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Pandemic sparks a new life with our furry friends

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It’s been well-documented over recent months that, during these strange times we find ourselves living through, many of us (yours truly included) have reached out to find comfort in the form of a furry paw. The pet industry is indeed enjoying a boom time, with leading retailer Pets at Home confirming that its full year trading results will show significant growth thanks to “continued strong and broad-based growth across all channels and categories”.

With consumer interest growing and growing in the pets market, insight agency Opinium’s Retail Tracker team decided to take a closer look at the pets category and see how consumer attitudes and behaviours are changing.

New owners splashing the cash

A whopping 49% of the adult public currently owns a pet, rising to 60% among 45- to 54-year-olds – clearly the sweet spot for pet ownership. One-in-10 pet owners have acquired their new family members in the last 12 months, with 18- to 34-year-olds the most likely age group to have welcomed a furry friend into their homes, providing a rapidly increasing new generation of pet owners. New owners are also having to splash the cash, with 51% of them claiming that it has been more expensive than they thought it would be.

Spending on the increase during the pandemic

It’s not just new owners fuelling the uplift in the pet sector, with 30% of longer term owners noticing an increase in their monthly spend on pet related items since they got their pet. One of the factors contributing to this increased spend is the diversity of products available, with 50% of owners saying pet ranges have increased.

The pandemic has not only brought in a whole new generation of pet owners, but it has also affected longer term pet owners with 22% of saying they have increased their spend on pets since the start of the pandemic. This has been most keenly felt by younger pet owners, with 38% saying they are spending more since Covid-19 restrictions came into force.

The top reason for the increase in spend during the pandemic is the fact that we have been spending more time at home with our furry pals. However, the motivations do differ by gender, with women much more likely to state staying at home as their reason for increase spend, whereas men’s number one reason for increased spend is wanting to treat their pet because they haven’t been able to take them outside as much.

Not clicking for pets just yet

While the UK has turned to online for many of its shopping needs, the boom in the pet industry signals good news for bricks and mortar, with 47% of pet owners preferring to shop instore versus 25% who prefer online only.

Despite the great financial news for Pets at Home, the specialist still plays second fiddle to the ubiquitous supermarkets, which are the chosen retailer for 53% of pet owners and a firm favourite with the older generation. However, there is further good news for Pets at Home as they are selected as the number one retailer for 18- to 24-year-olds. Clearly a strategy of grabbing these shoppers when they are young could pay dividends in the longer term.

There is still a strong role for the more traditional independent pet shop, with of course Amazon being an inevitable retailer for pet owners to use, but certainly at much lower levels than compared to other categories.

Pampered pooches

With pet owners across the board spending more it begs the question – on what? As you might expect, food, treats and toys are key purchase categories, but it’s pet grooming and insurance that are two of the top monthly outgoings for owners – to the point that some owners, particularly older ones, are spending more on grooming and insurance for their pets than they are on treating themselves each month.

The pet market is certainly one success from the pandemic in the last 12 months and with trends among the younger population looking strong, the future for those with business links to our furry friends looks very positive.

If you’d like to know more about what the pandemic means for your brand or business, please get in touch at research@opinium.com.

Steve Looney, research director, Opinium.