Nutrition Is Key Driver In Affluent Pet Owners' Purchases

While even most well-to-do pet owners (unlike the late Leona Helmsley) might draw the line at bequeathing $12 million to their furry friends, one in three pet-owning households is willing to spend a small fortune pampering their dogs and cats with super-nutritious food and health care products/services lavish enough to make an HMO accountant swoon.

"Premium" pet owners (PPOs)--defined as single-person households with incomes of $50,000 or more, double-income households with incomes of $75,000 or more, and three-or-more-person households with incomes of $100,000 or more--now account for 33% of all pet owners, or 17.4 million households, and they're spending up a storm, according to a new "Premium Pet Demographics and Product Purchasing Preferences" study from the Packaged Facts division of

These "über" owners more than tripled their household pet expenditures between 1995 and 2005, from $5.2 billion to $18.6 billion.

Furthermore, as of '05, PPOs bought 43% of pet food (spending an average of $198 per household annually); 54% of vet services ($169 annually); 50% of supplies ($123 annually); and 62% of other pet services ($66 annually).



"Affluents" (household incomes of $150,000 or greater) are the largest cohort within the overall PPO universe--representing 4.8 million, or 28%, of these households. Other groups driving the phenomenon include specialty shoppers (who buy only through pet stores or the Internet), marrieds-with-children, empty nesters, DINKs and singles. Collectively, these six subgroups account for 81% of all PPO households.

Some other intriguing demographic tidbits:

  • Contrary to the pet-obsessed-matron stereotype fed by Leona, men are distinctly more inclined than women to fit the PPO profile (they index at 112, versus 92 for women), although men are only slightly more likely to be pet owners.
  • Asian households are far below the norm for pet-owning (indexing at 47) but fully 88% more likely to be PPOs.
  • Northeasterners are below average on pet owning (indexing at 91) but 25% more likely than average to be PPOs. Southwesterners are most likely to own pets (indexing at 118), but 15% less likely than average to be PPOs.
  • People with graduate degrees are slightly below average on pet-owning (94 index), but those with pets are 101% more likely than average to be PPOs.

Not surprisingly, PPOs and non-PPOs buy more or less the same staples, but PPOs tend to go for more upscale treats and spend a bit more on treats and health-related items:

  • Like non-PPOs, PPOs with dogs spend most on packaged dry food, biscuits/treats, heartworm control products, canned food and packaged moist dog food, and PPOs with cats spend most on packaged dry food, litter, canned food, treats/snacks, heartworm controls and packaged moist food.
  • However, "affluent" PPOs are greater-than-average buyers of heartworm controls and biscuits/treats for dogs; specialty shoppers buy more pet food supplements, heartworm controls for dogs, and cat litter; marrieds-with-children buy more heartworm controls for both dogs and cats; empty nesters buy more packaged moist cat food, heartworm controls for dogs, and dog biscuits/treats; DINKs buy more cat litter, dog biscuits/treats and heartworm controls for dogs; and singles buy more cat treats/snacks, dog biscuits/treats, canned cat food and cat litter.
  • Also, 87% of all PPO dog owners pamper pets with biscuits/treats, and 17% buy heartworm products--12% and 13% more than non-PPOs, respectively. PPOs are also 43% more likely to buy dry light/weight management foods, and 10% more likely to buy "senior" varieties of wet foods (though they buy less wet food overall than non-PPOs).
  • Cat-owning PPOs are 12% more likely to buy packaged moist food than non-PPOs, and though their usage of dry food is about the same overall, they are 58% more likely to choose light/weight management varieties.

Of course, the splurging on pooches and felines is no news to marketers chomping at the bit to provide PPOs with an ever-expanding array of offerings--particularly those that address owners' concern with providing a high-nutrition, taste-tempting diet.

Over half (52%) of last year's 132 pet food introductions were "upscale," according to Productscan Online data cited by PF. (Thirty percent of non-food introductions were also of the premium variety.)

Food brands touting nutritional/digestive benefits head the Top 10 lists of products more likely to be purchased by PPOs than non-PPOs for both dogs and cats (although the cats' list also includes a couple of premium litter brands), PF found.

The top-indexing dog products are Iams Eukanuba dry food (168); Nestle Purina Pro Plan dry food (150); Nutro dry food (147); Natural Balance dry food (144); Light/Weight Management dry food (143); Iams Eukanuba treats (143); Nestle Purina Chew-Eez treats (138); Del Monte Pup-Peroni treats (134); Nestle Purina Pro Plan canned food; and Iams dry food (128).

The top-indexing cat products are Mars Bonkers treats (200); Hill's Science Diet canned food (179); Light/Weight Management dry food (158); Hill's Science Diet dry food (154); Iams dry food (153); Nestle Purina Pro Plan dry food (130); Crystals cat litter (130); Mars Whiskas Homestyle Favorites (129); Iams Eukanuba dry food (125) and Clorox Fresh Step litter (123).

And the recent scandals surrounding contaminated ingredients from China in some brands notwithstanding, pets are benefiting from major brands' huge infusions of grant money to animal nutrition research programs at universities and veterinary hospitals, according to The New York Times Magazine.

Still, big-brand watchdogs take notice: "Non-industrialized," boutique upstart brands featuring natural and organic ingredients, like Righteous Dog Food, Hot Dog Charlie's Chili Meat Sauce, Spacey Tracy's Sweet Sunshine Pickles and Evanger's Premium Gold Dinners (certified kosher by the Chicago Rabbinical Council) are breeding like rabbits, the Times reports.

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