How sustainable pet food claims resonate with consumers

Sustainably marketed pet food and treats command a healthy price premium over those without sustainable claims, and 2020 sales still seem healthy to date.

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Are consumers willing to pay more for pet food and treats with sustainable claims? | (Ikitano l iStock.com)
Are consumers willing to pay more for pet food and treats with sustainable claims? | (Ikitano l iStock.com)

Leading into 2020, sustainability seemed to be gaining traction among pet food consumers. Did COVID-19 and its economic consequences slow that? Recent data shows perhaps not.

First, some context: From 2015 to 2019, consumer product goods (CPG) marketed with sustainability claims drove 54.7% growth, according to the NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business, working with research firm IRI. That increase was more than seven times higher than that for non-sustainable products.

The group of products they studied was comprised of 36 CPG categories, including pet food and treats. For pet treats, those marketed with sustainable claims saw about 70% sales growth from 2015-2019, compared to a still healthy growth rate of about 30% for treats without sustainable claims. With pet food, the presence of sustainability claims did not have an effect; sales of those products increased a little more than 10%, as did pet foods without such claims.

Sustainable consumer product growth in 2020

To determine whether the pandemic and economy have affected sales of sustainably marketed products, NYU Stern and IRI conducted further research this year, finding that products in those 36 categories followed the same sales patterns as all other CPGs (including pet food): a huge spike mid-March 2020, as consumers stocked up for lockdowns, followed by a return to more normal levels.

That meant continued slight growth for the 36 sustainable categories, in addition to other CPGs. Yet the sustainably marketed products’ share of the entire CPG category has inched up, reaching 16.8% to date, from 16.1% in 2019. With pet food and pet treats each comprising a small share (less than 5%) of all sustainable CPGs, neither saw much change, but did maintain their shares.

Large price premium for sustainable pet food, treats

Since 2014, sustainable products have enjoyed a large price premium over “conventionally marketed” products, hitting 39.46% in 2018, according to NYU Stern and IRI. Pet treats and pet food with sustainable claims far surpassed that average, with price premiums of 123% and 134%, respectively, over pet treats and foods without such claims. Only sustainable laundry care products (135%) and carbonated beverages (165%) saw higher premiums.

Pet food and treats were also among the product categories least sensitive to price. On a scale of -3 to +6 (with 6 being least sensitive), pet food registered at about 2.5 and treats, about 2. Most sustainable human food items had numbers similar to pet food and treats.

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