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Finding the Ideal Meal: Connecting with Pet Owners Earlier

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In this second installment of a two-part blog series on pet food nutrition, Trone explores the multi-channel nature of pet owners who are researching their pets’ food.

Pet Food Industry Online Growth

Amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, online sales of pet food and treats in March 2020 grew by 77% from the previous year according to CNN Business. Brick and mortar sales for March also rose by 19%.

According to Chewy’s CEO, Sumit Singh, the rise in the company’s growth is due to “new customers who either can’t or don’t want to visit their local pet stores during the pandemic” as well as a surge of “rising [pet] adoption and fostering among Americans who suddenly have the time to take care of puppies and kittens.”

Pet owners under stay at home orders had an unprecedented amount of time to grow and develop relationships with pet food manufacturers. Looking ahead, pet food manufacturers will want to reassure pet owners of their brand values and quality as they look to maintain share with retailers.

In this second installment of a two-part blog series on pet food nutrition, Trone explores the multi-channel nature of pet owners who are researching their pets’ food.

Adaptive Orders: What Are Pet Food Retail Shopping Channel Preferences?

Pet owners were switching up their pets’ main meal even before the COVID-19 quarantine. In part one of this blog series, Trone featured a pet food nutritional study by Trone Research + Consulting that revealed more than half of pet owners had changed their pet’s food in the past 12 months.

The lines between online and brick and mortar sales are now becoming even more blurred as pet owners decide between shopping inside their local store or ordering online to have pet food shipped directly to their home or available for curbside pickup.

The chart below shows pet owners’ purchasing preferences for pet food online and in-store.

Pie chart: Brick & Mortar retailers at 68%, Online retailers at 29% with 3% other

Pet food manufacturers should immediately take away from this data that nearly a third of pet owners prefer buying pet food online. And this 2020 study was conducted prior to the COVID-19 national quarantine efforts, which encouraged even more pet owners to order pet food online to be delivered directly to their front door.

It is safe to say that for many pet owners the variety of options and convenience of online pet food ordering will mark a permanent behavior shift. With this new shift comes an opportunity for pet food manufacturers to balance nutrition (scientific perspective) and benefits (emotional promise) in their pet food brand story and messaging. 

Digital Chow Authority: What Influences Pet Food Switching Decisions Online?

Pet nutrition is a complex and evolving topic. Factors like breed, temperament and even health issues can influence pet food decisions at any given time. In the previous blog post, Trone identified veterinarians as the top influencers when it comes to pet food.

But most pet owners don’t visit or call their veterinary clinic every time they have a question about their pets’ diet. So how are pet owners learning about pet food and nutrition trends?

The following table shows pet owner online resource preferences for pet nutrition topics and issues in 2020. Think of this as a ranking of the most popular ways pet owners actively and passively search for pet food information.

Chart: Which online source do you find helpful for learning about pet nutrition issues.

At first glance, this list contains clinical web sources such as pet health sites and veterinary clinic websites and pet centric sites such as social media, blogs and animal organizations. It is not hard to imagine pet owners seeking out recommendations from clinical experts and other pet owners when thinking about switching to a new pet food.

Yet, in the middle of the list are two outliers, pet retailer sites and pet food manufacturer sites. Both sources are intentionally promotional in nature, attempting to sell a brand or product; both rank higher than pet centric sites, animal organization sites and social media among all pet owners.

Pet food manufacturers should take away from this data that a quarter of pet owners find it helpful to seek out manufacturer websites and online product listings to learn about pet nutrition. As an experienced animal health and pet retail research and pet marketing agency, Trone develops engaging brand experiences that reach pet owner audiences emotionally first and scientifically second.

Aligning Your Online Brand Message to Pet Owners

The rapid shift in the online retail channel is giving pet food manufacturers unprecedented opportunities to deliver a brand story and message that effectively connects with their audiences. The key is aligning your channels and message for online channels.

Right now, pet food manufacturers should focus on brand engagement through their website, social media and pet retail partner websites in order to weather the worst of COVID-19’s impact. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to balancing nutrition (scientific perspective) and benefits (emotional promise), but the proven formula is about finding the right message for the optimal channel.

Pet food manufacturers looking to grow their audience engagement should ask themselves a few questions:

  • How do sales break out between online retailer and brick-and-mortar retailer channels?
  • How does the website balance science and emotion to deliver our unique perspective on pet nutrition? How does this link to the primary brand benefits and expectations?
  • Are we taking full advantage of our online pet retail partners to enhance the brand story?
  • Is my website optimized around key search words so pet owners can quickly find the brand?

As the US moves beyond the COVID-19 quarantine, consider how well your pet food brand communicates a strong brand story through your online channels. Contact us to talk with a pet retail marketing specialist about how your brand can reach potential customers and develop loyalty with those you are already serving.