What do Millennials want from ‘big food’ and pet food?

The largest category of consumers seeks transparency, authenticity and ethics from food manufacturers and brands. This applies to pet food, too.

Phillips D 1 Headshot
gfred | Foter
gfred | Foter

Consumers continue to look for greater transparency from companies whose brands they consider buying, which has been a factor in pet food shopping since the melamine-related pet food recalls of 2007. It is no less the case with human food, where transparency is first and foremost on the mind of the all-influential Millennial consumer demographic, and large manufacturers are seen as the least transparent.

Fully 43% of US Millennials say they do not trust large food manufacturers, according to new research from Mintel. That compares to distrust among only 18% of non-Millennial consumers. Further, 73% of Millennials want food companies to be more transparent about how they make their products (though the percentage is not much lower, at 69%, among non-Millennials); 59% of Millennials say they will stop buying a brand if they believe its products are unethical.

Besides the company and brand, the retail environment also plays a role for Millennials, Mintel’s study shows, with 38% saying the retailer is an important factor in food purchases (vs. 27% of non-Millennials) and 58% believing that where they buy groceries reflects their personal values (vs. 28%). Millennials are twice as likely as non-Millennials—52% vs. 25%—to find traditional grocery stores less appealing than specialty stores.

These findings could have implications for pet food, as Millennials are now the largest group of pet owners and the largest group of consumers overall, outnumbering Baby Boomers 79 million to 76 million, according to Pew Research. “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,” emphasized Leslie May, founder of Pawsible Marketing, a marketing and branding consultancy for pet-related businesses. In a blog post about the top pet industry trends earlier this year, she offered insights into the Millennial pet owner psyche.

“Consequently, it will be imperative for pet food 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 wrote.

Regarding the retail factor, it’s unclear whether Millennials’ preference toward specialty stores includes so-called big box stores that specialize in one sector. In the pet market, PetSmart and Petco seem to be trying to hit all the right buttons with today’s pet owners, including Millennials. For example, PetSmart recently launched a new store brand, Good Natured, available only at its stores or on PetSmart.com, that promises to donate a meal to a pet in need for every bag purchased.

PetSmart also just announced that it is bringing a “Paleo-inspired” pet food line, Only Natural Pet, into select stores and online at PetSmart.com. In fact, the chain is creating a specialty shop section around the brand. Interestingly, Only Natural Pet is itself an online pet food and supplies provider that seems to compete directly with PetSmart.com. Perhaps both companies believe that risk is worth it: much greater exposure (and likely sales) for Only Natural Pet and increased credibility among natural, whole-foods consumers for PetSmart. Mintel’s new study shows that Millennials are more likely to try foods made for specific diets, such as paleo, vegan and gluten free, than are non-Millennials (67% vs. 40%).

PetSmart’s smaller rival, Petco, has arguably been ahead of the curve in this area, having launched the It’s All Natural store-within-a-store and Unleashed by Petco, a smaller-footprint store also showcasing natural products, several years ago. Earlier this year, Petco started an initiative focused on proper pet nutrition, called What We Feed Them Matters.

Then this summer, Petco launched PetcoNow, calling it the first on-demand delivery service in the pet specialty category. This type of move also seems to fit Millennial consumers, who are more likely to shop online, even, increasingly, for groceries; 39% reported to Mintel that they now buy groceries online.





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