Do pet food brand loyalty, quality apply in a pandemic?

Do consumers follow their usual pet food buying habits and preferences for brand and quality during a crisis like COVID-19, or does it depend on availability?

(Photo by Andrea Gantz)
(Photo by Andrea Gantz)

Pet food purchasers tend to be fairly brand loyal, perhaps with the exception of younger groups like millennials or Gen Z. If a dog or cat seems healthy eating a particular food, and it fits the owner’s criteria and desires in terms of ingredients, price and other attributes, they tend to stick with it. But does that purchasing behavior hold during a crisis like the current COVID-19 pandemic? New research is inconclusive to date but may provide some clues.

Brand loyal so far, but still early days?

A recently released survey indicates many U.S. pet owners are remaining brand loyal during the crisis – yet this poll was conducted in early February 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic really began hitting the U.S. at a high rate and people started stocking up on pet food or hoarding it. (Most sales data show that starting mid-March.)

Polling 3,200 U.S. consumers, Civic Science found that 30% considered the brand the most important feature, by a lot, when shopping for pet food, with another 10% choosing the brand as most important by a little. While 46% considered the pet food brand and price equally important, only 14% chose price as the most important by a little or a lot.

These data are very close to ones from the previous year, when Civic Science conducted a similar poll in February 2019. At that time, 33% chose pet food brand as the most important by a lot, followed by 8% as most important by a little; 45% considered it equally important to price, while 6% chose price by a little and 8%, price by a lot. That poll involved 1,359 U.S. consumers.

The 2019 poll also included an interesting question comparing pet food brand or price preference with the same preferences for human food for 355 respondents. Not surprisingly, there was a strong correlation: 64% of people who said they consider pet food brand the most important thing by a lot also considered it most important for their own food; 61% who considered pet food brand most important by a little chose the same response for their food.

Concern about pet food quality has also remained consistent from 2019 to 2020 – again, as of February. In 2019, 77% of U.S. consumers polled by Civic Science said they were somewhat or very concerned about the quality of pet food they buy; in 2020, the percentage was 76%.

Pet food availability could be key

It would be helpful if Civic Science or another organization could conduct a poll in late spring 2020 and see if pet food brand and quality are still paramount to pet owners, or if those factors have declined in importance in favor of price, as more people become unemployed or lose sources of income.

Availability could also be key. According to yet another survey of more than 1,000 U.S. consumers, nearly two-thirds have tried new brands during the crisis and subsequent stocking up of goods, with 79% of those doing so because their usual or preferred brand was out of stock. Conducted by AlixPartners, a business and management consultancy, the data also showed that at least a quarter of respondents who have tried new products plan to continue buying them post-crisis, with the percentage higher (30-45%) for new national brands tried, versus 25-30% for new private label brands tried.

AlixPartners noted that the survey was conducted March 27-31, “in the thick of shelter in place.” While the data provided does not break out product categories – making it impossible to know whether and how many pet food brands were either out of stock or tried as new products by the respondents – it stands to reason that the crisis could be affecting pet food purchasing choices, too. Time will tell.


View our continuing coverage of the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.





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