Pet Treats are a Multibillion-Dollar Business—and Growing
One day in the mid-1800s, James Spratt, an American living in London, fancied he could do better than the biscuit scraps he observed being wolfed down by stray dogs in a shipyard—and he did.
Visionary that he was, however, he probably had no idea how much impact his commercial dog biscuits would have. By the end of World War II, dog food, including treats, was a $200 million business, and more than 70 years later, U.S. pet owners are laying out upward of $6 billion per year on pet treats alone, with 92 percent of dog owners and 80 percent of cat owners purchasing them.
Given those numbers, it is perhaps not surprising that Spratt’s dog biscuit epiphany embodies several key trends at play in the pet market of the 21st century.
Human-style: In Spratt’s day, packaged human foods were already widely available, whereas packaged foods for pets were unheard of, so his dog biscuits represented a big human-style jump. Today, human-style products are an extension of the “pets as family” trend, with pet owners highly receptive to products similar to the ones they use for themselves. In the treats market, humanization plays out in product formulation (e.g., limited-ingredient products, “superfood” ingredients, human grade), product appearance, (e.g., toothbrush-shaped treats) and product transparency.
Health: Spratt’s dog biscuits were almost certainly viewed as more healthful than the shipyard scraps he improved upon, and in today’s pet market, healthfulness is arguably the No. 1 product success factor. As of 2017, more than two-thirds of pet owners (70 percent) agree that pet treats offering functional benefits are an important part of their pet’s health care, and 52 percent of dog owners and 28 percent of cat owners use dental treats.
Superpremium: Simply by virtue of their commercialization, Spratt’s dog biscuits were no doubt considered top quality. Beyond the basics, today’s pet owners are increasingly demanding pet products that are on par with, if not even higher quality than, the products they purchase for themselves, and they are willing to put their money where their mouth is. As of 2017, three-quarters of pet owners agree with the statement “I am willing to pay more for pet food products that are healthier for my pets.”
Looking ahead, these trends—all still going strong—would be enough to ensure a bright future for pet treats, but several other factors also contribute to a healthy outlook. Among these are the relatively simple formulations of pet treats (unlike pet food, they do not have to adhere to the Association of American Feed Control Officials’ much-stricter requirements for a complete and balanced diet, making it much easier for treats to capitalize on trends such as natural/organic); the relatively small size of treats, which makes them far more nimble in terms of placement in the myriad channels that now cater to pets and greatly reduces shipping costs for online orders; and the “anytime/anywhere” appeal of treats, making them ideal for pet pampering and gifting and, thus, more likely to be unplanned, impulse purchases. The sum total is good news for the pet product progeny of Spratt, with projected annual sales gains averaging 6 percent lifting the U.S. market for pet treats and chews to $8 billion by 2021.
David Lummis is the lead pet-market analyst for Packaged Facts, a division of MarketResearch.com, which recently published Pet Treats & Chews in the U.S., 2nd Edition. The survey data cited here are from pet owner surveys conducted by Packaged Facts in 2017.