Retail Channel Monthly $ Update – August Final & September Advance

Time for our monthly update on U.S. retail sales by channel. The current COVID-19 crisis has caused turmoil in the Retail Marketplace. Consumer spending behavior has changed and continues to evolve. In this report we will track the changes and migration between channels. We will do that with data from two reports provided by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The Reports are the Monthly Retail Sales Report and the Advance Retail Sales Report. Both are derived from sales data gathered from retailers across the U.S. and are published monthly at the same time. The Advance Report has a smaller sample size so it can be published quickly – approximately 2 weeks after month end. The Monthly Final Report includes data from all respondents, so it takes longer to compile the data – about 6 weeks. Although the sample size for the Advance report is smaller, the results over the years have proven it to be statistically accurate with the final monthly reports. The biggest difference is that the full sample in the Final report allows us to “drill” a little deeper into the retail channels.

This means to get the full picture in our monthly channel update we need to look at the latest release of both reports. We will begin with the Final Retail Report from August and then move to the Advance Retail Report for September. This will also allow us to better track the consumers’ evolving spending behavior in terms of channel migration.

Both reports include the following:

  • Total Retail, Restaurants, Auto, Gas Stations and Relevant Retail (removing Restaurants, Auto and Gas)
  • Individual Channel Data – This will be more detailed in the “Final” reports and we fill focus on Pet Relevant Channels

The information will be presented in detailed charts to facilitate visual comparison between groups/channels of:

  • Current Month change – % & $ vs previous month
  • Current Month change – % & $ vs same month in 2019
  • Current YTD change – % & $ vs 2019
  • Monthly and Year To Date $ will also be shown for each group/channel

We’ll start with the August Final report. The retail market hit bottom in April then began a slow recovery, which peaked in $ in July. Here are the major retail groups. (The Data in all graphs is Actual, Not Seasonally Adjusted)

The final total is $0.8B more than the Advance report projected a month ago. All but Restaurants (-$0.2B) were up slightly from projections. Relevant Retail: +$0.5B; Auto:+$0.2B; Gas Stations:+$0.2B. $ales were down from the July peak in all but restaurants. However, driven by Relevant Retail, +$18B and Auto, +$2B, monthly sales were up $1.5B vs 2019.

The Spring Lift is usually over by July but the COVID crisis has pushed the timing back as monthly sales continue to beat 2019 into August. However, all but Relevant Retail continue to be down YTD vs 2019.

Now, let’s see how some Key Pet Relevant channels were doing in August.

  • Overall – Sales in 8 of 11 groups were down vs July, but 9 of 11 again showed increases vs same month in 2019.
  • Building Material Stores – This group has their biggest annual lift in Spring. This is unchanged and even stronger. While sales peaked in June, they’re still showing strong increases vs 2019. Although Sporting Goods stores are not included in this group, they have a similar Spring lift pattern. Their sales took off in May, peaked in June but continued to grow vs 2019. In June their YTD $ vs 2019 turned positive and by August they were up 9.9%.
  • Food & Drug – Despite dips in June & August, Supermarkets are maintaining incredibly strong growth vs 2019. Drug Stores $ slowed in August after strong growth in June and July but remain positive compared to 2019.
  • General Merchandise Stores – Sales in Clubs/SuperCtrs slowed in June but bounced back and are still strong vs 2019. Despite slowed sales in June>August, $ Stores are showing exceptional strength vs 2019. Discount Dept. store sales were generally slowing before the pandemic. This trend has continued despite a small Summer lift.
  • Office, Gift and Souvenir Stores – They were slow to re-open. Sales are growing, but this group was hit hard.
  • Internet/Mail Order – The pandemic has accelerated this channel’s growth vs 2019. Sales peaked in July, but the crisis has introduced many new consumers to online shopping and the behavior is likely to become habitual.
  • A/O Miscellaneous – This is a group of small to midsized specialty retailers – chains and independents. It includes Florists, Art Stores and Pet Stores (22 to 24% of total $). Pet Stores were usually essential, but most stores were not. The others began reopening in May and the number grew in June which produced an increase vs 2019. Sales peaked in June but were still strong vs 2019 which pushed YTD sales up to +9.4%.

The recovery began in May and continued in June and July as even more businesses began to re-open. The Relevant Retail Segment turned positive in all measurements in May and stayed that way through July. In August, sales fell vs July but were still strong vs 2019. The key drivers in producing positive numbers vs 2019 were the Internet, Supermarkets, SuperCtrs/Clubs/$ Stores and Hdwe/Farm.  How things are progressing? Here are the Advance numbers for September.

