Growing pet category brings valuable consumer insights

This month, David Orgel discusses how the pet products segment reflects key trends about health and well-being, brand loyalty, and e-commerce.
David Orgel
Principal, David Orgel Consulting

It doesn’t matter whether you have a pet — or even if you like them.

The pet products category can help retailers better understand the latest consumer insights relevant across food and drug retail. The category sheds light on trends in e-commerce, health and well-being, and the changing preferences of younger shoppers. In fact, the pet segment practically provides a road map for how to connect with customers across the store.

The pandemic has accelerated the growth of the pet segment, as stay-at-home consumers became pet owners in larger numbers (including me, with my family’s pandemic dog Roscoe). This growth is evident in data from IRI’s second-quarter 2021 Consumer Connect Survey. Pet products — including pet food, supplies and treats — were among the top 10 selling CPG categories in the quarter, with an increase in dollar sales of more than 7% compared with 2020, and accounting for nearly $40 billion in sales throughout the past year, IRI said.

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In addition, as mentioned, the pet category lines up well with today’s most important consumer trends. Let’s take a look at how this is playing out.

Lifestyles: The pet category provides great examples of how to connect with consumers around their lifestyles — and retailers can learn from outside the retail world. For example, in the automobile field, the car brand Subaru directs much of its marketing to pet-loving parents, including with recent introductions of pet-friendly accessories, from a mobile pet bed to a pet travel bowl. This strategy recognizes that people are getting out of the house more.

E-commerce: Pets also ties into the all-important e-commerce trend. IRI’s survey found that more consumers are ordering groceries and pet products online, and that 31% of online shoppers said they visit fewer brick-and-mortar stores because of this. It’s not surprising to me that pet products work well online, partly because a lot of these items are regularly reordered.

[Read more: Temptations rolls out new cat treats]

Next-Gen: Gen Z and millennial consumers — and wealthy households — purchased more pet products during the pandemic compared with other groups, IRI found. Younger consumers shopped for their pets across the most channels and showed a preference for buying at specialty stores and mass merchandisers more than other generations. These are important insights for retailers at a time when they are working to attract younger shoppers to their stores.

Brand Loyalty: IRI reported that national brand loyalty has been important in the pet category — and that national brands outperformed private brands in this segment during the past year. However, that doesn’t mean private brands can’t build loyalty of their own.

Consider Target’s recent launch of its pet private brand Kindfull, a line of more than 50 items for cats and dogs. Target is clearly betting on the potential to advance private brands in the pet segment.

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Health and Well-being: When shopping for pets, consumer purchase decisions are driven by many of the same factors at play in buying for themselves — including health and well-being. IRI found that more than half of consumers shopping for pet food consider health and nutritional standards before making purchases. This makes sense given the growing focus of shoppers on those very same factors for their own consumption.

What are the key takeaways from this pet discussion? One is that consumers will continue to prioritize their pets in their purchasing behaviors. Just as important is the point that the pet segment lines up almost perfectly with consumer perspectives and behaviors across retail today. So the most important thing to remember is this: If you want to obtain the best read on shoppers, study the pet category.

About the Author

David Orgel

David Orgel is an award-winning business journalist, industry expert and speaker. He is currently the principal of David Orgel Consulting, delivering strategic content and counsel to the food, retail and CPG industries.

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