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Pet product spending: The whos, the whats and the WEIRDS

PetBusinessProfessor.com recently took a deep dive into the 2016 pet-spending boom, investigating exactly where all those bones came from. You can read the site’s full analysis here, but we found a number of items on the report to be weirdly surprising. Or surprisingly weird. Read on to see what made our heads cock like a beagle watching Meerkat Manor.

In 2016, pet owners plunked down $42.34 billion on pet food and supplies. According to the study, the bulk of the spending came from your typical “American-dream” types. Nothing too surprising here.

  • White, Not Hispanic (85.5%)
  • 2+ household (81.2%)
  • Homeowners (78%)
  • $50K+ income (68%)
  • Everyone works in household (65%)
  • Associate degree or higher (60.3%)
  • Age 35–64 (63.5%)
  • All wage & salary earners –not self-employed (64.4%)
  • Married couples (61.1%)
  • Suburban (59.6%)

So those are the “expected” percentages. Here are some of the study’s findings that threw us when examining 2015 spending vs. 2016 spending.

Area Type

The “central city” type had the single biggest increase of any demographic segment, up $2.3 billion, to $12.2 billion over 2015. Meanwhile, suburbanites showed the largest decrease in spending, down 9 percent or $1.8 billion.

OUR TAKE: More and more pets are finding homes in “central cities.” The success of the northeast spending (+11.5 percent over 2015) is directly related to the great increase in central-city spending. Additionally, millennials, who have moved more frequently than any other generation (39 percent of them have moved at least twice in the last five years), are moving out of the burbs and into the cities.

CU Composition

In 2015, married couples showed the largest leap in spending on pets over the previous year. In 2016, unmarried adults dropped the most extra coin on their pets, making a 14.5 percent leap to $7.25 billion.

OUR TAKE: We’ve long talked about the positive impact of the younger groups on the pet market. Millennials view pets as “practice” for starting their own families. Millennials are delaying marriage, so they’re more likely to be single when purchasing their first pets as adults.

Housing

In perhaps the most interesting stat of the whole study, renters—not homeowners—were the only type of housing segment that showed an increase in spending, up 7.2 percent to $9.31 billion.

OUR TAKE: This is likely a direct result of the increase in renters, period. According to Pew Research, more households were renting in the U.S. than in any other point of the last 50 years. The good thing for pet product marketers is that the decision to rent vs. own doesn’t seem to impact the decision of whether to have a pet.  Again, we point toward millennials. They rent more, holding off on buying homes but spending more on pets. Forty-two percent of millennial pet owners are renters and, 53 percent of millennial pet-owner renters live in a house as opposed to an apartment.

Age

Well. Here’s something. The “silent generation” (those currently 75 or older) are spending more and more on pet products, showing a 33 percent increase in spending in 2016. It was the only age group that increased spending on their pets, buying $2.27 billion in food and supplies.

OUR TAKE: It could be because the benefits of pet ownership on our health is becoming more and more accepted, and health becomes a bigger issue as we head toward our twilight years.

Education

In our least-favorite stat of the study, college graduates significantly scaled back their spending. Pet owners with bachelor’s degrees spent $1.42 billion less in 2016 than 2015, a significant 11.4 percent drop. However, people with associate’s degrees showed an almost identical uptick, increasing 12 percent, or half a billion dollars.

OUR TAKE: College-educated pet owners are “value shopping” for pet food. They’re still buying premium pet food, but paying less (SMART!). In 2016, consumers began a concerted effort to find the best prices on their premium pet foods. More options and e-commerce are also driving prices down.

What we learned

The PetBusinessProfessor.com study concluded that the “ultimate” pet products consumer is a married, home-owning couple aged 55–64 with at least once “advanced” degree. But if the study showed us anything, it’s that anything can change from year to year. Pet spending stats are tumultuous at best, so your brand or company needs to be nimble and ready to roll with the punches, as well as be prepared to talk to new audiences and adapt to changing situations. Find yourself a partner who has a proven track record of helping pet-related brands stay on top of the game and talking to any audience, no matter how fickle.