Millennial Pet Owners Shifted Buying Habits Pre-Pandemic

One in five pet owners had changed buying behaviors for convenience even before COVID-19, according to a report.

Ecommerce is surging, with 54% of millennials purchasing food and supplies for their dogs online in the past year, and 45% of millennials doing so for their cats. Top reasons for millennials to change where they shop for their pets include convenience (49%), price (31%) and assortment (17%). 

Online pet food retailers like have increased their business even more since the pandemic began. The brand debuted a new campaign last week that highlights the importance of pets during the COVID-19 quarantine. 

Pet care is a rapidly growing $75 billion industry, with pet food sales up more than 6% versus last year, says Colin Stewart, executive vice president, business intelligence at Acosta, which conducted the research.



“With this growth, we’re seeing spending behaviors shift to reflect more hassle-free buying options and more interest in healthy options for their pets that include real, natural ingredients,” Stewart says. “As pet ownership continues to soar, retailers should capitalize on industry growth by honing in on their competitive advantages and competing from all directions: price, assortment and convenience.”

More than three quarters of Americans own a pet, and they continue to spend more on those animals each year. Pet ownership is most common among millennials and Gen X-ers, with 59% of households across both generations owning at least one dog.

Millennials are also the generation most likely to own multiple dogs (42% of households), while Gen X is most likely to own multiple cats (53% percent of households).

Most pet owners adopted their pet through a rescue or shelter. Taking in a stray is a very common method of adoption among cat owners specifically, especially among boomers.

Other pet shopping trends include dog owners wanting real and natural ingredients, especially millennials. Shoppers primarily purchase pet food at mass and pet retailers, and shopping for pet needs at several retailers is common. Thirty-two percent of dog owners reported shopping at four or more retailers. 

In the past year, grocery retailers have grown pet food dollars (+5%), while food sales for pet retailers are in decline (-1.7%). This is primarily due to premium brands entering grocery stores, making it more convenient for pet owners to purchase food there and saving them an extra trip.

Another contributing factor is that pet food prices at grocery retailers are often comparable or lower than at pet retailers. Changing brands is more common than changing retailers, and dog owners that shop most often online are least likely to change.

Acosta’s “Pets Are Big Business” report was compiled using industry data and proprietary information sources, including online surveys of the company’s proprietary shopper community, conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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