30% of dog/cat food buyers express interest in pet food made from lab-grown meat. This links to the wider interest in sustainable ingredients in pet food, an extension of people showing more consideration for their own diets’ impact on the environment.

While COVID-19 prompted stockpiling of pet food, snacks and treats were the only segment to enjoy a lasting uplift in sales. Longer term, however, the outbreak is expected to bring about more working from home, which could facilitate higher pet ownership, boosting the demand for pet food.

The economic downturn triggered by COVID-19 stands to prompt consumers to trade down in pet food, with 46% of dog/cat food buyers saying this is a good way of saving money. The extensive private label offering that has developed since the last recession offers vast opportunities for such economising. Financial hardship or uncertainty could also see people delay acquiring pets, curbing the growth of the pet population.

Products that support pet health offer a lot of potential in the market. Heart health, digestive health and supporting the immune system are dog/cat food buyers’ key areas of interest. With each of these claims appearing only on a minority of launches, there is marked further potential in these areas, while these claims also warrant more focus in communication.

Key issues covered in this report

  • The impact of COVID-19 on the pet food market

  • Product launch activity trends and opportunities for 2020

  • Pet food feeding and buying behaviour

  • The heightened focus on health and wellbeing of pets and key benefits owners look for.

COVID-19: Market context

The first COVID-19 cases were confirmed in the UK at the end of January, with a small number of cases in February. The government focused on the ‘contain’ stage of its strategy, with the country continuing to operate much as normal. As the case level rose, the government ordered the closure of non-essential stores on 20 March.

A wider lockdown requiring people to stay at home except for essential shopping, exercise and work ‘if absolutely necessary’ followed on 23 March. Initially, a three-week timeframe was put on the measures, which was extended in mid-April for another three weeks.

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 were amended on 15 June allowing the reopening of all non-essential stores in England as well as the mandatory use of face coverings on public transport. On 23 June, the Prime Minister announced that where two metre social distancing was not possible in an enclosed space, additional mitigation should allow people to only keep ‘one metre plus’ apart, enabling smaller businesses that were unable to implement the two-metre rule the possibility to open again. Pubs, restaurants, hotels and hairdressers were able to reopen on 4 July.

From 24 July, it became mandatory to wear face coverings in shops and supermarkets. From 1 August, the government changed its guidance about asking people to work from home where they can, giving employers in England more freedom to decide whether staff should return to their place of work. Schools reopened at the beginning of September with social distancing measures in place. However, with a steady rise of cases since July, local lockdowns have begun to be implemented as well as further social restrictions. On 14 September, a ‘rule of six’ was introduced limiting social gatherings both indoors and outdoors to six people. The government also abandoned its push to get more people back to the office and announced that those who can work from home should do so. The government stated that such measures could stay in place for six months.

Whilst another nationwide lockdown is unlikely, stricter lockdown regulations in large cities including London appear increasingly likely at the time of publication.

Economic and other assumptions

Mintel’s economic assumptions are based on the Office for Budget Responsibility’s central scenario included in its July 2020 Fiscal Sustainability Report. The scenario suggests that UK GDP could fall by 12.4% in 2020, recovering by 8.7% in 2021, and that unemployment will reach 11.9% by the end of 2020, falling to 8.8% by the end of 2021.

The current uncertainty means that there is wide variation on the range of forecasts however, and this is reflected in the OBR’s own scenarios. In its upside scenario, economic activity returns to pre-COVID-19 levels by Q1 2021. Its more negative scenario, by contrast, would mean that GDP doesn’t recover until Q3 2024.

Products covered in this Report

The market size in this Report comprises UK retail sales of pet food for cats and dogs through all retail channels, including direct to consumers. Food is categorised as dry, wet, snacks and treats. Cat drinks are also included.

Excluded are healthcare and accessories such as items for home grooming, collars, leashes, toys, chews, bedding, feeding equipment and litter, and over-the-counter flea/tick treatments and prescription medicines. Pets themselves as well as services for pets, such as boarding, grooming, training and veterinary services, and pet insurance are also excluded from the market size and from this Report.

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