2017 mass market pet food sales outgrew specialty retail

In 2017, mass market retail sales of pet food accounted for 54 percent of the total in terms of dollar value.

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Jared Koerten, senior food analyst for Euromonitor International, at the International Processing and Production Expo in Atlanta, Georgia, USA on January 30, 2018 | photo by Tim Wall
Jared Koerten, senior food analyst for Euromonitor International, at the International Processing and Production Expo in Atlanta, Georgia, USA on January 30, 2018 | photo by Tim Wall

Mass market sales of pet food in the United States have reversed a decades long trend and likely grew faster than pet food specialty retail sales in 2017, said Jared Koerten, senior food analyst at Euromonitor International, during his presentation at the International Processing and Production Expo in Atlanta, Georgia, USA on January 30, 2018. Meanwhile, the distinction between pet food specialty and mass market retailers has begun to disintegrate.

"We're expecting mass to actually out-grow specialty once the 2017 numbers are done coming in,” he said.

In 2017, mass market retail sales of pet food accounted for 54 percent of the total in terms of dollar value. Those sales occurred in brick-and-mortar stores such as Wal-Mart, Target and Kroger. Specialty pet retailers sold 34 percent of the dollar value total through PetSmart, veterinary clinics, mom-and-pop stores and similar places.

Although mass market makes up the largest portion of pet food sales, specialty retailers have been taking pet food market share away from mass for years, said Koerten.

Since 2003, pet specialty has grown 124 percent. During the same time, mass market pet food sales have grown 48 percent. However, the past few years have seen the growth rate of the two become more similar, and perhaps even reverse.

At the same time, the difference between pet specialty and mass market retailers is diminishing.

“What we had were two different channels that were completely independent from one another,” he said. “They were two totally different, sort of walled-off worlds. We're starting to see that very strict market structure sort of break down for the first time, driven by a couple of trends: mass premium trends and ecommerce.”

Traditional mass and specialty pet food channels

Historically, the types of products stocked on the shelves defined mass and specialty pet food retailers, he said. Mass-market grocery stores traditionally focused on economy and mid-priced foods. These pet foods tended to be marketed with a scientific, nutrition-based focus. 

On the other hands, pet specialty retailers focused on natural, premium and therapeutic pet foods with brands sold exclusively at those types of stores. Often consumers couldn’t buy many of these brands through mass channels. The pet food companies intentionally chose to sell exclusively through pet specialty, which added to their premium cachet.

However, changing shopping patterns are altering this traditional divide. First, as more consumers purchase pet food online, it puts pressure on brick-and-mortar retailers. Secondly, consumers are spending less time shopping in general, he said.

“Over the past decade consumers spent 12 percent less time shopping,” Koerten said. “Consumers are spending less time shopping…Consumers are looking for efficiencies and ways to save time.”

Consumers’ desire to spend less time among the aisles has created an opportunity for pet food in mass channels, he said. Pet owners are already going to the grocery store, Target or Wal-mart.

“If they can also get their pet food there, that's going to save them time, that's going to save them a trip,” he said.

As the distinction between mass market and specialty continues to break down, pet food brands that wish to sell in both channels need to maintain a premium image, but have accessible price point, while adhering to the trends that drive specialty sales.

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