Upgrade Pet to Build Millennial Bonds

James Patterson’s Zoo attempts to scare readers with the question of who’ll run the world - people or animals.

But where domestic pets are concerned, we already know the answer. The four-legged furry creatures rule households with their cuteness. It is no contest. The 54.4 million households that own 77.8 million dogs, and the 42.9 million households that own 85.8 million cats in 2015 (American Pet Products Association) outnumber children younger than 18 living at home in the U.S. (Census Bureau, 2014).

The APPA figures break out to 79.7 million pet-owning households (including birds, fish, horses, reptiles and other small animals), a 50% rise over 20 years - driven by almost 8 million new pet owners in the past year alone. Most new pet owners are Gen Y and Gen X. Millennials will be the manna for supermarkets. So why not carve a path to their hearts by upping your game in pet foods, supplies and pharmacy, and in online ordering and delivery of bulky food packages, Facts, Figures & The Future (F3) suggests.

Millennials helped turn the tide for workplaces, hotels and restaurants (outdoor seating) to accept pets - a New York City bill is pending on the latter just in time for summer dining. These pivotal customers expect supermarkets to extend themselves as much as they can while abiding by health laws. PETCO and PetSmart have long spoiled pet owners with high access, grooming and veterinary services, vaccinations, microchipping, premium products, and entertaining and educational experiences.

Nevertheless, Publix has made inroads by offering coupons, savings alerts and advice in its Paws Club, and crossover drugs such as antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medications that are safe for both pet and human use. Winn-Dixie, Marsh, Stop & Shop, Giant Eagle, Target and Walmart fill pet prescriptions - to save pet owners time and money compared with dispensing veterinarians, to show shoppers they care, and to promote overall health and wellness.

Even though consumers - especially Millennials - are stretched for time and money, APPA’s latest Pet Owners Survey says 74% of pet owners “are not influenced by the economy when it comes to their pets.” 

The $60.6 billion U.S. pet owners are estimated to spend this year includes $23.0 billion for food and $14.4 billion for supplies and OTCs - both areas where supermarkets could capitalize. This is up from $58.0 billion actually spent in 2014, says APPA.

An IBISWorld study, Pet Stores in the U.S., predicts the number of pet-owning households will continue to increase and “indulgent pet parents will continue to drive demand for premium pet food and services.”

For supermarkets to serve this end of the market will require innovative e-commerce strategies, says F3, given the propensity for Millennials to research before buying, compare prices, and save the legwork and lugging. This approach also averts a further squeeze on shelf space in stores, as retailers open an increasing number of smaller formats.