Fact-based pet food messaging appeals to millennials

Millennials may care about their cats and dogs the way other generations care about their children.

Tim Wall Headshot Small Headshot
courtesy Petfood Forum TV
courtesy Petfood Forum TV

While the largest pet-owning group in the United States, the millennial generation, may be highly resistant to pet food marketing messages, that doesn’t mean dog and cat food companies shouldn’t use fact-based promotion of their products, according to Bob Wheatley, founder and CEO of Emergent, a brand strategy firm.

“Here’s the interesting thing about that audience [millennials],” Wheatley said in the video below from Petfood Forum 2017. “They are serial avoiders of anything that looks like marketing.”

Wheatley used his experience in neuroscience and behavioral marketing to understand what pet food marketing messages do work for millennials.

Pet food marketing messages for millennials

On the one hand, millennials are not buying homes, nor having children, at the same rates as the generations that beat the Nazis, fought for civil rights or pioneered the internet. However, unlike Generation X, the pet food industry’s lost generation, Millennials are buying and adopting pets. Millennials may replace children with pets, or use the fur babies as practice for the real thing.

“Pets are the family,” Wheatley said.

That humanization of pets may be key to conveying information to millennials, since millennials may care about their cats and dogs the way other generations care about their children.

“Every pet care company that works hard on improving its nutritional deck and profile and nutritional benefit to pets is going to say, ‘wait a minute your telling me that doesn’t matter?’,” he said. “Of course it matters, but that information is more important to retaining a customer, because it becomes the justification for their purchase decisions.”

US may mirror Japan in substituting pets for babies

Millennials seems to be replacing babies with cats and dogs, which potentially sets up the US to follow trends seen in Japan, said Maria Lange, business group director for market research firm GfK, at Petfood Forum 2017 on April 4 in Kansas City, Missouri, USA.

“Millennials are 77 percent more likely to have a pet when they are unmarried and not a parent,” she said. “If that trend continues we may see a similar trend to what we’re seeing in Japan…Japan has more pets than they have children. Maybe that is a trend that the US may follow in the future.”

More that 35 percent of millennials in the US now own pets, up from approximately 20 percent in 2007, and that figure seems likely to continue rising, she said. Over the same past decade, baby boomers’ pet ownership rate has dropped from more than 40 percent to near 30 percent.

Lange’s research discovered that many millennials think of pets as practice for having a child. Just as parents often care more about the quality of their children’s food that their own, millennial pet owners share strong concern for the well-being and health of their pets, she said. Millennials demand transparency, quality and nutrition in their own food; likewise, they prefer to buy healthy, sustainable pet food.

Petfood Forum 2018

Petfood Forum provides an opportunity for pet food professionals from around the world to network, exchange ideas and do business with one another and with the industry's leading pet food manufacturers and suppliers. Petfood Forum 2018 will take place at the Kansas City Convention Center in Kansas City, Missouri, USA on April 23 -25, 2018.


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