Packaged Facts studied geography of pet food trends

Packaged Facts' report uncovered differences among pet owners that may pose significant challenges for retailers and marketers.

photo by Blas |
photo by Blas |

Packaged Facts' report “Pet Population and Ownership Trends in the US: Dogs, Cats, and Other Pets, 2nd Edition” uncovers stark differences among pet owners that may pose significant challenges for retailers and marketers. The way pet owners view their pets and the criteria they use when deciding which pet products to buy are closely tied to whether they live in urban areas, suburban or outer suburban locales, or rural parts of the country.

Differences in the degree to which pet owners are concerned about the interplay between their pets' health and diet, and the criteria they apply to evaluating pet food ingredients, differed between urban and rural areas. Urban dwellers are nearly twice as likely as rural residents to assert that their pets have special nutrition needs (45 percent vs. 24 percent) and they are even more likely to be concerned about their pets having food allergies or intolerances (51 percent vs. 22 percent).

Regional differences in pet food consumer behavior

The shopping habits of pet owners also differ significantly. Nearly two in three (63 percent) urban pet owners buy pet products online compared to just 42 percent of pet owners living in suburban/outer suburban areas and only 32 percent of rural pet owners. There also are substantial differences in the bricks-and-mortar shopping behavior of pet owners, which probably reflect the choices open to rural and urban pet owners as well as their preferences. More than half (52 percent) of rural pet owners buy pet foods at Walmart, compared to just 37 percent of urban pet owners. Just 18 percent of rural pet owners buy pet foods at PetSmart, compared to 42 percent of urban pet owners.

Pet product marketers might take note of other aspects of the consumer behavior of urban, suburban and rural pet owners that may reflect differences in their underlying political sensibilities or social values. Around seven in 10 (69 percent) pet owners living in urban areas assert that "the participation by pet product brands in pet welfare and rescue causes and events plays a significant role in which brands I buy." Only 32 percent of rural pet owners and just 39 percent of pet owners living in areas categorized as suburban/outer suburbs feel the same way.

Suburban/outer suburbs pet owners are much more likely to agree that "corporate responsibility on the part of the manufacturer plays a role in which pet foods I buy (67 percent and 59 percent, respectively). However, these percentages are significantly lower than the 88 percent of urban pet owners who ascribe to this belief.

Regional differences in pet owners’ view of animal health

Urban, suburban and rural pet owners hold widely divergent views of their pets' health. In what may stand as an affirmation of how pets can mirror their owners' emotional life or perhaps how pet owners can unwittingly project something of themselves in their pets, more than 70 percent of dog or cat owners living in urban areas agree they have a dog or cat that sometimes has anxiety/stress issues. Only 55 percent of dog owners and somewhat more than 40 percent of cat owners living in suburban or rural areas say their pet has these problems. Thus, urban pet owners likely will be much more receptive to efforts to market products such as calming shirts/suits or calming sprays/diffusers.

Nonetheless, the Packaged Facts report also finds that when it comes to certain bedrock beliefs about pet ownership the great majority of pet owners inhabit common ground. No matter where American pet owners live and whatever their age or ethnicity, they stand united in believing that their pets make a positive contribution to their lives. For example, more than 90 percent of dog owners across a wide range of demographic segments agree that their dog has a positive impact on their mental or physical health.

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