Man’s Best Friend, Take a Bite of Pet Sales

June 04, 2010

he pet industry is one of retail's fastest-growing segments with spending expected to rise this year by nearly five percent over 2009 to $47.74 billion, according to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau

The pet industry is one of retail's fastest-growing segments with spending expected to rise this year by nearly five percent over 2009 to $47.74 billion, according to figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.

An American Pet Products Association (APPA) study released in February showed that overall spending in the pet industry (including food, supplies, veterinary care, live-animal purchases and other services such as grooming, boarding and pet sitting) grew by 5.4 percent from $43.2 billion in 2008 to a little more than $45.5 billion in 2009 and showed no declines in any category between 2007 to 2008.

As this market increases, the grocery industry continues to lose its share of the market to pet-focused retailers and boutique stores. Grocers can get back in the game with specialty pet programs and events designed for pet-centric consumers. 

An APPA blog post in March 2010 states, “higher quality products and services combined with a strong consumer focus on their pets’ well-being, make health and wellness the most powerful trend in 2009 across the entire pet industry. We feel our pets give us so much it is no longer enough to simply give them a treat. We want to keep our pets healthier, longer, and are willing to spend what it takes to make it happen.”

Since the tainted pet food recalls of 2007, pet owners are paying more attention to what they are feeding their cats and dogs. In addition to sourcing issues, they have come to realize just how important nutrition is to the health of their pets. So while the industry continues to highlight the importance of family nutrition thanks to the campaigns of celebrity chefs and First Lady Michelle Obama, it’s a good time to broaden the focus to include the entire family – including the four-legged members.

To keep pets healthy, extend their lives and save on vet bills, it's just as important for pets to eat healthy as it is for their owners. Unfortunately, many pets are unhealthy, attributed to their diet, and suffer from health problems, such as allergies, diabetes, cancer, ear infections, irritable bowel, urinary tract infections, bladder stones, scratching and skin and coat issues.

In many retail markets, pet-friendly resources are made available to these consumers. Increased focus everything from pet-friendly restaurants to hotels is a good example of successful retail entrepreneurial growth. Grocery retail can compete against pet supermarkets by offering similar pet-friendly access to specific store-within-a-store concepts. Retailers not ready to make the square foot commitment can look outside for answers.

Attracting pet parents who are concerned about the health and wellness of their four-legged family members can be accomplished with pet-focused events. A recent news report depicts a growing obesity epidemic for dogs, estimating that about a third of all dogs are obese or overweight. According to a recent PetSmart survey, 93 percent of pet parents believe that what they feed their pet really matters to the pet's health and well-being.

This year Purina launched its own Project Pet Slim Down to raise awareness of pet obesity. The program encourages pet owners to work with their veterinary professionals to make changes in their pets’ lifestyles and feeding habits to help their animals lose weight, according to Nestle Purina. The nationwide campaign features real-life testimonials from owners of obese pets. The 90-day pet weight-loss challenge is chronicled via online videos documenting 12 weeks of monitored feeding, veterinary weigh-ins and exercise.

The Purina program could be carried over to grocers Web sites with veterinarian answering health and nutrition questions from concerned pet parents. Strengthen the pet category by promoting similar events with on-site health screenings, vaccinations and veterinarian nutritional advice. Invite local humane societies to the events offering them time to host adoptions and raise funds. Host campaigns similar to local food bank drives, but for shelter dog supplies instead. 

In addition to health services, the APPA notes that pet care services continues to be a growing category as they become more closely modeled after those offered to people. What used to be a dog bath in the home tub has since evolved into self-service dog washes. Service-based businesses like dog walkers, pooper-scoopers, trainers and even massage-therapists are booming, with new ones entering the industry all the time.  Imagine a dog grooming service day in a grocers’ parking providing shoppers with the opportunity to get Fido bathed, trimmed and smelling great while his human parents are inside shopping the aisles.