April and May were the 2 biggest spending drops in history. In June, monthly sales turned positive for the first time since February. In July the recovery continued. However, it flattened out in Aug/Sept leaving Total Retail still down -$37B YTD.

Total Retail – Total Retail spending fell -$15.5B vs August but was up +7.1% vs September 2019. In February 2020 sales were up $60B, +6.6% YTD versus 2019. Then came COVID-19. Hopefully, we hit bottom at -$112B in May. We began moving in the right direction but have stalled in September, still -$37B YTD and -$97B from February.

Restaurants – The Spending lift ended, down -$1.8B from August and -$8.6B vs September 2019. Things remain Topsy Turvy. August is usually their biggest $ month of the year. January and February, normally the 2 slowest months, are on top in 2020. In February YTD sales were up $9B. Then came the forced closures. Re-openings began in May but ran into problems in the Summer. Delivery/Pickup can’t make up the difference as spending is now down $115.5B YTD.

Automobile & Gas Stations – When you are staying home your car becomes less of a focus in your life. Auto Dealers, both new and used, began combating this attitude with some fantastic deals and a lot of advertising. Monthly $ turned positive versus 2019 in June and have maintained this pace through September. Although sales are down $14.5B YTD, they are up $34.4B vs 2019 in the last 4 months. Gas Station $ales increased in May, June and July over the previous month, but fell in August & September (-$61.9B YTD) People are still not driving as much, for commuting or road trips.

Relevant Retail – Less Auto, Gas and Restaurants – Many non-essential businesses began to shutter their doors in March but there was also a rash of binge/panic buying for “necessities” and a big lift in groceries as consumers focused on home cooking which drove spending up $19B. April brought a full month of closures and an end in binge buying, spending dropped $34B from March. In May, the overall market began to reopen so spending began to move in the right direction. In June and July the $ growth continued but fell in August & September. However, the monthly June>September $ are larger than all months in 2019 but December. The primary drivers have been Nonstore, Grocery and SuperCenters/Clubs & $ Stores along with an enhanced spring lift from the Hardware/Farm and Sporting Goods channels. The Relevant Retail group now has posted positive numbers versus last year and year to date for 5 consecutive months and is up $154.9B YTD (+5.8%) vs 2019. In July it was up +4.9%.

Now let’s look at what is happening in the individual retail channels across America. In September, consumer spending in the relevant retail market grew even more positive versus 2019. Let’s see where the $ came from. These groups are less defined than in the Final Monthly reports and we will look across the whole market, not just pet relevant outlets.

In July, 11 of 13 channels beat last month’s $. In September it was down to only 3. In July, 10 channels beat July 2019. In August, this number was down to 7. By September, the number was back to 10. However, in YTD numbers, 8 are still showing an increase.  The YTD decreases are coming from channels that are primarily nonessential businesses.

After a full month of stay at home and widespread closures there was a surge in May. Things truly opened up in June and July and sales continued to increase. In August and September, they slowed slightly but YTD Relevant Retail Channels are up $154.9B vs 2019. The essential channels are responsible for the YTD lift vs 2019, primarily:

  • Nonstore Retailers – Even more consumers are online shopping.
  • Food & Beverage, especially Grocery– Restaurant $ are still down so consumers continue to eat & drink at home.
  • Bldg Materials/Garden/Farm – A big Spring lift continues through the Summer as consumers focus on their home.
  • SuperCtrs/Club/Value/$ Strs – Sales slowed in April but came back in May and continue to grow vs 2019. This group turned the whole Gen Mdse channel positive. It clearly shows that value is still a consumer priority.

Regarding the Individual Large Channels

General Merchandise Stores – Regular Department stores are reopening which has cut the losses for total Department Stores as Discount Department stores continue to slowly fade. Club/SuperCtr/$ stores provided the big positive force. In April consumers dialed back their panic buying and spending on discretionary items was also down significantly. Since May we have seen consumer spending return to a more normal pattern in the big and small stores that promise value.

Food and Beverage, plus Health & Personal Care Stores – The Grocery segment is still driven by increased Food sales due to a slow restart by restaurants, up 10.5%, +$5.8B in September. Monthly Sales in the Health, Personal Care group are up vs 2019 since June. In August and September, the YTD $ turned positive. Drug Store $ growth was a key factor.

