Is U.S. pet food spending holding up into COVID-19 year 2?

Pet ownership remains strong, and since pet owners need to keep feeding their pets, pet food spending is steady—but financial pain is real for some.

(Highway Starz | BigStock.com)
(Highway Starz | BigStock.com)

Like many consumers in the U.S., some pet owners are experiencing financial difficulties brought on by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic—is that impacting their spending on pet food and other pet products?

Not in a significant way overall, according to recent data; but there are pockets of concern. Pet food is considered a basic for pet owners, so unless they have to give up their pets, they are continuing to buy pet food. And so far, fortunately, not many owners report relinquishing their pets, at least not according to one survey.

Since May 2020, the American Pet Products Association (APPA) has been conducting an online survey to track the impact of the pandemic on pet ownership and behavior such as purchasing channels and spending on pet food, products and services. The first two of the four surveys conducted so far happened a month apart, in May and June 2020; the third took place in September 2020 and the fourth in late November/early December 2020.

In the most recent survey, 82% of the 2,007 respondents said COVID-19 had not affected their pet ownership. Though that percentage was down a few points from the previous three surveys, the change was to the positive, with 11% reporting in the fourth survey that the pandemic had affected their ownership positively. That was up from 8% in June; in fact, 10% in December reported getting a new pet directly because of the situation, up from 6% in June. Only 2% of respondents said they had to give up a pet, while 6% said they delayed getting a pet.

Financial concerns, pet food spending a mixed bag

Despite the positives related to pet ownership, pet owners are increasingly feeling financial pain. In the December 2020 APPA survey, 61% said they’re very concerned about their finances over the next year, up from 55% in September. Also rising, to 57% from 54% in June, was the percentage of those very concerned about their finances over the next couple of months. And it goes beyond just worry, with 48% saying the pandemic has significantly affected their household finances, up from 43% in September.

Accordingly, a slightly higher percentage of U.S. pet owners—23% in December vs. 20% in September—said they’re worried about the expense of having a pet during the pandemic. A similar change happened in terms of owners who consider their pets’ diet so important, they’re not planning any changes to it regardless of finances; that percentage decreased from 72% in September to 68% in December.

Yet the percentage of pet owners claiming to be brand loyal to the pet food and care items they purchase has remained steady throughout all four versions of the survey, at 55-56%; and the share of pet owners planning to spend less on pet food declined slightly in December (18% to 16%), as did the percentage planning to switch to a different brand to save money (18% to 17%).

Also, circling back to ownership, the share of survey respondents thinking they may have to give up their pets decreased a little, too, from 10% to 8%.

Willing to sacrifice for their pets—to some extent

Another recent survey, though possibly less rigorous, provides a few additional data points and perhaps insights. Conducted in early January via Google Surveys by Possible Finance (self-described on its website as “fighting for financial fairness on behalf of everyday people”), this survey showed that 62% of the 1,500+ respondents would “ditch” a personal expense to spend more cash on their pets. The types of expenses these pet owners said they’d be willing to give up included fitness memberships, dining out and buying clothes—none of which seem great sacrifices considering continuing restrictions due to the pandemic. Smaller percentages said they would forgo buying a tank of gas or paying a bill.

Yet in keeping with a more conservative financial outlook by other pet owners, 64% of respondents to this survey said they wouldn’t splurge on their pets outside of meeting their basic needs. Presumably that includes feeding them.

All in all, as we slide into a second year of the pandemic crisis, it seems many pet owners are just trying to hang on and get through it with their families and lives as intact as possible, just like everyone else.

 

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

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