The COVID-19 pandemic is changing nearly every aspect of life and business aswe know it, and that seems to go for consumer behavior toward pet foodpurchasing and the trends driving that behavior.

While convenience, technology and confidence have been key pet food driversfor at least a few years, and still are, they now mean different things toconsumers, according to Rebecca Casey, senior vice president, marketing andstrategy, for TC Transcontinental Packaging. She was one of three presentersfor a webinar, “Pet food and COVID-19, part 1: market and business outlook,”on May 7. (Note: This is the first in a webinar series on how the pandemic isaffecting the pet food industry and market.)

Shift in pet food drivers for consumers

To set the context, Casey discussed what these main pet food trends meantbefore the pandemic. For most consumers, convenience signified being able tofind the products they wanted while on the go and having more flexibility andoptions, while technology represented the move to mobile access and onlineshopping, especially for younger generations of consumers. “Confidence” wasCasey’s term for transparency and authenticity, and the desire and demandconsumers had for brands to be honest about their values and how and wheretheir products were made.

During COVID-19, the trends are shifting and will continue to change post-pandemic, Casey believes. Convenience now means one-stop shopping, fewershopping trips that are closer to home and possibly switching of pet foodbrands to what’s available in store or online. (Switching to new brands ortypes of pet food could also result from economic pressure and consumersbecoming more price conscious, she added.)

Use of technology – especially e-commerce – is now becoming more mainstreamand habitual for more consumers, Casey said. That statement was supported bydata shared by another webinar speaker, Sean Simpson, associate clientdirector of the pet vertical for Nielsen: In just one month – from February toMarch 2020 – online sales of pet food in the U.S. jumped by US$281 million, ormore than 51%, he said. Year over year (YOY) compared to March 2019, pet food-ecommerce this March rose 77%.

In terms of technology and pet food, Casey said it also now means thatconsumers expect increased content and communication from brands. Andconfidence now commands an even stronger focus and suggests well-being in manyforms: health, financial, availability of supplies and at the community andeven national levels. In fact, she commented, while health has always been animportant driver for consumers for both pet food and their own food, it is nowinspiring many new routines and habits.

Latest US pet food sales update

Besides the increases in online pet food sales, Simpson provided a deep diveinto the overall US pet food market through end of April 2020. And the word“dive” applies to the sales themselves; the decline seen through the end ofMarch and beginning of April after pet owners had stocked up in mid-March hascontinued.

Specifically, in addition to the robust growth in pet food e-commerce inMarch, brick-and-mortar sales in the U.S. increased 26% YOY in March 2020,Simpson said. Looking at sales week by week in brick-and-mortar stores, theyspiked by well over 50% in the third week of March compared to the same weekin 2019, following a similar double-digit spike the previous week. But sincethen, sales have declined each week compared to the same week in 2019, down7.6% the last week of March, then down 14%, 14.5%, 14.5% and 7.3% each week inApril, respectively.

All of this reflects an unusual purchasing cycle driven by an unprecedentedcrisis, of course; what is unknown at this time is when – and if – pet foodpurchasing cycles will return to normal, Simpson said, as well as the lastingimpact of pet owners’ shift to online.

More webinars on pet food and COVID-19

The third speaker in the May 7 webinar, Paola Cane, Ph.D., CEO of Mia Solutionin Italy, presented best practices for crisis management now, plus planningfor post-pandemic. Watch this blog for key takeaways from that.

For more webinars on how COVID-19 is affecting pet food, please bookmark ourwebinars page.

View our continuing coverage of the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic.

Source:Debbie Phillips-Donaldson Pet Food Industry

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