Clothing and Accessories; Electronic & Appliances; Home Furnishings – After four consecutive months of growth, Sales Slowed in September. Home Furnishing is the best performer with a slight increase vs August and 3 consecutive monthly increases vs 2019. However, all 3 channels are down significant percentages in YTD sales. Clothing Stores are by far the worst performers. In September they were down 12.0% vs September 2019 and 32.6% YTD.

Building Material, Farm & Garden & Hardware – Sales peaked in the Spring. However, this channel continues to benefit from consumers turning their focus to their home needs, including house and yard repair and improvements. This has increased and extended their Spring lift to Summer. $ were up 23.4% vs September 2019 and up +$37.3B (+12.8%) YTD.

Sporting Goods, Hobby and Book Stores – Book and Hobby stores are open and sales in Sporting Goods stores have taken off as Consumers again sought outdoor recreation. Although September sales fell again from their June peak, they were up 18.3% vs September 2019. YTD sales were down $3.4B in April. In September, this deficit was wiped out as YTD $ were +$0.6B (+1.1%).

All Miscellaneous Stores – This group is mostly small to medium specialty stores – both chains and independents. Pet Stores are essential but most other stores are not, so closures hit this group particularly hard. Sales began to rebound in May and grew through July when they finally beat the monthly sales for 2019. In August and September sales were mixed. Back In February, this group was up $2.6B YTD. Through July,  they were down -$3.2B but moving in the right direction. After a Slow August they are again moving back on track, -$2.7B. However, they have a long road ahead.

NonStore Retailers – 90% of the volume of this group comes from Internet/Mail Order/TV businesses. The COVID-19 crisis has only accelerated the ongoing movement to online retail. In February NonStore was up 8.6% YTD. Despite falling -4.2% from the July $ peak, they are up 20.5%, +$114.3B YTD. Their increase is 74% of the total $ increase for Relevant Retail Channels. They are the clear leader, and their performance far exceeds their 12.9% annual increase in 2019. Since much of their annual increase comes from holiday sales, 2020 could be another great year for NonStore Retailers.

Note: Almost without exception, online sales by brick ‘n mortar retailers are recorded along with their store sales in their regular channel. Whether they are up or down, their online sales are included in the totals.

Recap – April and May saw the 2 biggest year over year monthly sales declines in history. Restaurants, Auto and Gas Stations increased sales from May through July. By September, all had decreased sales. The Auto segment is  showing positive monthly numbers vs 2019 but Restaurants and Gas Stations are still struggling. The Relevant Retail segment has been the only true positive. Although August/September sales were lower than July, monthly and YTD sales vs 2019 are up for 5 consecutive months. However, for many segments in this group there is still a long way to go. In July Total Retail was positive for the second consecutive month but it has turned down since then. We saw a resurgence of the virus and retail restrictions were reimposed in many areas, which contributed to sales declining from July. This is going to be a long battle with no end in sight. We will continue to monitor the data and provide you with regular updates.






Total Pet spending fell slightly to $78.44B in 2019, a $0.16B (-0.2%) decrease from 2018. The Supplies segment was  the driving force in this decrease as spending dropped to $16.81B, down $2.98B (-15.1%). (Note: All numbers in this report come from or are calculated by using data from the US BLS Consumer Expenditure Surveys)

After flat spending in the 2nd half of 2018, spending turned sharply down in the 1st half of 2019 then continued to decline in the 2nd half. 2019 wiped out 60% of a 24 month $5B gain in this segment. In this report we’ll “drill down” into the data to try to determine what and who are “behind” the huge drop in 2019 Pet Supplies Spending.

In 2019, the average household spent $127.15 on Supplies, down 15.6% from $150.62 in 2018. (Note: A 2019 Pet CU (67%) Spent $189.78) This doesn’t exactly match the -15.1% total $ decrease. Here are the specific details:

  • 0.6% more CU’s
  • Spent 2.9% less $
  • 13.1% less often

Let’s start with a visual overview. The chart below shows recent Supplies spending history.

Since the great recession, spending trends in the Supplies segment have been all about price – the CPI. Although many supplies are needed by Pet Parents, when they are bought and how much you spend is often discretionary. Additionally, many of the product categories in this segment are now considered commodities, so price is the main driver behind consumer purchasing behavior. When prices fall, consumers are more likely to buy more. When they go up, consumers spend less and/or buy less frequently.

2014 was the third consecutive year of deflation in Supplies as prices reached a level not seen since 2007. Consumers responded with a spending increase of over $2B. Prices stabilized and then moved up in 2015.

