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How much do we spend on pet food and gifts?

Spoiler: It’s more than you might think!

pet food and toys


I find the history of pet food retailing fascinating, from the origins of wet dog food being a result of surplus horse meat after the automobile took over, to how there are only really five large pet food companies. That’s right, the premium cat food with a picture of a pure-white fluff-ball is made by the same company making the cheap stuff in bulk under a totally different brand name. And you might recognise some of those companies – Mars, General Mills, Colgate-Palmolive, Smuckers (the jam company). Nestle for example own Purina, Fancy Feast, Friskies and quite a few more.

But the market is changing, and human and pet food markets are experiencing some fascinating overlaps. Premium pet food continues to ascend as 85% of dog owners consider their pet to be a member of the family (Pew Research). Increasingly health-conscious consumers are extending their concerns to their pet, decreasingly concerned with cost and more about high-quality food, according to Nielsen’s 2016 consumer report. The annual household pet food spend among pet owners increasing 36% between 2007 and 2017. So too are allergies and intolerances more on owners’ radar, with a 75% increase in the demand for hypoallergenic food blends for dog food since 2016 according to dog nutrition service

Bar chart showing a steady rise in sales every year.
Natural and organic pet food sales in the United States from 2009 to 2019 (in billion U.S. dollars) – Statista

Lily’s Kitchen CEO Henrietta Morrison says: “We are becoming a nation of foodies and more aware of nutrition and the impact it has on our wellbeing. Pets are family and we want to do the very best for them.”

And yet while spend is up, expensive pet foods aren’t any healthier than cheap ones. “If you buy commercial pet foods at all, you are buying ingredients that humans do not want to eat,” according to Marion Nestle and Malden Nesheim, authors of Feed Your Pet Right.

Then there are seasonal sales. I tell my consulting clients in retail about how they can go from event to event. Halloween October, Thanksgiving November, Christmas December, Valentines February. Grinches look away because according to People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) Animal Wellbeing (PAW) report in 2015, 62% of pet owners treat their pet on Christmas, 25% on their birthday and 40% give their pet a celebratory meal for special occasions (45% in’s Cost of Dog Ownership Survey 2019 survey), feeding (pun!) into this segment of the market. The National Retail Federation report that 20% of Americans buy products for their pets on Valentines Day, spending just shy of $7, though this number is increasing, already up 60% since 2008. 33% have spent $250 on a gift for their pup (Rover). Let’s not forget that April is National Pet Month! It runs from April 1 to May 10. Wait, what?

No wonder consumers underestimate how much owning a pet is setting them back. Rover’s survey found that people estimate they spend $26 to $75 a month, yet they were actually spending $153 a month on average. (Anecdotally, a friend’s recent Great Dane adoption confirms this. He is also definitely one of the 67% of millennials who refers to their pet as their “fur baby.”) And yes, we spend more on dogs than cats – $1285/year and $915 respectively, according to an Ameritrade research on millennials.

So just remember, next time you buy your pooch a massage, know that 25% of Rover survey respondents have done the same (Rover).

Further reading:

Not used as a reference in this article:

  • Dog Food Market Strategies & Nutritional Requirements | Envision Intelligence. They’ve been lazy making their pie charts, making them monochrome, not ordering wedges by size, not including values, and completely forgetting to include figures. “The dog food market is growing at XX%”. You’ll notice in the above article I reference every study directly – not many blogs or media articles do. I’m also exclusively using reputable sources.

What do you think?

Written by David Frank

David Frank is a Seattle-based marketer, writer (co-founder of Good/Bad Marketing) and public speaker. Originally from Perth, Western Australia, he has also lived in the UK, Japan and Vietnam. He has a Master of Science in Marketing degree from Edinburgh Napier University, Scotland.

He tours talks on marketing for the general public. His current talks are:
- Dangerous Products: The History and Present of Products NOT Safe to Consume
- Sensory Marketing and the Subtle Science of Packaging
- Sex, Love & Marketing: How To Market Yourself On Online Dating Sites​
- How to Market Tobacco (Despite Those Pesky Advertising Bans)
Learn more at

In his spare time, David is an avid gardener.

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