Pets in the Pandemic: Consumers Invest in Premium Food Experiences … A Lot Like Their Own
The disruptive effects of the pandemic on the lives of consumers have been widespread in terms of work, food, health and economics — and yet one bright spot resulting from being forced to stay at home has been the rise of households adopting pets, in part to stave off loneliness and boredom but also because of the simple friendship pets provide for stressed and anxious humans. The New York Times reported in May of 2020 that "With everyone home, many people are becoming first-time pet owners during the coronavirus pandemic. Adoption and foster rates are up all over the country. The ASPCA has seen a nearly 70 percent increase in animals going into foster care through the organization’s New York City and Los Angeles foster programs, compared with the same period in 2019. Best Friends Animal Society has also seen a surge in the number of fosters and adoptions nationwide, because sheltering in place has allowed people the time to tend to a new cat or dog."
Our recent podcast (Pets and the Pandemic: A Bright Spot in This Time of Crisis?) featured a conversation among Hartman Group analysts on how the effects of the pandemic have changed many pet owners’ relationships with their animals. Specifically, the discussion described how growth in premium pet foods reflects a long-term trend in the humanization of pets whereby consumers are starting to approach the diets of pets based on their personal engagement with health, wellness and sustainability. Consumers increasingly consider pets an additional member of their family, a kind of thinking that often translates into valuing fresh and less processed distinctions in pet foods. Many of the distinctions that resonate in human foods (including local, free-range, grass-fed, organic, grain-free, socially responsible) are cues that also resonate well in pet food.
Where do things go from here? While the rate of growth in premium pet foods may be slowing after a flurry of investments and acquisitions in the category, we expect premium pet food to continue commanding a rising share of the overall pet food market. Pet food mirrors, and can sometimes foreshadow, human food trends, and owners will continue to pay attention to more specific quality cues that indicate better ingredient sourcing and production methods as well as tailored wellness for their pets’ needs.