In 2015 we saw how the discretionary aspect of the Supplies segment can impact spending in another way. Consumers spent $5.4B for a food upgrade and cut back on Supplies – swapping $. This, in conjunction with inflation, caused supplies to suffer as consumers spent 4.1% less, but they bought 10% less often. That drop in purchase frequency drove $1.6B (78%) of the $2.1B decrease in Supplies spending.

In 2016, supplies’ prices flattened out and consumers value shopped for their upgraded food. Supplies spending stabilized and began to increase in the second half. In 2017 supplies prices deflated, reaching a new post-recession low. The consumers responded with a huge $2.74B increase in Supplies spending that was widespread across demographic segments. An important factor in the lift was an increase in purchase frequency which was within 5% of the 2014 rate.

In 2018 prices started to move up in April and rapidly increased later in the year due to the impact of new tariffs. By December, Supplies prices were 3.3% higher than a year ago. This explains the initial growth and pull back in spending.

In 2019 we saw the full impact of the tariffs. Prices continued to increase. By yearend they were up 5.7% from the Spring of 2018 and spending plummeted -$2.98B. The major factor in the drop was a 13.1% decrease in purchasing frequency.

That gives us an overview of the situation. Now let’s look at the “who” behind the numbers. First, we’ll look at spending by income level, the most influential demographic in Pet Spending.

National: $127.15 per CU (-15.6%) – $16.81B – Down $2.98B (-15.1%).

In 2019 the Supplies spending decrease was widespread across income groups.

  • <$30K (27.0% of CU’s)- $56.56 per CU (-19.3%) $2.02B– Down $0.63B (-23.6%). This group is very price sensitive as is evidenced by the big drop in CU spending. This, in combination with 5% fewer CUs put them below 2015 $.
  • $30K>70K (31.5% of CU’s)- $102.57 per CU (-20.7%) $4.27B- Down $0.99 (-18.8%). This big, lower income group closely matches both the national pattern and that of the $150K+ group. The tariff prices had a big impact. Until 2019 they were the leader in Total Supplies Spending $.
  • $70>$100K (14.5% of CU’s) – $149.41 per CU (-1.0%) – $2.86B- Down $0.02B (-0.8%). This middle-income group has been very consistent in Supplies spending which continued in 2019, as they had by far the smallest decrease.
  • $100K>$150K (13.8% of CU’s) – $171.00 per CU (-22.2%) – $3.12B- Down $0.67B (-17.7%). This higher income group is also price sensitive as they had the biggest % drop in CU spending which was mitigated by 6% more CUs.
  • $150K> (13.3% of CU’s) – $259.55 /CU (-17.1%) – $4.55B- Down $0.67B (-12.9%). The $150>199K group had the biggest drop, but $200K+ CUs also spent less. Money matters in Supplies, but strong inflation can impact anyone.

The $70>99K group had a very small decrease and the $30>39K group actually spent $0.09B more on Supplies. However, 2019 demonstrated that price is a key factor to almost everyone in a discretionary segment like Supplies.

Now, we’ll look at spending by Age Group.

National: $127.15 per CU (-15.6%) – $16.81B – Down $2.98B (-15.1%).

It’s simple. All groups over 25 yrs old spent less on Supplies. The under 25, “Gen Z” CUs spent more. Here are the details.

  • 55>64 (18.6% of CU’s) $162.59 /CU (-8.4%) – $3.99B – Down $0.35B (-8.1%). In 2017 these Boomers found the lowest Supplies prices since 2007 very alluring. They got on board. When prices turned sharply up in the 2nd half of 2018, the growth stalled. Spending fell in 2019 as 0.3% more CU’s spent 2.9% more on Supplies, 11.0% less often. However, they were the only group to spend more per transaction and became #1 in Total Supplies $.
  • 45>54 (16.8% of CU’s) $168.54 per CU (-13.8%) – $3.76BDown $0.75B (-16.7%). Until 2019, this highest income age group had been the leader in Supplies spending since 2007. Fewer CU’s (-3.3%) spent 5.6% less on supplies, 8.7% less often. They did have the smallest drop in frequency, but fewer CUs cost them the top $ spot.
  • 35>44 (16.9% of CU’s) $144.96 per CU (-21.3%) – $3.24B; Down $0.82B (-20.1%) This group is second in income and overall expenditures but also has the biggest families. After 3 strong years, the sharply rising prices had a big impact, especially in frequency. 1.5% more CU’s spent 4.3% less $, 17.8% less often.
  • 25<34 (16.1% of CU’s) $102.62 per CU (-22.7%) – $2.18B; Down $0.65B (-22.9%). After trading Supplies $ for upgraded Food and Vet Care in 2016, these Millennials turned their attention back to Supplies. The rising prices hit them hard and 2019 spending is below 2015. 0.3% fewer CU’s spent 8.9% less on supplies, 15.1% less often.
  • 65>74 (14.9% of CU’s) $94.11 per CU (-22.9%) – $1.86B –Down $0.50B (-21.2%). This older group is very price sensitive. When prices turned up in 2018, they immediately cut back on spending. This continued into 2019 and they are also now below 2015 $. 2.1% more CU’s spent 8.8% less, 15.4% less often.
  • 75> (11.2% of CU’s) $62.72 per CU (-17.3%) – $0.93B, Down $0.11B (-10.8%). This group is truly price sensitive as they spend 12% more than they earn. They began to cut back on spending in the 2nd half of 2018 and this behavior continued throughout 2019. 7.9% more CU’s spent 3.0% less, 14.8% less often.
  • <25 (5.5% of CUs) $118.29/CU (+34.1%) $0.87B- Up $0.20B (+29.5%) 3.4% fewer CUs spent 26.9% more $, 5.7% more often. The lift came in the 2nd half and may be due to indulgence. They spent more on Supplies than Food.

