What do pet owners think of the pet food industry? (Part 1)

Taking a look at the trust — or lack thereof — that pet owners have in pet food companies.

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Pet food customers are, overall, skeptical of (or, at best, neutral on) trusting pet food manufacturers. | Evgeniy Kalinovskiy.Fotolia
Pet food customers are, overall, skeptical of (or, at best, neutral on) trusting pet food manufacturers. | Evgeniy Kalinovskiy.Fotolia

[Editor’s note: This is Part I of a three-part series on what pet owners think of the pet food industry. Part II and Part III will focus on consumer perceptions about pet food-related scientific research claims, and then on levels of satisfaction with the pet food brands actually used.]

The educational sessions at the upcoming Petfood Forum 2018 will include, among other hot topics, fresh perspectives and survey data on what consumers think about pet food, toward answering the eternal question of what consumers want.

Consumer trust lukewarm on pet food companies

To start with some unflattering news for the industry, based on preliminary surveys being fielded for this year’s Forum: the level of consumer trust in the quality of pet food overall is underwhelming. Nearly two-thirds of dog or cat owners neither agree nor disagree, in general, that they trust the quality of pet foods produced by the larger companies with the leading mass-market brands — or by natural/organic specialist companies — or by smaller/regional companies.

This skepticism, or at least withheld general endorsement of the pet food industry, is both a reason for and an effect of marketing based on product differentiation. To a very significant degree, it represents a spillover from consumer ambivalence about processed foods overall, and the choice complexities and informational crossfire now inherent in placing almost any food product in your shopping basket, real or virtual.

Natural/organic companies do slightly better among consumers

Natural/organic companies as a group fare very slightly better (see Table 1), in that 12 percent of dog or cat owners agree that they trust their natural/organic pet food quality, compared with 10 percent for mass-market leaders and 9 percent for smaller/regional companies. But even respondents who generally trust the quality of natural/organic company products nonetheless note that “I still do research on them” and “I will check on claims over the internet,” or “they may be better, but not necessarily better tasting.”

organic pet food consumer trust

TABLE 1: Pet owners who trust natural and organic pet food products cite specialization, company caring/responsibility and superior ingredients as some of the reasons they do so.

The level of positive trust in the product quality of the mass-market leaders is in line with that for natural/organic or smaller companies, but the level of active distrust is somewhat higher. That is, 9 percent of pet owners somewhat if not strongly distrust the quality of the leading, general market pet food companies, compared with 5 percent for either natural/organic companies or smaller/regional companies.

The same broad pattern holds on the question of whether pet owners trust the product information released by pet food companies (see Table 2). Here again, nearly two-thirds of pet owners neither agree nor disagree that they on the whole trust the product information and claims by pet food manufacturers and marketers, across the main company types.

pet food quality consumer trust

TABLE 2: Overall, pet food purchasers seem lukewarm to the concept of trusting the quality of the products they’re buying, with the majority neither agreeing nor disagreeing with statements about pet food company trust.

And here again, the larger, general market companies do slip slightly by this measure, with 10 percent of pet owners somewhat or strongly distrusting the product information released by mass-market leaders, compared with 6 percent for natural/organic specialists and 5 percent for smaller/regional companies.

But the overall message is that dog and cat food shoppers tend make their judgment calls about products on a brand-by-brand, case-by-case basis. As in the overarching human food industry, differentiation-based product marketing has trained us to do so, and sharpened many a two-edged sword.


The latest pet food market insights:


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