Promoting Sustainability is Essential to Selling to Younger Pet Owners

Posted: April 3, 2023
Category: Spotlight on Business

Retailers selling pet food-related products that enhance the well-being of household pets across the country should be aware of sustainability, humanization, and premiumization in increasing sales. These factors directly correlate to the growing popularity of organic foods, supplements, clean protein, and the vegan pet market. Understanding what motivates buying decisions goes much deeper than solely focusing on price and convenience. For many pet owners, it can be an emotional decision that reflects their core values. While Baby Boomers comprise 27 percent of pet owners, Millennials are the largest segment at 32 percent. The percentage of Gen X (24 percent) and Gen Z (14 percent) pet owners will continue to grow as the youngest segment reaches adulthood.

Pet owner attitudes and behaviors
The latest Generational Report released by the American Pet Products Association (APPA) examined the generational differences between pet owners. There was a distinct difference between the attitudes and behaviors of Baby Boomers and younger pet owners. Anne Ferrante, senior vice president of member relations and business development at APPA, says, “While there is no doubt all generations of pet owners love their pets and agree pets play an important role in their lives, their attitudes and behaviors reflect the different ways they demonstrate that love for their pets.”

The APPA report also found that Millennial (62 percent) and Gen Z (52 percent) pet parents increased the amount of money they spent on their pets in the prior year. One significant difference retailers should note is what each generation values when purchasing pet products

  • Baby Boomers will pay more for brand-name products or those made in the USA.
  • Gen X will pay more for products made in the USA, ethically sourced, and brand names.
  • Millennials will pay more for ethically sourced, BPA-free products, brand names, and eco-friendly.

Gen Z will pay more for ethically sourced, BPA-free, eco-friendly pet products.

Focus on Sustainability
Purina launched the pet food industry in 1926 by introducing Purina Dog Chow. By 2021, the total industry exceeded expectations and grew to $123.6 billion—a 13.5 percent increase from the prior year. The industry must continually innovate to meet consumers’ expectations, respond to environmental challenges, and source protein-based pet food products. In a conversation with Pet Food Processing, John Kuenzi, chief executive officer and chairman at NQV8, a consultant resource for the pet food industry, says, “ The shortage of protein is going to be the biggest challenge for the world going forward, whether its for pets or humans. Protein that doesn’t compete with the human food supply is going to be a major component of future ingredient innovation, I think the ingredient streams for humans and pet foods are going to become competitive in the future. That should be at the back of our minds when we think about what’s truly sustainable for our planet.”

  • In October 2021, Wild Earth, a dog food company, developed the first cell-based meat product in the pet food industry. This innovation aligns with the company’s mission to offer “clean” protein dog foods produced without harming animals or the environment.
  • Eighty percent of Purina’s products are packaged in recyclable materials
  • Sustainability is among the top priorities for pet food and treats manufacturers

Trends drive Humanization and premiumization
Pet parents consider their pets family members and want them to feed them like human family members. The same is true for treats, clothing, and toys. In some cases, owners cater to the needs of their pets more than themselves. Caring for pets as if they were their children motivates many pet parents to pay premium prices for organic foods, nutrient-rich brand names, or boutique products. Keeping their dogs and cats healthy and happy is the owner’s priority. “The humanization of pet food has been trending for years, and there are no signs of slowing down, said Ernie Ambrose, director of innovation for Champion Pet foods. “As more pet parents look to feed their pets like members of the family, variety, and enjoyment during mealtimes will continue to drive growth across premium pet food. We’ll continue to see innovation in all segments, from dry food to meal toppers, wet or freeze-dried food, custom bowls, and beyond.”

Differentiate from competitors
Hardware store owners operating a niche pet product business can generate sales by stocking premium products that competitors do not sell. Giving customers the option to buy specialty products and healthy food options can help your business connect with younger pet owners. In addition to purchasing DIY products, shoppers can save time by picking up food and treats for their furry friends. By all indications, the pet food industry will continue to grow. Pet foods and treats is a $50 billion industry. Retailers who understand their market and customers can capture a share of these dollars.