The impact of the price increase was also readily apparent in this category. Only the smallest group. <25 yrs, spent more.

Next, let’s take a look at some other key demographic “movers” in 2019 Pet Supplies Spending. The segments that are outlined in black “flipped” from 1st to last or vice versa from 2018. The red outline stayed the same.

The widespread impact of the increased prices due to the added tariffs is immediately apparent. In 9 of the 12 demographic categories all segments spent less on Supplies in 2019. It gets even worse. There are 96 separate segments in the complete demographic database. The 3 “winning” segments with plus $ on the chart are the only positives in the entire group. That means that 96.9% of all demographic segments spent less on Supplies in 2019.

6 Segments flipped from first to last and there are other typical big spenders also on the bottom, like Managers & Professionals, Gen X and 2 person CUs.

On the “winning” side there are some extreme rarities like those with no High School Diploma, Service Workers, African Americans, under 25 years old and “Other” Married Couples. The $30>39K group is an occasional winner because this is the average income of Retirees. However, in 2019 Retirees spent 19.5% less on Supplies.

There is really no in depth analysis needed. The skyrocketing “Tarifflation” drove Supplies Spending down across all of America. According to US BLS historical data, Supplies spending has decreased in 15 years since 1984. However, the $2.98B drop in 2019 is the biggest in history, by 21%. Tariffs are paid for by American consumers, except when they choose not to buy or slow their frequency, then American businesses pay.





2019 U.S. PET FOOD SPENDING $31.19B…Up ↑$2.35B

In 2019 The Pet Industry was a mixed bag. Total spending fell slightly to $78.44B, down $0.16B (-0.2%). Food recovered from the impact of the FDA grain free warning. Veterinary had another modest increase and the Services segment was basically stable. The big downside was Supplies, where we saw the full impact of tariffs. Here are the specifics:

  • Pet Food – $31.19B; Up $2.35B (+8.1%)
  • Pets & Supplies – $16.81B; Down $2.98B (-15.1%)
  • Veterinary – $21.80B; Up $0.58B (+2.7%)
  • Pet Services – $8.62B; Down $0.10B (-1.1%)

The industry truly is a “sum” of its integral segments and each segment has very specific and often very different buying behavior from the many consumer demographic segments. For this reason, we’re going to analyze each of the industry segments first. This will put the final analysis of Total Pet Spending into better perspective. Note: The numbers in this report come from or are calculated by using data from the current and past US BLS Consumer Expenditure Surveys. In 2019, this was gathered by the U.S. Census Bureau from over 42,000 interviews and spending diaries. The final data was then compiled and published by the US BLS.

We will start with the largest Segment, Pet Food (and Treats). In 2019 Pet Food Spending totaled $31.19B in the U.S., a $2.35B (+8.1%) increase from 2018. This was the 4th largest increase in history. It’s interesting that 3 of the 4 greatest $ increases and the 2 biggest $ decreases have all occurred in the last 5 years. The current trend in high priced, super premium foods magnifies the results of any changes in consumer purchasing behavior. As you recall, in earlier research we discovered a distinct, long term pattern in Pet Food Spending. In 2018 we broke that pattern. We’ll see what develops in the future. Take a look at Pet Food Spending since 1997 in full Retail Dollars and adjusted for inflation.

