Pet Parents: How A New Paradigm For Pet Ownership Is Changing An Industry

Stuart Elmes

 

People traditionally viewed their pets as property. Sure, they cared about them, maybe even loved them. But a pet wasn’t viewed the same way one would view a child, or even a nephew or niece. If you went on holiday they’d go to a kennel. If they contracted a severe ailment that was expensive to treat, they’d be put down. If their behaviour became troublesome, they might be given away. Their emotional well-being wasn’t an issue anyone ever thought about. They didn’t own any clothes. They ate dry dog food, or the cheapest cat food on the shelf.

But as millennials have different ways of viewing just about everything, they’ve also developed a new way of seeing pet ownership. They prefer to view themselves as “pet parents.” As one typical pet parent puts it: “I emotionally see myself as a “mom” to my fur babies. I have two dogs, a cat, and three birds, and they are my world. My life revolves around my four-legged and winged children. I provide their food, shelter, safety, education, and entertainment—not to mention love.” And this new breed of pet owners is taking over the market. A study by Forbes found that 62% of all American pets are owned by cohorts younger than Baby Boomers and that over the past 30 years the total number of households with pets has grown from 56% to 68% of all homes. This trend has driven explosive growth in the pet-care industry.

Today we’ll be taking a look at how the way consumers view their pets is revolutionizing the pet-care marketplace.


Feeding The Kids

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Perhaps the most significant change comes in the lucrative pet food sector. A recent survey of French pet parents found that choosing the right food for Fido or Mittens was viewed as the most difficult aspect of owning a pet by 62% of cat owners and 56% of dog owners. The study found that pet parents under 40 were very concerned with finding naturally healthy meals, focusing on ingredients that were natural, contained real meat, and were grain-free. In the American market, industry experts say pet parents are looking for more fresh, frozen, and made to order foods for their “fur babies.” They want to avoid preservatives and chemicals and are more likely to study the ingredients list than previous generations.

We’ve written before about pet food being the perfect product for eCommerce, and the digital takeover of the industry fits in comfortably with the pet parent paradigm. Online retailers can offer endless options, and allow consumers to customize recipes specifically for their beloved bundle of fur. David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts, estimates that 18 million American households bought pet food online in 2018, motivated by low prices and the almost infinite number of products on offer. The move online is likely to gain momentum in 2019. Sprinkle notes that “for pet food marketers, an omnichannel approach is therefore a necessity in a business whose consumer base will increasingly be doing some or all of its pet food shopping online.”


Runway Ready Rover

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As people humanise their pets, we’re seeing increasing numbers of pet owners create social media accounts for their children. Popular Instagram accounts like Grumpy Cat (R.I.P.), Doug the Pug, and Jiffpom have millions of followers, and they’ve generated immense wealth for their owners. Some of the world’s biggest celebrities, like Ariana Grande, Chrissy Teigen, and Josh Groban make cameos on their social media!

The popularity of pets on social media has been a huge boon to the pet fashion industry. 20 years ago the image that would’ve been associated with a cat in a sweater or a dog wearing booties would’ve been a crazy, over-protective grandmother. But these days, even Europe’s most prestigious fashion brands have been designing pet-wear. Your four-legged friend can now purchase designer sunglasses, a Gucci backpack, a bomber jacket hand stitched in Italy, tailored shoes, and a monogrammed Louis Vuitton dog collar. Fashion week in New York now even includes a runway show dedicated to pet fashion!

This has trickled down to pet parents, who want to show their kids off on social media. 60% of Millennials have reported themselves “likely” to buy clothing for their pets. Online retailer Zulily reported a 622% surge in sales of pet hoodies on their site in 2018, and 50% of American pet owners bought their special lil' guy a Halloween costume last year. With online retailers showing 33% year over year growth in pet apparel, the industry shows no signs of slowing down.


“Child” Care

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Millennials report suffering from anxiety when separated from their pets, even for a matter of hours. A survey by Forbes found that 80% of millennials frequently worried about their pets, even while running short errands, 70% would take a pay cut if it would allow them to bring their pets to work, and 65% reported that a week without their pet would be worse than a week without their smartphones. The horror!

This intense sense of connection has accelerated the growth of the pet monitoring industry. Brands like Furbo have created sophisticated devices and apps to allow anxious parents to connect with pets even when they’re apart. The latest model of Furbo’s device includes a night-vision equipped camera, a bark sensor that can send you push alerts when your pet makes noise, and lets you talk to them through a speaker whenever they get upset. The app also lets you dispense treats that are stocked inside the device whenever you notice someone being a very good boy. The Furbo retails for about $250 US, and after a 2018 appearance on the Ellen Show, sales have skyrocketed. GPS trackers and apps that track the well-being, exercise, or diet of your pet have also seen sales grow at a rapid pace as well.  


The Future

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Pet parents are the new breed of pet owners, and over 80% of those with pets see them as family members, rather than property or animals. There is no reason to think that any of the pet-care trends associated with doting millennials are likely to stall in the near future, so our advice to brands and retailers would be to focus on customization, offer the healthiest and most luxurious options you can think of, and use the endless aisles of online sales platforms to offer a range of products that will make every pet and pet parent feel special.