Pet food market segmentation: 9 bite-sized pet market demographics

Your guide to pet food market segmentation: from pet type to price and location, here's how to reach pet owners through market research and consumer profiling.

There’s nothing pet owners love more than watching their dog devour its treats, or their cat inelegantly hoovering up its favorite meal. If you’ve ever shopped for pet food, you know that they are a lot picker than you’d expect a non-verbal creature to be—and that there’s a lot (a lot!) to choose from. 

The pet food market is a competitive one and is constantly adapting to the changing needs of pet owners, and better adapting to what pets really need to be as healthy as they are adorable.

In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into the pet food market: which pet owners spend more on their furry friends: dog owners or cat owners? Is vegan pet food really a thing? What are pet food manufacturers experimenting with? How are we taking care of pet health? And how can you use this information as part of consumer profiling?

More specifically, we’ll look at the way the pet food market is segmented, to give you fresh inspiration for new pet food products, or to learn how to better adapt to your target group.

Pet food market segmentation

The pet food market is not segmented as straightforwardly as many people assume. There are a lot more categories in pet food than dry pet food or wet foods, and it’s certainly true that not all pets have the same preferences. Let’s take a look at how the pet food market can be divided. 

1. Type of owner: newbie, specialist, big-spender or simple treats?

Let’s face it: pets don’t buy their own food. If they did, it would probably be the cutest thing ever to watch, but also marketing mayhem. 

Owners ultimately decide what they deem is best for their furry or feathery or scaly friends. If someone’s new to having a pet, they will want to go for the safest option, or experiment a lot with finding what their pet wants. 

If someone’s taking care of a lot of pets, they might go for more practical pet food solutions, for instance in bulk. Then there are the people who can’t help but pamper their pets and always have a treat in their pocket. And the ones who are careful with the diet of their pet. 

Some people shop at specialized pet shops, others at the supermarket, some through subscriptions—and yet another category gathers ingredients themselves to create homemade pet food products. 

Keeping in mind that people take care of their pets with different degrees of experience and needs can help you in positioning your pet food product. 

2. Types of food: do they deserve a treat?

Much like us humans, pets also enjoy a snack in between your Zoom meetings. They might not all have three meals a day like their owners do, but there are specific ‘larger meal’ foods out there in the pet food market. One of the easiest ways to divide pet foods is into snacks or meals.

3. Type of animal: don’t feed the fish to the cat

Of course, your chatty parrot and forgetful fish won’t have the same needs when it comes to food (and a lot of other things, for that matter). That’s why pet food is usually always divided by species. 

Ideally, you don’t feed dogs the same things as cats—even though they’d probably go for more or less the same things when living in the wild. While a little bit of cat food won’t kill a dog, it can certainly upset their stomach—and owners want to avoid a mess. So, for health reasons, food is arranged by species.

4. Pet size: they’ll always be a lapdog to you (just a lot hungrier)

Different sized animals don’t just need different portions—they often also simply have different nutritional needs. 

Take dog foods, for example. Big, heavy dogs are more likely to need a lot more support for instance than itsy-bitsy chihuahuas. Pet food companies adjust their recipes based on distinctions like these.

5. Pet age: their real age, not in dog years

A baby doesn’t eat the same as a teenager, and the same goes for puppies and dogs, and kittens and cats.

A pet’s age determines what kinds of nutrients it needs. A pet that is still young and growing has specific needs. An adult pet is fine with a more stable, balanced diet. And when they get old, a lot of pets need food that is easier to digest and supports them in dealing with issues that come with old age. 

6. Pet’s health, food allergies and diet: avoid a mess

Pets can have allergies, too. These, and other health issues, can determine what kind of diet they need to follow. There are often specific foods to avoid or add to their diet, and it also helps to think in categories like wet, dry and organic.

Sometimes pets gain a little more weight than is considered healthy, too. For these animals, there are often ‘light’ versions of their favorite foods to help them reach their goal weight.

7. Source of ingredients: where did the food come from?

We humans are starting to pay closer attention to where our food is coming from, and we’re increasingly doing that for our pets’ food as well. That’s why pet food can also be divided into categories like Meat, Grain-free, organic, and even vegan.

8. Flavor: got a picky eater in your house?

Yes, pets have preferred food flavors—and stuff they don’t like. Just look at any video of a dog licking a lemon, and you’ll see what we mean.

Cat and dog owners learn what their pets like over time and whether to put chicken, beef, fish, or vegetarian on the menu. 

9. Price: premium pet food or budget? 

Some pet owners splurge on their pets treats and meals, others like to keep it simple and within budget. There are some premium pet foods out there, as well as budget options. 

People have had pets since way, way back when: there is archaeological evidence dogs were the first animals domesticated by humans more than 30,000 years ago. It took us 10,000 more years to start domesticating horses and livestock. 

In all those years, the pet food market has certainly developed, but its market growth is showing no signs of slowing. What are pet food manufacturers working on? Is pet ownership increasing since the pandemic—loads of people got a new pet during lockdown—and what does that mean for spending? Let’s look at what’s happening in 7 key pet food market trends.

1. Pet food market growth

First of all: the global pet food market is expected to grow—quite substantially: from USD 97.47 billion in 2021 to USD 136.82 billion by 2028, showing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.96% during the forecast period (2021-2028).

Are our pets eating more? Is pet food getting drastically more expensive? While that might contribute a little, the boost in pet food sales is more a reflection of people getting more and more pets. 

