February 25, 2021

5 min read

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More people are owning pets, and more owners are treating them like members of the family. This growing trend is an ideal opportunity for grocery retailers to cater to an expanding consumer segment that would welcome the one-stop convenience of covering off all their pet supplies—with some added perks—in the same place they buy their groceries.

About 65 percent of Canadian households own at least one pet, driving a national industry worth about $7 billion, including food, supplies and services. The pandemic has pushed ownership even higher, with the isolation and angst of lockdown prompting many people to turn to animals for companionship. In early March 2020, shelters reported an average adoption rate of 58 percent; that figure had jumped to 85 percent by the end of the month.

This is in addition to steadily increasing pet ownership by millennials. They now own more pets than any other generation, with many opting for pets over parenthood: Recent research shows that in the U.S., millennials represent the largest group of pet owners (31 percent of households) followed by baby boomers (29 percent), and Gen-Xers (26 percent).[1]

We now spend more on our pets than we do on hobbies, toys, and games. Pets are members of the family. They’re groomed and fed special diets. Their birthdays are celebrated. They have their own social media accounts.

This represents a gap that the grocery sector is well-equipped to fill. They have the real estate. They have the customer base. Now’s the time to expand their pet footprint and make it a destination—a store-within-a-store that caters to a four-legged demographic.  

[1] Statista

A new opportunity to get consumers in-store

Retailers are always on the lookout for new trends that will capture consumers’ attention, and with it, more of their wallet. Consider that many customers in a grocery setting already have pet supplies on their list. Rather than present them with the usual shelves of standard dog and cat fare, why not disrupt their journey? Make them stop (and spend) with an inviting, aesthetically pleasing pet centre—one that gets them in-store even when groceries aren’t needed?

Offer them not only the budget and mid-grade products, but also the limited-ingredient food, the raw diets, the natural and locally-sourced treats. Provide a full treat bar—think Starbucks’ Puppacino—that gives them an added incentive to pop by and browse. (“Same again Rex?”)

Make the whole experience even more appealing for shoppers—and comfortable for dogs—with a convenient drop-off service: The pooches come into a separate indoor enclosure (attached to the store but well away from the food), reducing the animals’ risks of exposure to hot and cold weather.

And of course, make everything available for purchase online, delivery and curbside pickup.

Out in the parking lot, meanwhile, set up a prominently branded mobile grooming station that lets consumers cover two tasks on their to-do list: Drop off their pet for a shampoo and trim, then mow through the groceries and pick up Princess on the way out.

And every shopping trip means more loyalty points that can be redeemed for pet-specific rewards: a day at the spa; a free training session; a new coat; a personalized collar.

A cost-effective source of expertise

It’s hard to get away with a trip to the vet for under three figures, which means pet owners are frequently forced to scour the internet for (often questionable) health information. What if they could consult with an in-store veterinarian who could provide middle-ground guidance? “Can I give him Benadryl for allergies?” “She’s limping; should I still walk her?” “He’s not eating; should I take him to the vet?”

Similarly, consumers looking to get their first pet typically resort to “asking around” for advice. Imagine instead having grocery-store access to an expert who can offer insight on pet ownership and care. Who can provide lists of vetted, approved shelters and breeders, using the same quality control and SOPs governing the rest of the store’s supply chain. It can help support better oversight of breeding conditions and animal care. Easier access to good vets and trainers. Reputable advice on products ranging from food to pet insurance.

Canadians’ spending on pets and pet food jumped from $3.28 billion in 2013 to over $5 billion in 2018. Considering our current pandemic-driven pet mania, that spending will only continue to increase. With the grocery store such a fixture in consumers’ daily lives and routines, it’s a logical fit for this rapidly growing market.