet food and their own food, it is now inspiring many new routines and habits.

Latest US pet food sales update

Besides the increases in online pet food sales, Simpson provided a deep dive into the overall US pet food market through end of April 2020. And the word “dive” applies to the sales themselves; the decline seen through the end of March and beginning of April after pet owners had stocked up in mid-March has continued.

Specifically, in addition to the robust growth in pet food e-commerce in March, brick-and-mortar sales in the U.S. increased 26% YOY in March 2020, Simpson said. Looking at sales week by week in brick-and-mortar stores, they spiked by well over 50% in the third week of March compared to the same week in 2019, following a similar double-digit spike the previous week. But since then, sales have declined each week compared to the same week in 2019, down 7.6% the last week of March, then down 14%, 14.5%, 14.5% and 7.3% each week in April, respectively.

All of this reflects an unusual purchasing cycle driven by an unprecedented crisis, of course; what is unknown at this time is when – and if – pet food purchasing cycles will return to normal, Simpson said, as well as the lasting impact of pet owners’ shift to online.

More webinars on pet food and COVID-19

The third speaker in the May 7 webinar, Paola Cane, Ph.D., CEO of Mia Solution in Italy, presented best practices for crisis management now, plus planning for post-pandemic. Watch this blog for key takeaways from that.

For more webinars on how COVID-19 is affecting pet food, please bookmark our webinars page.

 

View our continuing coverage of the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.

 

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dphillips@wattglobal.com