The Pet Parenting Boom

A recent study by sales and marketing firm Acosta reveals key information about the shopping patterns of pet owners.



From pampered pooches to fancy felines, Americans’ love for their pets is on full display—and their spending shows it. Over the last year alone, shoppers spent nearly $30 billion on pet food and products. That’s more than shoppers spent on cheese, milk or beer, and double what they spent on cereal and coffee. After all, 94 percent of pet owners see their pets as part of the family, and four out of five say they treat their pets like their children. 

This pet-parenting phenomenon is booming, and if retail and brand leaders invest the time to understand not only how pet parents shop but also how they think and act, it can be a boon for their business. For this reason, Acosta set out to research and uncover new findings about the growing pet industry and the pet parenting boom.

Pet Parent Profiles
Nearly 80 million households in the U.S.—that’s 60 percent of the country—have pets. Led by Millennials and Baby Boomers, who have the highest rates of pet ownership, there are more households with pets than households with kids. And those who have pets treat them just like members of the family, with pet parents letting their ‘fur babies’ sleep in their beds, celebrating their birthdays, including them in holiday cards … the list goes on. 

However, there are notable differences in generational behavior when it comes to how pet owners interact with their furry or feathered companions. For example, almost all Boomers talk to their pets daily, while Millennials are much more likely to take photos of their pets and upload them to social media—or better yet, create dedicated social media accounts for their pets. These two generations also have vastly different mindsets regarding discretionary spending. Case in point: Boomers consider toys and treats nonessentials, but Millennials label them as necessities and are also more likely to splurge on clothing, accessories and gifts for their pets. In fact, 60 percent of Millennials purchase ‘nonessential’ pet items at least once per week, compared to just eight percent of Boomers.

The Why & Where of Pet Spending
What is essential for pet parents is the health and well-being of their pets. Just like the health and wellness megatrends impacting food retailing in the human world, health-conscious shopping for animals is on the rise with almost half of pet owners reporting they purchase products they think will provide a wellness benefit to their pets. Combine that with 36 percent of pet owners spending upwards of $500 annually on pet medical expenses and $200 per year on regular grooming, and it’s easy to see why retailers and CPG companies should want to be a partner in their pets’ health.  

When pet parents find a product that does meet their needs (health or otherwise), they’re more brand loyal and less price-sensitive—quite an appealing combination from a sales and marketing perspective. In the case of pet food, 47 percent of pet parents report purchasing their preferred brand regardless of discounts. Deals and coupons aren’t totally out of the question, however, with many shoppers still using loyalty programs, retailer websites and brand websites to search for sales.

While it doesn’t dominate brand choice, keep in mind that price does drive where shoppers go for pet products. Shoppers actually rank it as the most important factor in deciding where to shop, followed by product variety and convenience. 

Winning Strategies
Putting this new research and knowledge into action is where the true opportunity lies for retailers and brands. To get started:


  • Look for ways to connect with pet parents. Pet parents’ desire to nurture their pets means there are ample opportunities throughout the year—from everyday occasions to birthdays and holidays—to demonstrate your understanding of their wants and needs, then serve them with solutions that meet them. Consider educating pet shoppers by bringing a nutritionist in-store or featuring their expertise online, offering new or unique accessories or toys or perhaps hosting social events where pets and their parents can mingle and build community.
  • Focus your efforts on Millennials and Boomers. Dig deeper to examine the shopping habits of the two largest groups of pet owners, paying special attention to Millennials, in particular. Not only are they the largest generation, they are also entering their prime spending years and are known for splurging on their pets. Given the important role that digital technology plays in their world, target them with social media campaigns and promotions. Take a different approach with more traditional Boomers, such as store circulars, and focus on the essentials like food, which they’re more inclined to spend on.
  • Think shopability. Amid stiff competition both online and off, retailers must make every effort to make it as easy as possible for consumers to shop and complete their purchases. In the world of pet retailing, this can mean offering personal concierge services to carry heavy bags of pet food to customers’ vehicles or offering an ‘endless aisle’ feature that lets shoppers digitally access a huge variety of pet products not featured on shelves and have them shipped directly to their home. Knowing that almost half of pet parents make impulse buys while shopping, also think about designing aisles and checkout lanes to encourage spur-of-the-moment purchases and drive basket size.

    While their love is universal, acknowledging that all pet parents don’t fit the same mold—and recognizing how their thinking, values and behavior differ—is key to creating a strategy that resonates among all types of passionate pet shoppers.

    Colin Stewart is senior vice president at Acosta, the sales and marketing powerhouse behind most of the trusted brands seen in stores every day. Stewart leads the Center of Shared Business Intelligence to uncover and analyze market data, identify shopping behaviors and provide insightful strategies to help clients build growth. To learn more or download Acosta’s The Pet Parenting Boom report, visit


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