STAMFORD, CONN. — Two years later, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect the economy, pet ownership and purchasing behaviors in the United States. The now $106.3 billion pet industry is poised for steady, continued growth despite widespread supply chain, raw material cost and workforce challenges.
Shifting spending habits for pet food and treats, as well as point-of-sale preferences among certain pet owner demographics, continue to disrupt the pet industry as we knew it pre-pandemic.
The American Pet Products Association (APPA) detailed how these factors are affecting the industry and more in its latest pet owner survey, “COVID-19 Pulse Study: Pet Ownership During the Pandemic.” The survey was conducted online in November 2021 and included data from 2,019 pet owners and non-pet owners across the United States.
Most pet owners have been able to find the pet products they need, whether it be in-store or online, but some are still finding empty shelves.
According to the report, 39% of pet owners surveyed stated they are concerned about current supply chain and staffing issues affecting their ability to find the pet care products they need. But most pet owners report finding the products and brands they need in stores, with some having to go to a different store to make the purchase.
In November 2021, 72% of pet owners said they found the specific pet food item or brand they were looking for at the first store they went to, down from 82% in December 2020. Sixty percent of pet owners said the same for a specific pet treat or brand, down from 69% in December 2020. Conversely, 7% of pet owners reported the pet food product they were looking for was out of stock, up from 3% in December 2020, while 6% reported the same for a pet treat product, up from 3% in December 2020.
Pet ownership continues to trend up, now with 14% of pet owners acquiring a new pet in the COVID-19 era, up from 10% in 2020. Most of these new pet owners are Gen Z or Millennials, according to APPA.
Generational purchasing sentiments are shifting. While younger pet owners — Gen Z and Millennials — are most likely to have acquired a pet during COVID-19 and are generally willing to spend more on their pets compared to other generations, these age groups are also considering altering their purchasing behaviors or switching brands to save money, APPA reported.
On the other hand, APPA reported the shopping behaviors of Baby Boomers have been least impacted by COVID-19. Gen X purchasing behaviors have remained the same and, for some in this generation, money-saving concerns surrounding pet product purchases have declined.
More than one-third (39%) of Gen Z pet owners stated they plan on spending less money on pet food, compared to 34% of Millennial pet owners, 19% of Gen X pet owners and just 6% of Baby Boomer pet owners.
Similarly, 40% of Gen Z pet owners said they are considering switching to a different brand of pet food to save money, compared to 33% of Millennial pet owners, 18% of Gen X pet owners and just 7% of Baby Boomer pet owners.
As of the November survey, 26% of pet owners reported being worried about pet expenses, with 30% planning to spend less on pet supplies and 23% planning to spend less specifically on pet food. Seventy-one percent of pet owners agreed that their pets’ diets are “very important” and that they would not make nutritional changes due to their personal finances or the economy. This figure is up slightly from 68% of pet owners in the December 2020 COVID-19 Pulse Study.
Overall, 54% of pet owners surveyed are still “very worried” about the lasting impacts of the pandemic, and 52% expect the economy to worsen in 2022. However, negative sentiments about the economy and how the pandemic has impacted pet-owning households have declined slightly since APPA’s COVID-19 Pulse Study conducted in December 2020.
According to the November survey, an increasing number of pet owners are shopping online and in pet specialty stores for pet food and treat products. Sixteen percent of pet owners reported their most recent pet food purchase was made through an online-only outlet, up from 13% in December 2020. Fourteen percent of pet owners made their most recent pet treat purchase through an online-only outlet, up from 13% in December 2020.
Pet specialty stores seem to be getting slightly more foot traffic, with 9% of pet owners shopping for pet food in this channel most recently in November 2021, up from 6% in December 2020, compared to 8% shopping for pet treats in this channel, up from 5% in December 2020.
Twenty percent of pet owners made their last pet food purchase through a discount store or mass merchandiser, down from 27% in December 2020, while 19% shopped for pet food at a pet superstore in November 2021 and December 2020.
On the treat side, 22% of pet owners made their latest pet treat purchase through a discount store or mass merchandiser, down from 29% in December 2020, while 3% shopped through a veterinarian, up from 1% in December 2020.
The survey also pointed to an uptick in pet owners choosing online ordering and curbside pickup services for pet food, treats, toys, grooming products and other supplies. However, the majority (60%) of pet owners stated their most recent pet food purchase was made in-person at a brick-and-mortar store, down from 69% in December 2020.
Nineteen percent reported ordering online and having the pet food delivered directly to their home, while 15% ordered online and picked it up curbside. The remaining 6% of pet owners ordered online and picked up the pet food inside the store. This speaks to the rise of omnichannel options as more independent pet stores add online ordering and curbside pickup services to accommodate shifting purchasing preferences.
For pet treats, 58% of pet owners made their latest purchase in-person at a brick-and-mortar store, down from 69% in December 2020. Twenty-one percent ordered direct-to-consumer, 14% ordered online and picked up curbside, and 7% ordered online and picked up the treats in-store.
Nearly half of pet owners surveyed (46%) most recently purchased pet vitamins and supplements in-store, but an increasing number ordered direct-to-consumer. According to the November survey, 29% of pet owners ordered online and had the supplements delivered to their homes, up from 24% in December 2020, while the remaining 26% opted for online ordering and either in-store or curbside pickup.
According to APPA, this means pet vitamins and supplements have the highest percentage of pet owners who buy them online. In November 2021, 16% of pet owners made their most recent pet food purchase from an online-only outlet, up from 13% in December 2020. One-third (33%) ordered online through a brick-and-mortar retailer, up 27% from December 2020, and 51% bought pet food in-store, down from 60% in December 2020. These channel shifts were similar for recent pet treat purchases.
Details in the demographics
Demographic factors including generation and race are also showing trends in online versus in-store purchasing behaviors for pet products.
For example, in the November 2021 study, 48% of Baby Boomers shop for pet products in-person, while 36% purchase through online-only outlets and 30% shopped online through a brick-and-mortar retailer. These numbers are largely unchanged from December 2020 behaviors. However, just 13% of Gen Z pet owners reported shopping for pet products in-store, down from 32% in December 2020. This cohort is transitioning to purchasing more products online through a retailer, with 83% preferring that option in November 2021 compared to 58% in December 2020.
There have also been shifts away from in-person pet product shopping to online purchases among Black and Hispanic pet owners in the United States. In November 2021, 84% of Black pet owners said they shop for pet products online through a retailer, up from 49% in December 2020, while just 10% reported shopping in-person, down from 44% in December 2020. Nearly three-quarters (74%) of Hispanic pet owners reported purchasing pet products online through a retailer in November 2021, up from 57% in December 2020, leaving just 20% who tend to shop in-store, down from 34% in December 2020.
Access our summary of APPA’s previous COVID-19 Pulse Study from December 2020 here.