Has COVID-19 really affected pet food shopping behavior?

Despite multiple reports about the acceleration of pet food e-commerce, a new survey shows many pet owners still buy pet food primarily in physical stores.

Phillips D 1 Headshot
(Debbie Phillips-Donaldson)
(Debbie Phillips-Donaldson)

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, there has been no shortage of reports (including in this magazine) on how much pet food shopping has changed, particularly about how e-commerce has accelerated.

Yet, exclusive new research from a survey of U.S. pet owners — conducted in July 2021 by Jefferies, a global investment bank, and Petfood Industry — revealed interesting, even counterintuitive, insights. For one, 63% of the approximately 1,450 respondents said they still buy their pet food and supplies primarily in physical stores; only 33% named online, while 4% said they buy primarily from a veterinarian.

Further, price seemed to be a determining factor for these pet owners: 46% said they would buy mostly online if products there were cheaper. The next ranking factors, convenience and finding preferred brands, at 18% and 17%, respectively, fell far behind.

A key takeaway, according to Steph Wissink, a managing director and leading research analyst with Jefferies, presenting the findings during Petfood Forum 2021, is that we should expect “click and collect” (ordering online, then picking up at the store) to remain a “favorable middle ground” between in-store shopping and home delivery.

Trust in pet food brands consistent across size, time

In 2018, Packaged Facts asked U.S. pet owners about their trust in pet food companies based on their size and other factors: smaller/regional companies, natural/organic companies and mass-market leaders. The levels of trust were remarkably consistent, with 29% to 32% saying they trusted the product quality or information from each type of company; 61% to 66% neither agreed nor disagreed. The only significant difference showed up in level of trust in information from mass-market leaders, which had agreement of only 17%.

Flash forward to July 2021, 18 months into the pandemic, and pet owner sentiment seems essentially unchanged. In its survey, Jefferies asked a different (possibly leading) question: “Do you trust smaller, independent brands over large, multinational ones?” Still, the results, with 35% saying yes but 56% neutral and 8% saying no, conveyed consumer opinions that have moved only slightly toward smaller pet food brands. “Interestingly, pet owners were largely indifferent to large versus small brands,” Wissink said.

For pet owners who prefer smaller pet food brands, the key reason was feeling a personal connection, named by 27%, followed by product quality at 23%, customer focused at 21% and values at 20%.


 Market information from Petfood Forum


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