Skip to main content

Pets Are People, Too


If you’re wondering how big the much-touted “pet humanization” trend has become, an article in the June 17 offers some insight. According to the story, “Dogs will now be able to accompany their owners to restaurants (providing outdoor service) in New York, thanks to a new law that sailed through the state assembly.” Similar laws are already on the books in California, Florida and Maryland.

If people are taking their dogs out to dine, imagine what they’re buying when they shop for their furry, feathered or scaly family members.

Industry data shows it’s a good time to be in the pet product business. According to the Greenwich, Conn.-based American Pet Products Association (APPA), overall spending in the pet industry exceeded $58 billion in 2014. The APPA predicts that 2015 will be even better.

“The pet industry continues to outpace most other retail segments, and for 2015 we are projecting to surpass the $60 billion mark, which demonstrates the strength and vitality of this industry,” says Bob Vetere, APPA president and CEO.

Paul Cooke, VP/director industry development at St. Louis-based Nestlé Purina PetCare Co., says consumers’ love affair with their animals is helping drive sales.

“Over the past several years, we’ve seen this growing trend towards more people treating their pets as members of the family,” Cooke says. “I think the humanization trend has contributed to strong sales across the entire pet industry in recent years.”

Focus on Food

The food category is benefiting most from this “pets as people” trend. In fact, it’s the leading source of dollars spent within the industry, the APPA notes.

“As pets are increasingly considered members of the family for many Americans, standards for pet food, including treats — the fastest-growing segment in the pet food category — are on the rise,” says the Mintel report “Pet Food-U.S.-May 2015.”

And dog and cat food aren’t the only products feeling the love.

“The humanization of pets by their owners is probably the most important driving factor for pet food purchases, and has been an ongoing trend for many years,” observes Cecil Campbell, VP of sales and marketing for Sinking Spring, Pa.-based F.M. Brown’s Sons Inc. “Originally, this was primarily the case for cat and dog food, but it has expanded well into the pet bird and small-animal categories. Even wild-bird feeding enthusiasts refer to their backyard birds as pets.”

A Growth Opportunity for Grocery

Consumers’ continuing perception of pets as family members will not only continue; it will also drive price increases in the pet food category, according to Amy Kraushaar, U.S. category manager/food & drink and foodservice for Chicago-based market research firm Mintel.

“Manufacturers should note that the pet food humanization trend translates into pet owners wanting the same quality and safety standards for pet food as for their own food,” Kraushaar says.

That’s good news for grocery retailers, which now have more opportunity than ever to compete with pet specialty stores for a share of the pet food business. Some leading retailers — including Publix, Winn-Dixie, Marsh, Stop & Shop, Giant Eagle, Target and Walmart — are already tapping the market with targeted coupons, pet prescriptions at in-store pharmacies and other services.

How to Profit From Pet Products

Creating a better “total” experience in the pet aisle can create a competitive advantage for retailers, Purina’s Cooke says.

“Retailers should understand that many consumers buy their pet care products for the nutritional value, as they would for any member of their family,” he explains. “They need to make sure the products that shoppers want are available when they choose to shop, and at a value they feel is fair.”

In addition, Cooke notes, consumers have more options than ever before when it comes to feeding their pets, a fact that can lead to misinformation and information overload.

“It’s important for retailers to help cut through the clutter in the pet aisle and carry brands and products that consumers recognize and can trust,” he adds.

F.M. Brown’s Campbell — who says that grocery stores and large retail chains are becoming more and more interested in carrying a variety of foods for a variety of pets — advises retailers to embrace a multilevel marketing program.

“Providing varying qualities of foods at a range of price points is an excellent way to do this,” Campbell notes. “Some are interested in lower-priced economy blends, some prefer intermediate premium blends containing a few additional ingredients, and others are willing to pay top dollar for high-quality gourmet blends with a wide variety of species-specific seeds, grains, fruits, nuts, veggies and other specialized ingredients.”

E-commerce is also becoming key in today’s exceedingly tech-oriented marketplace. But however stores approach it, the pet product market is ripe for retailers that want to capitalize on the pet humanization trend.

As the IBISWorld study “Pet Stores in the U.S.” says, the number of pet-owning households will continue to increase, and “indulgent pet parents will continue to drive demand for premium pet food and services.”

“Even wild-bird feeding enthusiasts refer to their backyard birds as pets.”
—Cecil Campbell, F.M. Brown’s Sons Inc.

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds