Premium dog food dominated past decade; grain-free rising

A drop in premium dog food buying coincided with a rise in grain-free/gluten-free dog food purchases.

Tim Wall Headshot Small Headshot
image by Willee Cole, BigStockPhoto
image by Willee Cole, BigStockPhoto

For the past decade, dog owners have reported buying and using premium dog food brands more frequently than other varieties, including natural or vitamin supplemented. The American Pet Products Association’s (APPA) 2017-2018 National Pet Owners Survey found that trend continuing in 2016, but with some challengers arising.

Forty-one percent of dog owners purchased premium dog food in the year prior to their participation in the survey. That figure was down somewhat from previous years, with a high of 47 percent in 2014, though still the highest percentage by 19 points. APPA defined premium dog food as diets with nutrients, less preservatives and more easily digested ingredients than lower grade dog foods.

Grain-free/gluten-free and natural dog food purchases rose

APPA analysts noted that the drop in premium dog food buying coincided with a rise in grain-free/gluten-free dog food purchases. Grain-free/gluten-free dog food purchases increased from seven percent in 2012 to 11 percent in 2014 to 19 percent in 2016. Baby boomers were the most frequent purchasers of grain-free/gluten–free dog food.

Natural dog food also increased in the number of reported purchases made by survey participants. In 2010, 13 percent of respondents said they bought natural dog food in the past year. By 2012, the percentage had climbed to 18 percent, then 19 percent in 2014. Most recently, 22 percent of surveyed dog owners purchased a product marketed as natural. APPA considered a pet food to be natural if it contained no synthetic material, but lacked a certification process.

Dog food used most often in 2016

The percentage of dog owners reporting that they frequently used a specific type of dog food mirrored the relationships in purchasing during the past year. Premium dog food topped the list at 31 percent, a drop from 40 percent in 2014.

Natural beat out grain-free/gluten-free dog food in frequent use, but showed less rapid growth. In 2016, 14 percent of dog owners reported using natural dog food often, compared to 11 percent in 2012. However grain-free grew to 11 percent, up from 3 percent in 2012. Millennials, or Gen Y, had higher purchasing levels of natural dog food, but were equal to Gen X and boomers in use of that type of dog food.

How National Pet Owners Survey was conducted

The National Pet Owners Survey included responses from 2,559 pet owners from various parts of the United States.

The survey included respondents from four generations:

  • Gen Y (millennials) – aged 18-36; born 1994-1980
  • Gen X – aged 37-51; born 1979-1965
  • Baby boomers – aged 52-70; born 1964-1946
  • Builders – aged 71+; born 1945-1920

Respondents answered one of eight sets of questions about specific types of pets, including dogs, cats, reptiles, freshwater fish, birds, saltwater fish, horses and small animals. Ipsos, Inc. conducted the survey.

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