How resilient is the pet food market?

The pet food market has persevered and even grown throughout economic downturns for several decades. Will that hold during a pandemic and other disruptions?

The pet food market has withstood economic downturns since at least the 1990s, perhaps even back to the 1970s.| (ramcreations |
The pet food market has withstood economic downturns since at least the 1990s, perhaps even back to the 1970s.| (ramcreations |

Since at least the Great Recession of 2008-2009, the pet food market has been renowned for its resilience. After all, that was preceded by the mass melamine-related pet food recalls in the U.S. in 2007 – and yet, by 2011, pet food sales and spending were increasing again.

Today, with a global pandemic spurring an economic meltdown, can pet food continue its run of resilience?

Strong pet food spending pattern since 1997

We started the Petfood Industry Confidence Index (p. XX) at the beginning of 2020 before knowing all this year would bring, but its aim is to provide insights to questions like that over time. For a broader perspective of how the market might fare considering current conditions, perhaps it helps to look to the past.

On his blog,, John Gibbons offers analysis of U.S. pet food spending, using data compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Going back to 1997, the data display a pattern through 2017 of a two-year increase, followed by a plateau or decreasing year – except for 2006-2010, with the 2007 recalls and Great Recession.

That pattern seems to have changed in 2018 and mid-year 2019, with drops of more than 7% each year. (Data for the last half of 2019 is due in September 2020.) That could be partially a market correction to higher spending in 2017 due to mass premiumization and channel disruption, plus the Food and Drug Administration’s ongoing investigation into a still unproven link between grain-free pet food and canine dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM).

Industry resilience back to the '70s?

The recession-resistant nature of the industry may go back farther than the 1990s. A longtime pet food expert told me that, years ago, she trained her dogs in classes at a pet store started in about 1970. Despite a significant recession in 1973-1975, the store owner was able not only to keep her business going but to grow it.

“One of the first lessons I learned in this pet business was that it is very resilient to economic downturns,” my contact said. “The mix of products will shift but people care very deeply for their pets and will continue to sustain them.”

Will that hold true even amidst a COVID-19 pandemic and free-falling economy, on top of evolving situations like DCM and shifting purchase channels? With humanization of pets now a foundation of pet care, let’s hope it can help the market withstand anything thrown its way.

Page 1 of 686
Next Page