Corporate Responsibility in the Form of Animal Welfare Is a Perfect Pet Market Match
As the internet levels the pet market playing field in terms of product pricing and availability, including for previously pet specialty-only brands, it’s on marketers to embrace new ways to woo pet owners. Already in place for most pet industry players are cause marketing initiatives, which are demonstrating steadily growing appeal among U.S. pet owners.
In Packaged Facts’ January/February 2014 Pet Owners Survey, nearly 33 percent of pet owners chose their pet product retailers based on retailers’ involvement in pet welfare and rescue causes and events, a number that increased to 40 percent in 2015, 44 percent in 2016, and 50 percent in 2017. In 2014, 33 percent of pet owners felt the same way about the pet products they buy, a figure which rose to 41 percent in 2015, 44 percent in 2016 and 49 percent in 2017. Twenty-nine percent of dog owners and 38 percent of cat owners contribute to pet welfare and rescue causes themselves.
For consumers and marketers alike, cause marketing yields multiple rewards. Initiatives of all sorts—pet adoptions, shelter support, animal rescue, animal health research, etc.—help pets. Pet cause marketing drives growth of the pet population and, thus, products. Because it most often involves nontraditional media, it provides a cost-effective way to build brand awareness. And, perhaps most important of all to marketers playing the long game, cause marketing builds goodwill among pet owners by humanizing those companies that pay it forward.
The kinds of cause marketing efforts noted above are widespread in the pet industry, so newer initiatives will be pushing the boundaries into areas at play on—that’s right—the human side. Foremost among these, and it’s hard to think of a better pet market crossover, is animal welfare. Packaged Facts survey data from February/March 2017 show that a quarter (26 percent) of U.S. adults strongly agree, and another third (32 percent) somewhat agree, that they are more concerned than they were a few years ago about the treatment of animals raised for food. Correspondingly, the range of and competition from products marketed on animal welfare-related attributes has begun to increase as food companies at all points along the supply chain—from growers and ranchers to manufacturers and food-service operators—have increased their commitments to actions that promote animal welfare. Recognizing that these practices will take time to reach the levels needed to accommodate demand, many companies have opted for setting 100 percent goals well into the next decade.
For the human and pet industries alike, animal welfare practices sync up with other top-of-mind consumables trends. Consumers increasingly link livestock animal welfare issues to the safety of meat, poultry and dairy products. Packaged Facts survey data show that 45 percent of those who buy cage-free, free-range or pasture-raised chicken consider it more likely to be contamination free, as do 40 percent of those who buy grass-fed/pasture-raised beef, and 39 percent of those who buy cage-free, free-range or pasture-raised eggs. Consumers also increasingly link livestock animal welfare issues to broader sustainability concerns, in areas ranging from the optimum use of land to local sourcing. Additionally, animal welfare practices dovetail with consumers’ growing demand for corporate transparency. As increasing numbers of consumers become engaged in animal welfare issues, they will expect companies to tell them what steps are being taken to address these concerns, above and beyond the ingredient and formulation issues already associated with clean/clear label.
For pet industry participants with major growth aspirations, there are additional reasons to adopt animal welfare practices. Already, the stage is set for more acquisitions of niche animal protein companies with progressive livestock animal welfare-related practices and reputations. Looking ahead, institutional investors will progressively be attracted to companies ahead of the curve in animal welfare practices and product transparency, in part because raising those bars will help attract and retain millennial and gen Z customers. Product appeals such as natural, grain-free and novel ingredients are great. But it’s not hard to imagine a future in which differentiating products is no longer enough, meaning marketers will increasingly need to differentiate something else: themselves.
David Lummis is the lead pet-market analyst for Packaged Facts, a division of MarketResearch.com, which recently published Cat Litter: U.S. Pet Market Trends and Opportunities (packagedfacts.com).
This article originally appeared in the January 2018 issue of Pet Product News.