By Cathleen Enright, PhD.
There’s no denying that we have a special relationship with our pets. The positive connection between humans and their pets is well-documented. Research continues to show that, increasingly, Americans consider pets to be family members and that the younger generation of pet owners may view their dog or cat as a child.
The growing appreciation for the human-animal bond, combined with the universality of the internet and social media, is shaping how shoppers interact with pet food brands and how they make their purchasing decisions.
A recent Acosta study, “The Why? Behind the Dine,” found that 94 percent of human food consumers believe it is central to their purchasing decisions for manufacturers to be transparent about what is in the food produced, as well as how the food is made. In addition, more than half of these shoppers have sought out food produced by companies they consider socially responsible.
Unfortunately, at the same time, only 12 percent of shoppers consider food manufacturers to be the most trusted source for details on food ingredients. As a result, when people have questions about food, they are increasingly going to the internet in search of facts. According to the International Food Information Council (IFIC), consumers are more likely to go to general health websites for details about food additives than to the food manufacturer.
These combined dynamics make it imperative for all stakeholders in the pet sector to connect and communicate with this evolving customer base. The Pet Food Institute (PFI), whose members make 98 percent of all U.S. pet food and treat products, is on this journey. As the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy organization for U.S. pet food and treat makers, our member companies recognized the need to increase the industry’s role in providing factual information to pet lovers and influencers. Independent research conducted by PFI in 2015 indicated that the overwhelming majority of online searches related to pet food were proactive searches for general information and education.
PFI developed the goal of further meeting this public demand, and we also relaunched our website (www.petfoodinstitute.org) and Twitter handle (@USPetFood) in 2016 in order to serve as a reliable resource for information about pet food. Since the launch of the new resources, PFI has received more than a 250 percent increase in media inquiries and additional opportunities to discuss pet food and treats.
Among the approximately 80 million U.S. households with a dog or cat, the choice of pet food is a personal matter, just as with buying groceries for human family members. As such, beyond offering resources on pet food safety and nutrition, PFI is talking and walking our values and celebrating the benefits pets bring to our lives: our shared passion for pet wellbeing shapes PFI’s partnerships and sponsorships.
Organizations such as the Human-Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) Foundation advocate for public policies to enable more people and animals to benefit from the positive health effects of this bond by advancing research and building awareness. The positive impact of the human-animal bond is used by organizations such as Pet Partners in programs to improve the physical, emotional and psychological lives of people in need. PFI is a proud sponsor and board member of these organizations.
Of course, the strengthening relationship with companion animals impacts all parts of the broader pet sector—retailers, breeders, shelters, pet supplies, pet food and treats, ingredient makers, welfare advocates and beyond. To meet the emerging demands for information, PFI believes we all should ensure shoppers know why we get up and come to work each day. After all, pets are personal for us, too.