Cats Rule With Gen Y
New research shows promising, upward-trending information about millennials and their choice of pet.
Millennials (generation Y), the group of Americans born between 1980 and the mid-2000s, number 83.1 million, and they represent more than one-quarter of the nation’s population, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released in June 2015. Additionally, the Bureau reported that their size exceeds that of baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), who number 75.4 million, making them the largest generation in the U.S.
Profiling the Generation
Also called the net generation, many of these digital natives have never known a world without the Internet and a host of information at their fingertips. They are avid users of the web and frequent users of social media, with three-quarters of them having an account on a social networking site, compared to only half of generation Xers (born early 1960s to early 1980s) and less than a third of baby boomers, according to a 2014 report by The White House’s Council of Economic Advisers.
With many of them entering adulthood during the Great Recession and recovery, this generation has found itself burdened by debt and less likely to own homes than young adults in previous generations. According to research from the Council’s report and Pew Research Center, the challenges of getting a foothold in the labor market, paired with more of them attending college (about 61 percent compared to only 46 percent of baby boomers), delaying marriage (just 26 percent of this generation is married), reporting stronger relationships with their parents than previous generations and having parents who are very involved in their children’s lives, all contribute to their moniker as the boomerang generation (returning home to live with their parents).
Despite the challenges, these optimistic and idealistic young people overwhelmingly demonstrate entrepreneurial spirit and are proactive in using new technologies, creativity, and innovation to improve and reshape the world. They believe the businesses they work for and shop at should have a sense of purpose, and when something sparks their passion, they are incredibly generous with their time and money.
What Millennials Want
According to findings recently released by Nestlé Purina PetCare Co., cats have piqued the interest of millennials, and they are today’s most passionate cat owners. Purina’s report comes from a survey conducted by Penn Schoen Berland. The organization surveyed 1,000 U.S. millennials and discovered that nearly half of them have a cat at home, and now chatter about this trend is up.
“Cats definitely seem to have grown in popularity among the millennial generation over that of boomers and gen Xers,” said Tracey Hatch-Rizzi, vice president and co-founder of Radagast Pet Food Inc. in Portland, Ore. “It’s most likely the result of social media, lifestyle and a better economy than we had in the 2000s.”
At Parkers, A Natural Dog & Cat Market in Chicago, owner Katie Pottenger sees this as very significant information that helps her plan her product mix to increase cat supplies for the next year.
“My store is located by the University of Chicago, so I have a steady stream of millennial customers,” she said.
But not all the research shows the same trends. For example, the Spring 2015 Simmons National Consumer Study from Experian Marketing Services reported that cat ownership rates remain unchanged since 2014.
Statistics and research experts explain that the variations in results most likely come from differences in methodology, such as sample size and composition, the way questions are worded and survey frequency.
Those in the cat product trenches report seeing a rise in the demand and purchase of cat products. Lorin Grow, owner of Furry Face in Redlands, Calif., has noticed an uptick in overall cat business in the past year and, recently, an uptick in sales of non-food-related items such as treats and toys, and Pottenger said her cat section grows every year.
“I have almost 2,000 square feet dedicated to cat food and supplies, and my turnover is almost double what it was four years ago,” Pottenger said.
Multiple sources attribute the cat-focused increase to the delay in millennials having children as well as their career focus and busy lifestyles. Irene Leija, owner, operator and groomer for Cats Meow Grooming Spa in Mill Valley, Calif., said cats always have been thought of as easier to own than dogs, and with more exposure to and education on cats available, these animals are less mysterious, and people, including millennials, are realizing that cats are great for busy pet owners.
Accenture, a multinational consulting firm, noted that roughly 80 million people make up gen Y, and it estimates that by 2020, millennials’ spending in the U.S. will grow to $1.4 trillion annually and represent 30 percent of total retail sales. And that’s encouraging news for businesses in the cat category.
“I think this generation is willing to spend more, in general, on their pets, and they will spend those dollars on products that are healthier,” Hatch-Rizzi said. “It seems that millennials also are willing to spend more on products that are fun and pampering for their pets, rather than just products that are simply functional or just fulfill a need.”
Holly Sher, president of Evanger’s Dog & Cat Food Co. in Wheeling, Ill., finds members of this generation are not afraid to spend their money on what matters to them, even if it’s their last penny.
“They don’t care when it comes to their pets,” she said. “One of our [millennial] interns here said he didn’t care what the cat food cost him. He’s buying top-of-the-line cat food at 24 years old.
“We don’t know what made the cat food explode, but it’s exploding,” she said, adding that millennials are buying a lot more canned food than dry varieties for their cats. “I’m finding a lot of millennials get it. Older people are more set on dry food, but millennials are questioning it. They understand that cats need the moisture. They’re educated, they research online and they’re really astute; they do their homework.”
In line with their social consciousness, this next generation of cat owners wants to know that the foods are made in the USA and where the ingredients come from; they want all USA ingredients—for the food and the cans, Sher said. They also want all of this information to be on the label.
To meet the needs of gen Y, Hatch-Rizzi reported seeing retailers move toward larger cat-focused sections, though many still are in the back of the store.
“Retailers are developing fresh and creative ways to bring attention to their smaller cat section,” she said. “As cats are being regarded as family members and being more on par with dogs, retailers are growing their cat sections into trendy, exciting areas with cutting-edge products that are appealing to a new generation of shoppers in general. I think the shopping experience needs to be very user friendly, and the staff really needs to be educated on the products they’re selling. Millennials want to be engaged and have their shopping experiences also be learning experiences. They want to see what’s new and really want a focus on what is healthful, nurturing and will enhance their cats’ lives and health.”
Parkers’ Pottenger said she is “increasing the product mix of cat supplies we carry and trying to make it more experiential—letting [customers] touch the toys, play with them and get a feel for what their cat would experience. [We’re] also doing more education on cat health and nutrition.”
Time to Step It Up
Bob Vetere, president and CEO of the American Pet Products Association in Greenwich, Conn., said he has yet to see cat food and treat manufacturers do anything different to capitalize on the newly targeted trend.
“I’m anxious to see at our show what people start putting out,” he said, referring to Global Pet Expo, which takes place this month in Orlando, Fla. “Traditionally manufacturers focus on dog foods, with cat foods on the side. It will be interesting to see if more cat foods and upfront visible cat products show up in the booths.”
With her company’s upcoming manufacturing location move, Sher said, “Our dedicated [food manufacturing] lines will be more on cat food than dog. In the last three months, even, we’ve ordered more items for the cat food. We’re dedicating a production line to cat food—all day long—for small cans.”
Pet industry insiders all agreed that nothing but good can come from a greater focus on cats as pets.
“It’s also becoming much more common—and accepted—for single men to own cats,” Hatch-Rizzi said. “As the ‘cats aren’t masculine’ stereotype falls away, especially among the millennial generation, it’s now actually socially acceptable to be that ‘crazy cat guy.’”
With so many cat/dog interaction studies out there, Vetere said cats are being recognized for more benefits than before, and more studies will be done.
“Cats are sensitive to illnesses and disabilities that people have, and they are a more positive force for humans,” he said. “It’s good for humans to have a cat, even beyond what you think they’re good for. If you get enough people to focus on and treat the cat population the way dogs are treated, you can start cutting into the feral cat population. People start to feel for those pets abandoned to breed and multiply, they pay more attention to them and spay/neuter them, which can be a huge help.
“It bears watching over the next year or so, to see if the trends have real stamina to them or are just blips,” he added.
This article originally appeared in the March 2016 issue of Pet Product News.