The pattern began in 1997. Retail Pet Food Spending increases for 2 consecutive years then reaches a plateau year or even drops. There was a notable exception in the period from 2006 to 2010. During this time, there were two traumas which directly impacted the Pet Food Retail market. The first was the Melamine recall, which resulted in radically increased prices as consumers insisted on made in USA products with all USA ingredients. The second affected everyone – the great Recession in 2009. This was the first time that annual U.S. retail spending had declined since 1956. The net result was that the plateau period was extended to include both 2009 and 2010.

Pet Food seems to be driven by short term trends. A new food trend catches the consumers’ attention and grows…for 2 years. Then sales plateau or even drop…and we’re on to the next “must have”. The changes became more pronounced in recent years and the whole situation has gotten even more complicated since 2014. Due to an unprecedented level of competition, Food prices deflated through 2018. Then they jumped up +2.9% in 2019, the biggest increase since 2009.

After consumers choose to upgrade to a more expensive pet food, their #1 priority becomes, “Where can I buy it for less?” The internet entered this battle in a big way and “value shopping” was a major contributing factor in the big spending drop in 2016 and its influence continues to grow.

In 2017, according to the 20-year pattern, we should have been beginning a new trend. There was the expected lift in Pet Food spending but what was the new “must have” type! There were some possible candidates, but nothing stood out. A deeper dive into the data showed that the $4B increase in Pet Food spending in 2017 didn’t come from a new trend. It came from a deeper demographic penetration of Super Premium foods. Value shopping in a highly competitive market, especially on the internet had made Super Premium pet foods more accessible to a broad swath of consumers.

Like Pet Food, human behavior has changed over the years in regard to our pets. In the 90’s, Pet Owners became Pet Parents. Then, after the turn of the century we began truly humanizing our pets. This movement is very accurately reflected in the evolution of Pet Food. We became increasingly more conscious of fulfilling the health needs of our pets, beginning with the first move to premium foods in 2004. This ramped up considerably after the Melamine scare in 2007. Now consumers read pet food labels, research ingredients and expect their pet foods to meet the same quality standards as the best human foods. This was very evident in 2018. It should have been a year of increased spending but the consumers’ reaction to the FDA grain free warning threw the pattern out the window.

In 2019 Pet Food spending posted a strong recovery. Let’s look at some specifics to see where the lift came from. In 2019, the average U.S. Household (pet & non-pet) spent a total of $236.26 on Pet Food. This was an 7.4% increase from the $219.92 spent in 2018. This doesn’t exactly “add up” to the 8.1% increase in total Food Spending. With additional data provided from the US BLS, here is what happened.

  • 0.7% more U.S. households
  • Spent 12.2% more $
  • 4.2% less often

By the way, if 67% of U.S. CU’s are pet parents then their annual Pet Food Spending is $352.63. Let’s look at a rolling history of Pet Food Spending since 2013.

Pet Food Spending fell in 2013 and continued down in the first half of 2014. This corresponds to the beginning of a  general deflation which continued through 2018 in this segment. During deflation, in a “need” category like Food, you don’t buy more, you just spend less. The spectacular lift in Pet Food Spending beginning in the second half of 2014 came from a fundamental change in spending behavior. Consumers began to buy more Super Premium Food and Med/Supplements in Treat form, all of which cost more.

An increasing number of consumers chose to upgrade their Pet Food and spending peaked in 2015. Then spending began to fall in the first half of 2016 and the decline intensified in the second half. At first it appeared that consumers were backing down on the upgrade. As it turns out, they were just applying the #1 driver in their buying behavior since the great recession – price (75%). They began shopping for value and there were plenty of bargains to be found.

In 2017 Pet Food spending registered the second largest increase in history. It was time to begin a new “trend”, but this big lift was unusual. Usually the biggest increase comes in the 2nd year of a cycle. There also was no clear product focus.

Looking deeper into the data we discovered that it was not a new food trend. It was a deeper demographic penetration of Super Premium. Higher education and higher income have driven recent food trends. However, the highly price competitive market had made these high-priced foods more accessible to Blue Collar workers and those without college degrees. Baby Boomers in these groups, with their strong commitment to their pets, responded in a big way, +$3.8B.

After such a big lift in year 1, the 2018 increase was expected to be small and the first half started out that way, +$0.25B. Then the bottom dropped out in the second half of the year as spending fell -$2.51B, the biggest half year decrease in history. In July of 2018, the FDA issued a warning about the possible connection between DCM and grain free dog food. This was frightening and one suggestion was to move back to standard foods, which apparently many people did.

