Americans traditionally treat their four-legged household pets like members of the family.
And they feed them accordingly. Today, even table scraps are not good enough—which means that the nation’s 3,000 dog- and cat-food makers and marketers are sold on the idea that there is a little connoisseur in every dog and cat.
As a result, pet food manufacturing is highly competitive, with large companies spending millions on marketing to maintain their share of profits.
Last year companies spent more than $50 million to advertise their argument—with more than 80 percent of the budget spent on TV ads.
Take a close look at the advertising strategy, and you’ll soon discover that the basic pitch is always to the owner’s heart—not his wallet.
From the tenor of the ads, the message is that people usually feel guilty when it comes to their household pets—dogs or cats—feeling they have neglected their pet in some way.
To help solve their guilt feelings, pet owners want to feed their pets better—like themselves.
“Who knows what greatness lives in the heart of a dog?” barks one commercial advertiser. “We do,” runs the TV commercial for General Foods’ Gaines Gravy Train.
Purina notes in its advertising: “All you add is love.”
At the same time, sales in the pet product industry increased nearly 10 percent in the past few years.
The industry generated nearly $50 billion for the year 2020, compared to $38.5 billion in 2006.
Why the enormous growth in sales?
One reason is that the number of pet-owner households has increased by more than 10 million during the past decade, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturing Association (APPMA) in Greenwich, Connecticut.
The APPMA reported that more than half of all U.S. households (about 65 million) own pets, a national menagerie that includes nearly 78 million cats, 65 million dogs, 16 million small animals, 17 million birds, 9 million reptiles, 7 million saltwater fish and 185 million freshwater fish.
And the major products being distributed at retail outlets are dry dog food, canned cat food, and canned dog food.
Dry dog food accounts for about 50 percent of the industry revenue; canned cat food, about 20 percent.
No wonder some privileged pets are being spoiled beyond redemption. There’s gourmet food and birthday parties for dogs, room service for traveling pussycats, and menus featuring delicious desserts from Paris for both canine and feline beneficiaries.
And time was, if someone referred to herself as a dog’s mother, you’d roll your eyes in amazement. Not anymore.
One recent study found that 84 percent of all animal owners refer to themselves as parents.
Increasingly, animal lovers blur the line between pet and child,and an entire industry has sprung up to support the trend.
If you don’t believe it, just walk down the pet food aisle at your local grocery store. For every row of shelves devoted to baby food there are two rows of shelves stocked with pet food.
But wait before you reach for the phone. There’s more.
Specialty food items, gourmet dog bakeries, masseuse-attended grooming spas, puppy day cares and other luxury pet services are starting to fill the Yellow Pages.
Is this weird? Maybe, but when you consider how much companionship pets can provide and combine it with the idea that as we take better care of ourselves, we’re more willing to do the same for Rover. Those things that used to seem like nonsense begin to make sense, after all.
While I was compiling research for this column, for instance, one pet owner informed me that she sees the pampered pooch thing as more than just a health concern.
“More and more couples are choosing not to have children,” she said, “so their pets become their children.”
Top o’ the morning!