What trends are shaping the US pet-food market?

One of the most interesting social and economic developments in the United States over the past two decades has been the evolution of pets, specifically dogs and cats, from pets to companions and complete family members.

A few years ago, pet owners would mainly keep their dogs in the backyard in a kennel, and the cats spent more time roaming outside than they did indoors with the family. The cats were freer than the domestic cats. Additionally, leaving Fido indoors has been the exception rather than the rule for most pet owners. It was a treat for the family – and the family dog.

Fast forward to 2021 and the whole paradigm of pet ownership has changed dramatically. Dogs and cats now live primarily inside the home or apartment with their owners — even high-rise apartment buildings in major cities like New York, Chicago, and San Francisco have dedicated dog floors for pet owners.

Pet owners also spend quality time with their dogs and cats. This often includes household pets that share a sofa with their human companion. Dogs and cats evolved from pets to human companions.

This evolution in pet ownership also means an evolution in how and what people feed their companion animals. In the 1990s, cost was the primary consideration for most people when buying food for their dogs and cats. The quality and nutritional value of pet foods has never been a priority for the average pet owner.

Today, both, and in many ways, the way we feed cats and dogs has undergone the same evolution of thought as the way we feed ourselves. This seems logical. Now that dogs and cats are full members of the family, we want to improve their health and extend their life in the same way we want to do it to ourselves and other members of the family.

The social psychology of modern pet ownership

According to data from Mars, one of the world’s largest pet food suppliers, 70% of American households own pets. Dogs and cats make up the vast majority of household pets. Mars has been surveying Americans for some time in order to learn more about the evolving relationship between pets and their owners. The company also recently conducted a consumer survey to find out more about how the Covid-19 pandemic, which has caused a major shift in people working at home, has affected pet ownership over the past year. Many of the results are fascinating and provide valuable information for businesses in the pet food business.

Among the findings from the Mars research, 30% of pet owners were said to welcome a new pet in 2020, and more than half did so for companionship. Three-quarters or more of them say their pets provide important benefits in the form of companionship, and reduced stress or anxiety during Covid-19. Half of the survey respondents say they spend more time with their dogs and cats as an advantage of working at home. They rate this extra time with their pets as more important to them than the increased flexibility of working at home, economic savings from not having to commute to work and even the advantage of being able to spend more time with human family members.

Both quarantines and working from home over the past year due to the pandemic have in my observation – combined with data from Mars and elsewhere – hastened the development of pet ownership in the United States. Dogs and cats provide their owners with emotional support like never before and that fact will be a lasting effect of the pandemic.

The socio-psychological shift among pet owners to viewing what were once just house pets to today being companions and full members of the family is happening – and will continue to be – profound changes in how and what people feed their dogs and cats. These are five major trends I see ahead in the pet food category.

A journey towards quality

Dog and cat owners will continue to search for and buy better quality food for their companions. This trend reflects the consumer trend of swapping for personal food consumption, which includes an increased focus on premium food products that contain higher quality ingredients and better nutritional properties for you.

Dogs and cats are now full members of the family. As such, people feel that they deserve just as much nutritious and high-quality foods as they do. Clean labels will become just as important for pet food products as they have become for human prepackaged food products.

Beyond animal meat

An increasing number of pet owners are also feeding dogs and cats foods that contain less animal meat, which also reflects the trend in human food consumption.

Grains are growing in popularity, as are plant-based pet food products. Look for this trend to continue growing.

homemade video

An increasing number of pet owners are preparing food at home for their dogs and, to a lesser extent, their cats – and are entirely opting to buy packaged pet food products.

Chicken and rice are the most common combinations. Non-meat, homemade meals for family members of dogs and cats are also becoming increasingly popular.

Additionally, subscription services are popping up in cities and suburbs across the United States. Chefs and others prepare meals for a fee – this is mainly for dogs – and deliver the equivalent of a week to people’s homes. The home made pet food movement will push pet food makers to produce high quality products to compete with the journey to high quality pet owners who are looking for food by preparing food at home for their pets.

Now treats snacks

Treating dogs and cats—bones, biscuits, and the like—not so long ago was just an occasional special treat or, in the case of dogs, a tool used for training and reward.

This is history. Dog and cat meals – let’s call them snacks from now on – are the norm today, which most pet owners serve multiple times per day. Perhaps the reward has gone from a dog training tool to a continuous reward thanks to all the daily benefits that the animal provides to its owner.

Dog and cat treats are the new snack. It would be wise for pet food makers to start thinking, both in product development and marketing, in dog snacks rather than dog treats. The paradigm has shifted.


The fastest growing pet food distribution channel is online. Market research firm Packaged Facts predicts that sales of online pet products in the US will make up 27% of all sales this year, jumping to a whopping 35% of sales by 2024.

The main reason for this phenomenon is consumer convenience. But pet owners also buy online because it gives them more variety and opportunities to match different food products to their dog or cat in a more personalized way. This trend reflects consumers’ desire for more personalized food products for themselves. Since companion animals today offer many emotional benefits to their owners, people are now looking to purchase foods that suit the personal and personal aspects of their pets.

Personalization will be an important aspect of the pet food business going forward. It is not just what we eat but the same goes for dogs or cats in the modern age of an increasing number of pet owners.

Dogs and cats are now, essentially, full-fledged members of the modern American family. This change in both social psychology (a pet as a human companion and emotional companion) and economic behavior – a recent survey by mortgage broker LendingTree found that pet owners spent 35% more money on their dog or cat in 2020 than they did in 2019 , for example – here to stay.

This means a new reality for how and what people feed their pets. We now want our dogs and cats to eat as well as we do, which means disruption in the pet food category is the new normal.

Just-food columnist Victor Martino is a California-based strategic marketing and business development consultant, analyst, entrepreneur, and writer specializing in the food and grocery industry. It is available for consultation at: victorrmartino415@gmail.com and https://twitter.com/VictorMartino01.

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