Fresh pet sales trends rising; Grain-free searches down

With so many new pet owners joining the market and driving sales of pet food and pet supplies forward, there seems to be opportunity everywhere, one industry executive said.

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The dog and cat food and treats market continues to grow in spite of its mature status. anastas I iStock.com
The dog and cat food and treats market continues to grow in spite of its mature status. anastas I iStock.com
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With so many new pet owners joining the market and driving sales of pet food and pet supplies forward, there seems to be opportunity everywhere, Raha Alavi, senior vice president of retail client services for NielsenIQ, told Petfood Industry in an email. 

“However, we have noticed some potential downward trends in some types of products,” she said. “For one, there’s been a stark drop in searches for the term ‘grain-free’ in dog food, whereas search for refrigerated and frozen wet dog and cat food have gone up significantly.”

Across all pet foods, specialized diets and ingredients are experiencing strong growth, she said, quoting Nielsen’s statistics for the overall pet retail market.

  • Sales of dehydrated pet food were up 25.9% in 2021 vs. 2020
  • Sales of freeze-dried pet food were up 31% in 2021 vs. 2020
  • Sales of frozen pet food were up 19.6% in 2021 vs. 2020
  • Sales of natural pet food were up 10.4 % in 2021 vs. 2020
  • Sales of grain-free pet food were up 4.3% in 2021 vs. 2020

Changing pet food retail landscape 

Along with the pet food types that people buy, the places where they buy the products have been changing too.

“The impact of online shopping on sales of pet food pre-COVID into early 2022 is substantial,” she said. “Looking at the entire pet food category, sales from online-only buyers and omnichannel shoppers (buying from both online and in-store) have steadily increased over the last three periods compared to shoppers who only buy in-store.”

  • From Oct. 13, 2019 - Feb. 29, 2020, pet food brick-and-mortar-only sales were up 58.6%. That dipped to 51.7% for Oct. 11, 2020 - Feb. 27, 2021, and then dipped again to 46.5% for Sept. 12, 2021 - Jan. 29, 2022. 
  • From Oct. 13, 2019 - Feb. 29, 2020, Omnichannel pet food sales were up 37.5%, and then up 43.2% for the following period and up 47.3% through the most recent period.
  • Online-only sales of pet food, while smaller in share overall, are increasing year over year, up 3.9%, up 5.1% and up 6.3% through the same three periods.

“Given the rapid expansion across the category and how shoppers want to access products, one of the most important factors moving forward is going to be a more accurate and holistic view of how pet food shoppers are both searching for and buying these various product subsets, not just from your brand, but your competitors' as well,” she said. With this data, brands can understand who is buying what products where, and they can create the most optimized and effective messaging to meet shoppers where they’re buying.

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