Cat Power, By the Numbers

Looking closely at sales data and pet-owner attitudes reveals key feline opportunities for pet retailers.


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It seems like dogs are always barking the loudest in the pet marketplace.

True, dogs account for 80 percent of all pet food sales dollars, according to March 2014 figures from GfK’s pet retail sales panel. Dog food (including treats) brings in a hefty $5.9 billion annually, compared to $1.5 billion for cat food and treats. But a little research shows that there may be opportunities on the feline side of the ledger that retailers can and should be tapping into.

Let’s take a look at treats. Year over year, total treat growth is still ramping up for cats, while it is slowing for dogs. Over the last 12 months, cat treat sales jumped 8.5 percent, to $92 million, compared to growth of 7.8 percent the year before. By contrast, dog treats grew at 8.4 percent, to $825 million—dropping from 13.2-percent growth a year earlier. 

Another sign that the cat treat market is becoming more attractive is the growth in the amount of brands vying for a share of the pie. The number of feline treat brands grew from 62 in 2012 to 78 in 2014—a 25-percent leap. Sales are growing, and brands are responding with a greater treat variety for cat owners to choose from.

We see a similar pattern in the much-talked-about natural food categories. While growth in natural food’s share for dogs and cats has reached a plateau, natural products still account for just 44 percent of all cat food sales annually—lots of room to grow there—versus 70 percent for dogs. Let’s not forget that on top of food costs, cat owners also have the added burden of buying cat litter, and with natural cat food being 55 percent more expensive per pound than natural dog SKUs ($3.45 overall for cats, versus $2.30 for dogs), it may simply be harder for cat owners to commit to natural cat foods.

The trouble is, cat owners tend to be a frugal bunch. GfK’s profiles of key pet shopping groups show that “Privileged Pet” families—those most likely to spend freely on their four-legged family members—are 10 percent more likely to have a dog than a cat, while deal-loving “Bargain Buddies” are 10 percent more likely to have a cat.

In GfK’s retail point-of-sale database, we see natural cat food sales surging when a price promotion is offered; but when the discount goes away, cat owners often go back to the more affordable, non-natural alternatives. This is partly because cats can switch brands—and recipes within brands—much more quickly than dogs, which require an adjustment period whenever a new type of food is introduced. At the same time, cats can be more finicky than dogs, so trying a new, natural brand may also be a turnoff because Fluffy may very well turn up her nose.  

Overall, considerations of both price and fussiness lead to a certain amount of intentional passivity in how cat owners shop for their feline’s food. This means that it is partly up to retailers to make the case for cat food shoppers to try and stick with the more lucrative natural alternatives. Using signage, in-store consultation, prominently posted articles and the like can help make cat owners more educated consumers of pet food and encourage them to pay closer attention to their pets’ well-being as an antidote to bargain hunting and finicky feline behavior.

At the same time, you need to continue to stock the more affordable and mainstream brands, simply because you need to capture all of their pet sales to maintain loyalty and satisfaction. Switching completely to natural brands would be jumping the gun and could cost a business unnecessarily.

Pay close attention to the specific habits and needs of cat owners, and track sales trends closely to respond to the growing feline opportunity that may be waiting right in side the store. Cutting prices may open the door to a sampling of natural, but education and engagement will be essential to keep cat owners coming back for the more expensive SKUs that you want to sell.


Maria Lange is Senior Product Manager on GfK’s Retail and Technology team, helping clients make the most of GfK’s pet specialty data and insights.

Want to learn more about pet owners and shoppers? Write to us about becoming a member of our POS database, and we’ll send you regular reports on retail trends in the pet space. Contact Dave Stevens at dave.stevens@gfk.com.

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