New petfood consumers: what US Millennials are looking for

Millennial pet owners respond to functional petfood messaging, research shows, such as “scientifically formulated” and “real meat”

Did you know 53% of US Millennial pet owners believe it’s essential to dine with their pets? That compares to only 9% of Baby Boomer pet owners who think the same way, according to “ The Millennial Pet Owner,” a report presented by Nathan Richter of Wakefield Research at the 2014 Pet Industry's Top2Top Conference, organized by the US Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council.

While I found myself puzzled by some data presented in the report – really, 53% to 77% of US pet owners think “extra grains” are essential in the petfoods they buy, with grain-free being one of the hottest trends in petfood today? – other information provides possible guidance for our industry in marketing to up and coming generations of pet owners.

Millennials, defined by Wakefield as those ages 18 to 33, currently comprise 27% of the US adult population. Though that’s not yet as large as the Baby Boomers, at 32% of the adult population, the younger group’s spending power is rapidly catching up. In less than five years – by 2018, Wakefield says – Millennials’ spending will reach US$3.39 billion, eclipsing that of Baby Boomers and matching the GDP of Germany.

And, Millennials are already devoting a good deal of their spending to their pets, with 76% of those surveyed by Wakefield saying they’re more likely to splurge on their pets than on themselves. For example, 44% said splurging might mean buying expensive pet treats. Also specific to petfood, 86% of Millennials surveyed said they believe natural petfoods are essential for their pets, while 74% of Baby Boomers said the same thing.

This is one area, though, where I have to question the research and how it was conducted. Richter’s presentation includes a footnote that this question was worded as, “How essential or nonessential are the following qualities in food for your pet?” Natural (defined as “no artificial flavors or preservatives”) was apparently one choice, as was extra grains (not defined at all, at least not in the presentation). So, did 77% of Millennial respondents choose that option (along with 53% of Boomer respondents) because they truly consider it an essential quality or because they really didn’t understand what it means?

Richter also begins the report by labeling Millennial pet owners as “exhibitionist, conscientious and irrational” without really backing up those judgments other than presenting data on purchasing and social media habits of the age group. Yes, Millennials are heavy social media users (90% are on at least some type of social network, Wakefield research shows), but social media use has been on the rise among all age groups, including Boomers, for some time now.

Even with those concerns, Wakefield’s research on the purchasing drivers that motivates Millennial pet owners is worth paying attention to if you market petfoods: “functional messaging” is number one. As in, the type of messaging that inspires the highest level of motivation and is most credible to Millennials includes statements like:

  • “Your petfood should be scientifically formulated to help your pet maintain a healthy life”; and
  • “Your petfood should have real meat in it to keep your pet healthy.”

This contrasts with Boomers’ affinity for emotional messenging, such as, “As a member of your family, your pet deserves only the best food.”

Not that Millennial pet owners are not also pet parents; in fact, the report shows that Millennials and Boomers are equal in considering pets part of the family, at 78%, while 82% of Millennials feel that getting a pet is part of preparing to have a family, and their average age for getting their first pet as an adult was 21, compared to 29 for Boomers.





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