Pet Food Proves Recession-Proof, Thanks to Anthropomorphism

Image: Dangerous Intersection

We may be resorting to beans and rice for dinner, but Fido isn’t suffering. This Denver Post article points out that the pet food industry is solid as ever:

…spending on pets remains robust, with total sales of all pet products topping $45 billion this year, a 5 percent increase, according to the American Pet Products Association. And retail sales of pet food are up 4.5 percent in 2009 at about $18 billion. Future pet-food sales are projected to top $21 billion by 2013.

The strong spending comes amid price increases in nearly every pet-food category, the result of rising costs of fuel, ingredients and transportation for manufacturers.

“We’ve seen double-digit growth this year. The recession hasn’t really touched us,” said Deb Dempsey, owner of Mouthfuls in Denver’s Highland neighborhood. “We’re not selling tons of bedding and clothing, and treats and durable goods, the foofy stuff, has stayed down.”

“We have so many customers who say they’d eat macaroni and cheese before they’d cut back on their dogs,” she said.

This trend towards premiumization is helping keep the pet food industry on its feet. According to this Petfood Industry article,

The only categories showing a drop in volume are mid-priced and economy dog foods and economy cat foods. Some market researchers believe there is less price elasticity in the demand for petfoods than for human food, and the industry’s latest (2008) sales figures are bearing this out.

Consumers appear to be accepting these price increases in spite of declining real disposable income and falling consumer confidence. Due to deepening anthropomorphism, pet owners are becoming even more brand loyal. Many owners hold the view that their pets can tell the difference between different products and they are therefore reluctant to switch brands in case it upsets their pets’ digestive systems.

That “deepening anthropomorphism” could actually be considered a revolution in the way Americans treat their pets, writes ABC News:

In an atomized society, the growing amount of time and money we collectively spend on pets is an indication of how much we thirst for community, leaning on animals for support once provided by other humans.

The pet food industry knows it, too:

“The pet-food industry has gotten very good at tapping into peoples’ anxieties about the quality of their own diet, and then getting them to apply that anxiety to their pets’ diets,” says (author and historian Katherine Grier). “First, of course, the industry had to convince people that the traditional way they fed pets — cooking them meat or feeding scraps — was unhealthy.”

Always, the message is the same: You’d do it for yourself — why not for the animal you love? “Things that were once considered optional are now really being considered necessities by pet owners,” (another source) says. “These companies have made the attachment between the health and well-being of your pet and their product.”

(Read more of this excellent article.)

I’d be interested to know how/whether increased computer use has affected the way we see pets, especially dogs. In any case, pet food marketers are onto something. It looks like this trend is going to last.

Written by Drea Knufken

Drea Knufken

Currently, I create and execute content- and PR strategies for clients, including thought leadership and messaging. I also ghostwrite and produce press releases, white papers, case studies and other collateral.