Pet adoption skyrocketed during the pandemic. We found that more than a quarter (27.0%) of the UK population got a new pet during lockdown, and a massive 78% of existing pet owners in the US acquired pets during the lockdowns. 

But then why does the market continue to grow now that we’re all out of the house again? 

It’s guilt. A large majority of pet owners are increasing spending on their pets to make up for being away from home more. That means more treats, more toys, a softer pillow—you name it: 66.0% of pet owners indicate they’ve upped their pet-spending over the last half year to help their pets adjust to being alone at home more. Cute.

2. It’s a dog’s world: growing dog food segment

Turns out, there are a lot more dog people than cat people out there. The adoption of dogs as pets is significantly higher across the globe, which is an interesting thing to keep an eye on for pet food companies. 

Dog owners also tend to spend more on their animal than cat owners would, not only splurging on dog foods but also other products to give their pet a fun time. 

With this in mind, take a look at our step-by-step guide to product demand analysis, so you’re not caught by surprise when, for example, gen Z suddenly switches to cats.

3. Innovative dog food products

Since dogs are the dominant species in the pet food aisle, pet food companies are daring to experiment more with niche pet food options and dog owners are keen to have a little tasting night with their furry friend. 

One of the things that has been introduced is freeze-dried dog food, which is exactly what it sounds like. Brands that produce freeze-dried dog food often make them from raw food ingredients, such as organ meat or vegetables. One of the fastest-growing niche pet food categories right now is freeze-dried dog food.

And here’s what’s interesting: sales for non-traditional pet food formats like these are growing faster than traditional pet food.

4. Vegan pet foods? Yes!

It’s not just natural pet food that’s in demand: the vegan dog food market is expected to grow substantially, with an expected growth rate of 12.0% in the global pet food market in the period 2021 to 2028. This fits in the trend of pet humanization, and humans becoming more environmentally conscious eaters.

In vegan dog and cat foods, animal products or any by-products coming from animals are substituted with ​​ingredients like fruits, grains, nuts, and soy. 

And research has proven that putting your cat or dog on a vegan diet isn’t harmful to them: it turns out to be just as healthy for cats and dogs as meat-based pet food, provided the vegan foods are carefully formulated with additional synthetic nutrients. For pet food producers who dive into the vegan market, this last part is important to include in their marketing and communication, to take away the doubts of people who think vegan food can harm pets.

5. Personalized (petsonalized?) pet food

Even dogs and cats like personalized food products. They have different needs when it comes to taste, nutrients and diet, but their owners are often limited to what their local supermarket is selling.

No more! There are countless online brands emerging that offer personalized pet food. You take an online quiz so they can get to know your furry friend a little better, and will send specialized food products based on your answers, like they do at Just Right Pet Food. 

These services are often offered in a subscription format, so you make sure your little Pluto doesn’t have to go a day without his special mix. You know how fussy he gets!

6. Increased use of online retail channels

A bag of dog or cat food isn’t the easiest thing to carry up the stairs, especially if you’re already carrying your own foods. Getting pet food is quite a hassle, and when you run out on a day that the stores are closed or you don’t have your car, you’re stuck with a very hungry cat—and nobody wants that. That’s why brands and supermarkets are adopting the online sales of pet foods more and more. Even better: getting them delivered on your doorstep right away. 

7. Supplements for pets

Last but definitely not least on the list: guess what search has gone up a massive 2,500% over the last 10 years?

CBD for dogs. That’s right. People are on the lookout for supplements for their pets to keep them happy and healthy, and in some cases—a little more relaxed. This fits perfectly into the pet humanization trend, in which pet owners are treating their pets more and more like themselves.

Pet supplements such as dog vitamins, fish oil for cats and dog probiotics are becoming increasingly important. But perhaps the fastest-growing pet supplement category is CBD. In fact, searches for “CBD for dogs” are up 

Looking for pet food market insights?

Get insights directly with Attest—we offer audience segmentation based on which pets people own!

With an audience of over 125 million people in 58 countries, and a wide range of demographics to pick from, we make sure you get the right people in front of your survey.

Whether you’re developing a new product, repositioning yourself in the pet food market or want to find a new segment or distribution channel, our surveys are the place to start. 

Hit the ground running with our free market analysis template and make it your own. Do it for the puppies!

FAQ about pet food market segmentation

1. What is the target market for pet food?

Pet owners! The pet’s diet and health issues aside, pet owners often adapt what they buy for their pet to what fits their own style: think vegetarian, organic, high end or a lot of treats in the budget category. When thinking of the target market for pet food, keep both the owner and pet in mind! Better yet, sign up to Attest and conduct a full market analysis in days, not weeks.

2. What is consumer segmentation?

Consumer segmentation means you are dividing the target market up into categories of people who have overlapping needs and wishes, to make it easier to market to them. They will respond to the same messaging, use the same channels, or have the same demands when it comes to product features. Send a survey with our customer profiling template to make sure your messaging is just right for your target audience.

3. How do I market my pet business?

Talk to your target audience to find out what their needs are first. The pet food market is highly saturated, and it’s a competitive landscape, so the better you know how you differ from competitors, the better. Stand out from the crowd by giving your customers a real voice in your marketing – you can do this using our Jobs To Be Done (JTBD) survey template.

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Nick White

Customer Research Lead 

Nick joined Attest in 2021, with more than 10 years' experience in market research and consumer insights on both agency and brand sides. As part of the Customer Research Team team, Nick takes a hands-on role supporting customers uncover insights and opportunities for growth.

See all articles by Nick