In the beginning of 2019 Total Pet Food spending stabilized as some doubts were raised about the validity of the warning. In the second half of the year Food Spending increased +$2.3B. Some Pet Parents began to return to the topline Super Premium Foods. In some cases, they opted for even more expensive varieties. We also saw some new groups get on board the Super Premium “Express”.

The growth of Pet Food spending since 2014 reflects the rise of Super Premium but also another trend – the spectacular increase in the number and use of Pet Medications and Supplements, which are often produced in the form of treats. Together, the strength of these 3 Pet Food product subcategories reflect the Pet Parents’ absolute number 1 current concern – the health, wellbeing and safety of their Pet Children, which starts with the quality of their food.

Now let’s look at some specific 2019 Pet Food Spending Demographics. First, we’ll look at income. Prior to 2014 it was a less dominant factor in Food spending. However, the move to Super Premium has brought it more to the forefront. In 2017, with competitive pricing and the consumers’ commitment to pet health, Super Premium drove spending growth in every major income group. In 2018 we had the FDA warning which affected almost all groups. In 2019 the category recovered to 2017 levels, but income once again became a key factor in the rebound. In this chart we will show the annual spending from 2015 through 2019. This will put the 2019 numbers into better perspective.

2019 National Numbers: $236.26 per CU (+7.4%); $31.19B; Up $2.39B (+8.1%); 2015>2019 – Up $1.70B (+5.8%)

There is a clear income divide which is even more defined than the graph indicates. All groups below $40K spent less. All over $40K spent more. Prices inflated 2.9% which may have impacted low income groups.

Here are 2019 specifics:

  • Under $30K: (27.0% of CU’s) – $120.17 per CU (-0.7%) – $4.04B – Down $0.23B (-5.3%). Obviously, this group is very price sensitive. It is also getting smaller. The number of CU’s was down 5.4% in 2019 and 13.1% since 2015. This decrease masks the true food situation. While their Total Food spending is lower than 2015, their Avg CU spending on food is unchanged. The Total is being driven down by the declining number of CUs. Even this lowest income group remains committed to their pets.
  • $30K>$70K: (31.5% of CU’s) – $191.66 per CU (-5.4%) – $8.15B – Down $0.40B (-4.7%). The spending for this group usually matches the national pattern. However, they broke it in 2019. Retirees’ average income is $30>39K. Their Food spending drop due to the FDA warning was slow – 2019, rather than 2018. They are a large, fast growing group. The $40>69K group was up +$0.40B. $30>39K spent -$0.80B less, turning the whole large group negative.
  • $70K>$99K: (14.5% of CU’s) – $306.19 per CU (+13.3%) – $5.90B – Up $0.62B (+11.8%). The Pet Food Spending for this group had been very stable. In 2017, this changed as they got “on board” with the Super Premium Pet Food upgrade. They also became more sensitive, reacting to the FDA warning in 2018, then bouncing back in 2019.
  • $100K>$149K: (13.8% of CU’s) – $309.94 per CU (+8.5%) – $5.92B – Up $0.74B (+14.2%) They have a high income but also large families, so they are very value conscious. Their spending matches the national pattern. You can see their sensitivity to trends/changes by their large annual swings in spending.
  • $150K> (13.3% of CU’s) – $409.78 per CU (+18.4%) – $7.19B – Up $1.61B (+29.0%). 91% are college grads so they saw the value of Super Premium food very early. They were the only group to spend more on Pet Food in 2018. Their reaction to the FDA warning was to buy even more expensive food and this behavior is growing in 2019.

In 2018, the decrease in Pet Food spending was widespread across incomes. In fact, groups totaling 83.9% of all U.S. households spent less on Pet Food. In 2019, the “rebound” spending increase only happened for households with incomes above $40K, 61.4%. As we have fully moved into the era of Super Premium, Pet Food spending is becoming more tied to income. Now, Spending by Age Group…

2019 National Numbers: $236.26 per CU (+7.4%); $31.19B; Up $2.39B (+8.1%); 2015>2019 – Up $1.70B (+5.8%)

For Pet Food spending, the youngest group was on the outside, with the only spending decrease. They gave back their big lift in 2018. The three highest income age groups (35>64) spent $2.41B more, led by the 45>54 Gen Xers.

