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“Puppy stage” dog food was the most searched category of the latter half of 2020, according to Label Insight, a data provider that helps retailers and brands identify consumer trends and opportunities for growth. Searches for “puppy stage” dog food increased by 175,000 from Q2 2020 to Q3 2020, Label Insight found.

“The pandemic and stay-at-home order caused a surge of pet adoptions within 2020, which can contribute to the significant increase in online searches for ‘puppy stage’ dog food,” said Hannah Polk, RD, senior solutions consultant at Label Insight, which recently looked at consumer online search habits across major retailers like Amazon, Walmart, Target, Shipt and Kroger. “According to search panel data, within the month of January 2021, search for ‘puppy stage’ increased 19 percent from December 2020.”

This means that there’s not only a growing opportunity for pet retailers to invest in puppy-specific products, but it’s a great time to attract—and retain—customers.

“For retailers, this indicates that there is a large number of new pet parents on the market that are looking for a trustworthy, reliable pet store,” Polk said.

So, how do retailers sustain the business of their current customers while gaining business from these new pet owners?

“With the recent surge of e-commerce, retailers have an opportunity to reach their customers by ensuring their search and filter capabilities are returning accurate and complete data, as well as providing full transparency to their customers through enhanced attribution,” Polk said. “Traditional retailers fail to return 95 percent of qualifying products for search and filter. Label Insight helps retailers return 99 percent of qualifying products. With Label Insight data, a pet retailer can meet all the needs of their pet parents to instill trust and increase conversion rates.”

Beyond Puppy

Other key words picking up momentum, according to Polk, are “all-natural,” “fresh”, “human-grade” and “artificial free.” Searches for “fresh” increased 33 percent, and “human grade” increased by 2,287 percent within pet food since last quarter, Polk said.

“As pet trends like raw, fresh and human-grade gain momentum it is interesting to look at the various forms of pet food such as wet, dry, freeze-dried, as well as various storage types like shelf-stable, refrigerated or frozen,” Polk said. “According to search panel data, ‘wet’ was the most searched for attribute within pet food last quarter, yielding 878,363 total searches and increasing in search by 12 percent since the previous quarter. In search volume, ‘dry’ was the second most searched attribute. However, it saw a 5 percent decline in searches since the previous quarter. Additionally, ‘refrigerated’ was searched 19,860 times, increasing in search by 29 percent since the previous quarter.”

Sustainability, natural and clean and product functionality are top trends among pet owners with dogs at any age, according to Polk.

“A trend in pet food, similar to human food trends, is sustainability and the ability to trace the product back to its origins,” Polk said. “When it comes to sustainability in pet food, Label Insight data indicates that sustainable packaging is making a splash with about 10 percent of pet food making an on-package statement regarding recycling. Additional sustainability attributes gaining momentum in the pet space are concerns for animal welfare including attributes such as wild-caught, dolphin-safe, farm-raised, humane and cage-free.”

Pet owners are also wanting more than the “ordinary, run-of-the-mill kibble.”

“They are looking for products that will satisfy their pet’s appetite, as well as provide functional benefits for their pet,” Polk said. “Products touting a skin and coat health claim often contain either omega 6 or omega 3 fatty acids through healthy fat sources like flaxseed oil, fish oil, sunflower oil, etc. According to search panel data, search for ‘skin & coat health’ rose 14 percent within pet food since the previous quarter. Additionally, ‘joint health’ is a common claim seen on dog food products containing glucosamine or chondroitin ingredients.”

Cat owners were also hot on the keyboard. Searches for “urinary tract health” were up 91 percent in the cat food and treat categories in Q4 2020, according to Label Insight. Other popular searches among cat owners: “skin/coat health” (up 529 percent), “weight control” (up 308 percent) and “digestive support” (up 552 percent).

The upticks in these searches emphasizes the idea that pet owners want the best for their pet, whether it is through a clean, human-grade diet, or through functional benefits that support the pet’s specific need-state, Polk said.

“Retailers need to learn the various need states of their customers and acknowledge these needs through a diverse product assortment,” Polk added. “However, just carrying these products is not enough. A retailer must also ensure these shoppers are easily able to narrow in on these products. It is too often that pet parents have a difficult time locating these products, especially when they are shopping online and do not have the product information directly in front of them.”

While some trends may come and go, these particular trends are more than likely here to stay, according to Polk.

“Although the pandemic may be coming to an end, the need states of these pets will continue to exist and pet parents will still want whatever is best for their pet,” Polk said. “I suspect e-commerce activity may fall slightly as people start to feel comfortable shopping in-store again, however, I think the convenience of e-commerce will often outweigh the desire to return to stores, particularly within the pet space.”