Pet food shoppers look for value in ‘new normal’ economy

While pet food may be recession resistant, the economy and a savings mindset still factor into pet owners’ purchasing decisions and behavior.

Since the Great Recession of 2007-08, it’s been a popular sentiment that pet food is recession resilient, if not resistant. While growth of pet food sales globally slowed somewhat in the wake of the recession, the market still recorded increases of about 3% a year, much more than many other consumer packaged goods industries.

Yet, the significant economic downturn definitely impacted the financial situation of many consumers, with lasting effects in some cases. According to a study earlier this year by the Pew Research Center, 30% of US consumers said the recession had a major impact on their finances, and they still have not recovered, David Lummis of Packaged Facts reported in the October 2015 issue of Pet Product News. Even for more fortunate people, including pampering pet owners, the recession turned them into lifelong savvy, value-minded shoppers. This has spurred Packaged Facts and other market experts to regularly reference the “new normal” economy.

A new report from Packaged Facts highlights economic-related macro trends influencing pet product purchasing in the US. While the report focuses on pet supplies, the information can easily be applied to pet food, too. “For pet food and non-food pet supplies alike, the percentage growth rates are down compared with 10 years ago, with consumer behavior adopted during the recession likely still dampening sales,” Lummis wrote. “US retail sales of non-food pet supplies rose just 2.5% in 2014, while sales of retail channel pet food rose 1.8%.”

The report, “Pet Supplies and Pet Care Products in the US, 10th Edition,” emphasizes four macro trends and drivers that Packaged Facts believes will affect pet market growth: impact of the economy on pet spending, the priority of savings for pet owners, premiumization and natural pet products, and Baby Boomers as a major key.

None of these are new as drivers of pet food sales and growth. Perhaps what is noteworthy is how much the economy and a savings mindset still factor into pet owners’ purchasing decisions and behavior. “Proprietary surveys of pet owners conducted by Packaged Facts confirm that the perception of financial hardship is still being played out in consumer spending on pet products,” Lummis wrote. “From 2010 to 2013, consumers who agreed that they were spending less on pet products because of the economy jumped from 27% to 35%.” The percentage dropped to 30% in 2014, he added.

While the continuing trend of premiumization might seem contradictory to this value orientation, even buyers of premium or superpremium products, including pet foods, are still looking for good value—and they certainly will take advantage of coupons or sales on those products. (I fall into that category.)

Also, though the percentage of pet owners who believe that pet products are too expensive declined from 74% in 2011 to 64% in 2015, according to Packaged Facts, the majority, or 71%, still agree that they seek lower prices, special offers and sales on pet products. This may be especially true of Millennials, now the largest group of pet owners (at least in the US).

Despite Millennials’ influence on the pet market, Baby Boomers are not necessarily riding off quietly into the sunset. Pet owners in this demographic segment still number 77 million in the US and generally enjoy high earning and spending power. Even more significantly, to date they appear to be breaking the historical trend of pet ownership declining among older people. If that continues as Boomers age into the senior bracket, it will be good news indeed for the pet food and overall pet care markets.





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