With the rise of millennials as the largest consumer group – and the largest group of pet owners in the US – pet beds are taking the place of baby beds, and pet parents are demanding more convenience, transparency and sustainability.
As millennials have reached the point in their lives in which they are now active consumers, their previously ignored demands and desires must now be tended to. While there is much negative press about the group as a whole regarding loyalty, suspicion and lack of interest in others, millennials have matured into a group of socially aware consumers. With this comes a demand that the brands they purchase, including pet food brands, are transparent about every aspect of their business: from the types and sources of ingredients to the manufacturing processes and even sustainability initiatives in place at the corporate level.
The distrust that millennials have for large corporations has led to an embracing of small brands with a real message that hits home. With pet food, this is particularly evident in regard to ingredient sourcing and sustainability initiatives. Small brands have made a name for themselves by detailing their quality ingredients with ultimate transparency. Similarly, brands that tout sustainability in regard to the ingredients that go into their foods receive high marks.
In the past, many of these small pet food brands were ignored by the big players in the industry, but now those brands are targets for acquisition. Recognizing what these small players are doing right, but realizing the challenge for a large firm to morph into this new image, is the precise reason behind these purchases.
But this is not enough. Convenience is important to the millennial shopper. The online market for pet products has exploded recently. PetSmart purchased Chewy.com in the largest e-commerce acquisition to date to expand its lagging presence in the online space. Busy people demand convenience, and what is more convenient than having your pet’s favorite food and treats auto-shipped right to your door on a regular schedule? Brands that don’t find themselves with a value proposition online will be left behind.
Finally, companies must learn to embrace the new normal of pets as children. Social media is where we see the strongest evidence of the role that pets play in people’s lives. Influencers in social media are people (or pets) with large followings, whether on Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat. The Huffington Post published an article in March 2017 listing the best dogs to follow on Instagram. Obviously the dogs are not posting, but their parents are. And it is really hard not to fall in love with some of these adorable pets and their antics.
The pet food industry does not look anything like it did 10 years ago. The grain-free revolution was the start of the disruption that has led to this new normal. As companies work to catch up, it will be interesting to watch where things go next.