  • 45>54 (16.8% of CU’s) – $316.22 per CU (+23.7%) – $7.09B – Up $1.20B (+20.4%) This group is #1 in income and total CU expenditures. Up until 2015 they were #1 in Pet Food spending. They bought premium food but didn’t “buy in” to Super Premium until 2017. They were negatively impacted by the FDA warning, but they rebounded stronger than any other group. In fact, they took the lead in average CU Pet Food spending.
  • 55>64 (18.6% of CU’s) – $306.58 per CU (+13.6%) – $7.54B – Up $0.81B (+12.0%). This group (all Baby Boomers) has been at the forefront of recent major spending swings. In 2015 many of them upgraded to Super Premium. In 2016 this group looked for and found a better price. In 2017 they led a deeper penetration of the upgrade. In 2018 they had a -$3.5B reaction to the FDA warning. They spent more in 2019 but their comeback was far short. In fact, their Pet Food spending in 2019 is -$2.48B (-24.8%) below 2015. They only spent the most Food $ because of more CUs.
  • 35<44 (16.9% of CU’s) – $226.83 per CU (+7.7%) – $4.99B – Up $0.40B (+8.8%) They are 2nd in income and CU spending but have the biggest families. Value shopping is a way of life and their spending pattern tends to be less volatile. They opted in for Super Premium in 2017, held their ground in 2018 and are back on a growth track in 2019.
  • 65>74 (14.9% of CU’s) – $251.14 per CU (-0.2%) – $4.89B – Up $0.09B (+1.8%). This group is 90% Boomers and growing (+2.1%). They are starting to retire but many are still working (0.7 per CU). They tend to lag behind in response to industry trends. Pets are a priority as they spend 1.04% of their total CU expenditures on their pets.
  • 75> (11.2% of CU’s) – $148.54 per CU (+2.5%) – $2.02B – Up $0.11B (+5.9%). Both the effort and the expense of Pet Parenting become issues as we reach 75+. However, they remain committed to their Pets and high quality food.
  • 25>34 (16.1% of CU’s) – $175.43 per CU (-3.9%) – $3.91B – Up +$0.10B (+2.5%) In recent years their spending pattern has foreshadowed the overall market for the following year. Their spending lift in 2018 predicted the overall increase in 2019. However, the 2020 projection is questionable. They spent less per CU. The 2019 increase came only from more CUs. Another situation should be noted. They are the most stable in spending. That is surprising.
  • <25 (5.5% of CU’s) – $98.91 per CU (-26.9%) – $0.76B – Down -$0.36B (-32.4%) After a spectacular 2018, they radically cut spending and the number of CUs fell -3.3%. It appears that fewer Gen Zers are moving out from their parents homes. Except for 2018, their pet food spending has been consistently low. In 2019 they were one of only 2 groups that actually spent less than they did in 2015.

The situation in the age groups is even simpler than in the income groups. Every group over 25 (94.5%) spent more on Pet Food in 2019. The other significant event was that the title for top Pet Food spending CU was passed from young Baby Boomers to old Gen Xers. The Boomers will inevitably fade but it will take a long time. Look at the ongoing strong performance by the 65>74 year olds. Next year this group will be 100% Boomers.

We need to drill deeper. Let’s take a look at the segments with the biggest change in spending in 12 categories. The segments that are outlined “flipped” from 1st to last or vice versa from 2018. The red outline stayed the same.

2017 was a spectacular year of growth as Super Premium became very demographically widespread across America. The impact of the FDA grain free warning was very apparent in 2018. It was the year of the “flip” as 11 of 12 winning segments in 2017 became the biggest losers in 2018. There were 4 others who moved from last to first. Only the South maintained their position at the bottom of the Regions.

2019 looked a lot more normal. There was not a strict recovery of 2018 losses as only 3 segments moved from last to first. Of note, the South finally made it to the top. Only 2 flipped from first to last and 4 maintained their position – 3 at the top and 1 on the bottom. The 2019 lift in Food spending was widespread as 75% of 96 demographic segments posted an increase. The winners and losers included plenty of the “usual suspects”:

Winners: White-Not Hisp, 2 Earner, Homeowner w/Mtg, <2500 pop., Self-employed, $150>199K & Married Couple Only

Losers: Hispanic, Renters, Ctr City, Oldest Generation, Less than HS Grads, <25 yrs, 5+ People, Single Parents

On the “up” side we should also note High School Grad Only as winners. This is further evidence that Super Premium is reaching even deeper into the marketplace. We also should give credit to Gen Xers (45>54 yr olds) for taking the lead in increased spending and average spent per CU.

We also see evidence of the lag time in spending behavior for Retirees ($30>39K). They had a negative reaction to the FDA warning in 2019. Virtually everyone else reacted in the second half of 2018.

2019 was a strong year as spending returned to more normal behavior. We’ll see what happens in the 2020 pandemic.