What do pet owners think of the pet food industry? (Part 2)

Consumer perceptions of scientific claims about pet food: Trust, skepticism and the role of vets

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Pet owners do believe scientific research can shed light on pet nutrition, but that trust is not unshakable. | stokkete.Fotolia.com
Pet owners do believe scientific research can shed light on pet nutrition, but that trust is not unshakable. | stokkete.Fotolia.com

[Editor’s note: This is Part 2 of a three-part series on what pet owners think of the pet food industry. Part 1 focused on consumer trust in the pet food industry, and Part 3 will focus on levels of satisfaction with the pet food brands actually used.]

The Petfood Innovation Workshop at the upcoming Petfood Forum 2018 tackles the “New Product Development Journey,” and part of that journey involves understanding the value consumers do or don’t place on scientific research claims about pet food formulations, including targeted nutritional content and associated wellness benefits.

Pet foods designed for preventive healthcare or to address specific pet health conditions at times overlap with natural product positioning, but are still mostly in a league of their own. Just as many Americans address their own health conditions and wellness concerns through food choices, a sizeable majority of pet owners believe the pet foods they buy have a strong impact on the health and longevity of their pets. Packaged Facts national consumer survey data from the first quarter of 2018 show that 72 percent of dog owners and 67 percent of cat owners somewhat or strongly agree that “high-quality dog foods/cat foods are effective for preventive healthcare,” and 87 percent of dog and cat owners agree that “targeted pet foods with special nutrition formulations are beneficial to pets with specific health concerns.” 

New data: Pet owner trust in scientific research on pet nutrition

Packaged Facts will be presenting new data at Petfood Forum on how this level of faith in high-quality, health-beneficial pet foods stacks up against pet food buyer attitudes about scientific research on pet nutrition. 

Although at a somewhat lower level than is the case for high-quality or condition-targeted pet food products, a clear majority (62 percent) of pet owners do somewhat or strongly agree in general that scientific research sheds light on pet food and nutrition issues, with the largest share of consumers (38 percent) somewhat agreeing (see Table 1).

More traction is lost when it comes to giving credence to research evidence presented to back commercial pet food product claims. In this case, only a slight majority of consumers somewhat or strongly agree (55 percent) that they generally would trust this information, with the largest share of consumers (41 percent) neither agreeing nor disagreeing.

More ground is lost when it comes to scientific research sponsored by pet food manufacturers. Here, slightly under half of consumers (48 percent) somewhat or strongly agree that they generally would trust the accuracy of this research information, with the share who strongly trust such research dropping to 11 percent and the share who neither agree nor disagree rising to half. Things slip further when it comes to trusting the objectivity of scientific research sponsored by pet food companies. In this case, response patterns show a bell curve, with levels of trust and skepticism being very evenly distributed, and again with half of pet owners neither agreeing nor disagreeing that the objectivity of manufacturer-sponsored scientific research about pet food can be counted upon.

Customer trust in veterinarians

Trust takes a turn for the better when it comes to scientific information about pet food presented to pet owners by their veterinarians. In this context of medical services rather than commercial products, consumer trust levels rebound back to the higher levels of trust they hold in scientific research generally.

From this vantage, as Packaged Facts predicts in Pet Market Outlook 2018­­–2019, veterinary diets and pet foods recommended by veterinarians are going to assume a higher level of importance as pet food retailers, manufacturers, and veterinarians collaborate to offset the revenue strains caused by e-commerce competition and by superpremium pet food’s ongoing descent into the mass market.

pet owner thoughts research nutrition

TABLE 1: Pet owners tend to at least somewhat trust pet nutrition research, with the least-trusted research coming from or being backed by pet food manufacturers. 

The latest pet food market insights

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