If there’s anyone that’s benefitted from the pandemic, it’s our fluffy friends. With more working from home, many have turned to their pets for companionship and comfort through times of isolation. Pets have never had so much attention, they’ve become a saving grace for many and a new addition to the home for some.
The pet care industry has shown its true power in the pandemic. Against the backdrop of a turbulent year, the industry has shown its resilience; growing 2.2% in the 12 months to July 2020 and consistently outperforming many other FMCG categories.
The primary force supercharging the growth of the pet care industry is the transition toward humanisation of pets by their owners. Now more than ever, pets are viewed as an integral part of the family. Increasingly, pet owners value their pet’s physical and emotional needs just as much as their own.
We examine 4 trends and opportunities associated with pet humanisation and what this means for brands.
The Rise of the Pet Parent
The increase in the pet parent cannot be attributed exclusively to the pandemic.
Demographic changes have also shaped this new, more nurturing type of pet ownership. The decline of the nuclear family has seen a growing number of single person households, unmarried or childless families adopt pets. Similarly, with the rise of an aging population and empty nesters, many more have become pet owners to fill the void.
These changes were accelerated when Covid-19 turned the world upside down. In the week before Britain went into lockdown, Battersea Dogs and Cats Home rehomed more than double the number of pets it did in the same week in 2019. Amongst the rise of pet owners, it’s apparent that Millennials are leading the way. Research done by the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association found that 35% of young adults (age 24-35) have either already become new pet owners or are planning to add a pet their families and 2.1 million (19%) brought home a new pet during lockdown.
Yet, a pet isn’t just for lockdown. In the longer term, a shift in working patterns towards more remote working is expected, suggesting that the growth of pet ownership post-pandemic is set to continue.
It’s clear why. A pet’s power lies in their ability to ease the stress and loneliness that many owners have experienced. In times of economic hardship and isolation many have turned to dogs truly as a “man’s best friend”.
As pets have become core members of the family and their needs are considered equally to that of humans, owners are spending money than ever on feeding and treating their pets. Spending is further heightened by the ‘millennial pound’ and their propensity to spend more on their pets. With consumers concerned for the physical, dietary and emotional health, the importance of premium offerings is set to rise.
Taking Care with Natural Products
In the same way parents have recipe concerns regarding the food their children eat, the same concerns are mirrored toward their pet’s food.
One of the major outcomes of pet humanisation is the increased focus on pet health and the greater consideration for fresher and fewer ingredients. Harrington’s “Just 6” range launched in 2019, with its unique proposition of only having six simple ingredients, the brand quickly became the bestselling dry dog food in supermarkets.
The role of packaging is integral in the shift toward all-natural claims as a crucial way to communicate benefits to consumers. 53% of pet food and pet product launches in Europe featured a natural claim, with the “no additives/preservatives” claims seen on 43% of launches.
Purina was one of the leading players to successfully optimise the value of packaging, undergoing a packaging revamp to help make health benefits more visible to consumers.
As pet food becomes more premium and consumers demand more from ingredients, production processes and sourcing; packaging plays an imperative, educational role to help communicate brand promises and trust to consumers.
Treating Our Pets
A major result of the pet humanisation has been the rise of treat giving, which has been both driven by lockdown and pet dietary requirements.
Less surprisingly, treating occasions rose by 12% in the weeks following lockdown on 23rd March 2020, as consumers saw an opportunity to build a closer bond with their pets.
Yet, interestingly treats can also contribute to a pet’s healthy diet and wellbeing. Dogs are treated more than 4 times the rate cats are given treats and this is for multiple motivations; from rewarding good behaviour, promoting better dental health and developing a closer bond.
Whilst treating pets is on the rise, deeper insights into purchasing habits present a strong opportunity for brands and retailers to capitalise further on treat spending. Research finds that 44% of pet treat purchases are made on an impulse suggesting that greater visibility in store and more effective shelf segmentation could unlock further growth opportunities.
Present giving also offers an opportunity to reward pets, with 40% of millennials revealing that they would spend as much on their pet’s birthday or Christmas gift as they would their friends. Last year over £750m was spent on pet’s Christmas celebrations and similarly £210m was spent this Valentine’s Day. Treats such as ‘pawsecco’, a Rosé ‘wine’ for cats and dogs, as well as birthday cakes, show the power of our four-legged friends and their ability to shape spending habits within the industry.
The Ease of E-commerce
Similarly, the combination of the ‘millennial pound’ and the impact of Covid-19 have supercharged the growth of the pet care e-commerce market.
Nationwide lockdowns and mandatory social distancing measures shifted the purchasing preference of pet owners from regular bricks-and-mortar stores to online stores. Yet, the convenience for consumers suggests that these habits are here to stay. Consumers no longer need to carry bulky items or navigate public transport. Online services provide further benefits for humanisation as packages can be delivered on a subscription basis and even customised.
There are several reasons why online pet care is predicted to take the lion’s share of the category growth. From the rise of the ‘digital era’ and technological advancements, to the expansion of high-speed internet connections and the huge uptake of smart phone usage – with nearly 100% of 16 to 24 olds owning a smart phone. These smart phones critically shape the decision-making process of many consumers as over 73% of consumers research what’s best for their pets before purchasing.
This behaviour highlights the need to carefully manage online stores and lead compelling promotions, particularly targeted at millennials who have greater spending power.
(Pet) Food for Thought
As the world starts to emerge from the pandemic and one of the worst economic hangovers, the pet care industry can expect to show the same resilience and growth evidenced throughout the crisis.
It could be anticipated that we return to a similar ‘lipstick effect’ experienced after the 2008 financial crash – where consumers spend more on luxuries to lift spirits and ease economic hardships.
The future of our beloved pets are in the safe hands of millennials, who will account for one in three pet parents by 2025 and typically account for higher spending.
If we’ve learnt anything from the pandemic, it’s the power of the pet. Ultimately, our four-legged friends have power: emotionally, economically and environmentally and this trend is here to stay.
About Suzanne Besson
Suzanne (Zanny) has more than twenty years’ experience in branding, graphics and print deployment, specialising in packaging. She began her career with SGK in 1997, fulfilling client on-site roles at Nestle, Molson Coors and Premier Foods. She then spent 6 years at Imperial Brands during 2012-2018, where she led the Global Print Deployment team, before re-joining SGK. Today she works as a Business Development Director, focused on helping large organisations implement best practice processes for the development of optimised packaging and branded content. Today, as part of the wider SGK team, she is involved in a number of initiatives focused on bringing sustainable solutions to SGK’s clients.