What rising Millennial pet owners look for in petfood

As Millennials replace Baby Boomers as the largest pet-owning group in the US, what does it mean for petfood shopping and purchasing?

Among US pet owners, Millennials have now supplanted Baby Boomers as the largest population, according to data released by research firm GfK during Global Pet Expo 2015—foreshadowing Millennials’ eventual overtaking of Boomers as the largest generation overall. That means 35.2% of the US’ 75 million Millennials, defined by GfK as people age 18 to 34, own a pet, compared to 32.8% of Boomers. This could have significant implications for the petfood and pet product industries.

While other sources, such as the American Pet Products Association’s (APPA) 2015-2015 National Pet Owners Survey, still show Baby Boomers in the pet-owning lead at 37% of US households, they acknowledge pet ownership tends to drop among older people, and that could partially explain a slight decline in overall ownership since APPA’s last survey, released two years ago. Further, APPA’s new report highlights that 10% of US pet owners are new to ownership, equating to nearly eight million new pet owners within the last year, the majority of which are Gen X and Gen Y (Millennials).

To put it all into perspective, GfK’s data shows 51.6% of all US households own a dog or cat; among Millennial households, the percentage rises to 57%, with another 20% reporting they intend to get a dog or cat. Further, pet-free Millennials are 39% more likely to own dog or cat in the future, GfK says, and are 77% more likely than any other generation to get a dog or cat while unmarried and not a parent. In other words, they’re becoming pet owners earlier in their adult lives while simultaneously putting off other, more traditional life changes.

For petfood manufacturers and marketers, probably the most positive findings from GfK indicate that 63% of Millennials agree pets should be pampered. (During a GfK seminar at Global Pet Expo, Kathy Sheehan, Executive Vice President and General Manager, and Maria Lange, Senior Product Manager, played videos showing Millennial pet owners, including men, gushing about their dogs.)

So, what does all this mean about how Millennial pet owners shop? On this, the GfK and APPA surveys mainly agree that Millennials:

  • Are influenced by what’s hot and what’s not (including celebrity endorsements);
  • Like to try the latest technology and new products/services;
  • Like customization;
  • Spend more on the pets themselves as well as on veterinary care, pet toys and care items and pet services;
  • Are not brand loyal;
  • Are less likely to seek products promoted as “made in the USA”;
  • Are highly likely to use social media to connect with brands, research products and services, and read and post reviews and ratings;
  • Seek the advice of others, especially family and friends (again, often through social media), before making a purchase;
  • Are more likely to participate in the “shared economy” (using services such as Uber for transportation or Airbnb for lodging while traveling);
  • Buy brands and products that reflect their lifestyle or are consistent with the image they want to convey
  • Purchase brands that support a cause they care about, either social or environmental.

Leslie May, founder of Pawsible Marketing, a marketing and branding consultancy for pet-related businesses, offers additional insights into the Millennial pet owner psyche in her latest blog post, “The Top Pet Industry Trends for 2015.” “The new pet loving consumer will demand high service, responsiveness, stellar customer service, full disclosure, strong ethical marketing, truth in advertising and want to be reached in a variety of ways through presumer marketing, demographic marketing, testimonial marketing, location based marketing, free, open communications on a more personal level and in a very prolific way.”

May applies the “truth in advertising” concept specifically to petfood, using the 2007 melamine-related petfood recalls as the rallying point for consumers to expect more information and become less trusting of petfood manufacturers and marketers. She asserts that Gen X and Millennial pet owners demand even more transparency and information: “It takes a wealth of research from a wide variety of trusted sources to convince Gen X and Millennials on the best foods and treats for their pets.

“Consequently it will be imperative for petfood and treat companies to not patronize consumers, but to be completely truthful in their marketing and advertising, sympathetic to their concerns, responsive, as well as open and honest in their communications in order to retain and garner new pet loving customers,” May continues. “Not only will this be important, but more and more we will see companies being held accountable for marketing claims through legal actions and regulatory organizations.”





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