After Millennials Have Pushed the Envelope as Pet Owners, What Can We Expect From Gen Z?

After Millennials Have Pushed the Envelope as Pet Owners, What Can We Expect From Gen Z?

Millennials, now in their late 20s and 30s, have set new standards for bonding with and spending money on pets.  Millennial pet owners routinely mark their pets’ birthdays, include them in holiday celebrations, take them on shopping trips and bring them to work.  Millennial pet owners, especially those in higher-income brackets, represent a pet market consumer segment offering exceptional opportunities for marketers of pet products and services.  Packaged Facts National Pet Owner Survey data cited in the February 2018 Packaged Facts report Gen Z and Millennials as Pet Market Consumers: Dogs, Cats, Other Pets indicate that Millennial pet owners with a household income of $75,000 or higher are more than twice as likely as all other pet owners to have spent $50 or more on pet products of any kind in the last 30 days.

However, the future of the pet industry in America lies not only in the hands of Millennials but also depends on their younger counterparts in Gen Z.  The vanguard of Gen Z is now in its late teens and early 20s.  These adult members of Gen Z have been digitally fluent for nearly their whole lives and are used to being inundated by waves of words, data and images on small screens.  Because they are adept at filtering through masses of information and detecting hyped or outright false claims, marketing experts such as Emerson Spartz, CEO of the digital media company Dose, view Gen Z as being “less trusting of brands” than any previous generation.

How Pet Product Marketers Can Build Trust with Gen Z Pet Parents

Packaged Facts National Pet Owner Survey data confirm some of the challenges facing pet product marketers in building trust with Gen Z pet owners.  For example, compared to Millennial pet owners, Gen Z pet owners are less likely to trust the quality of pet foods produced by larger companies such as general-market brand leaders (48% vs. 58%).  This finding may simply reflect Gen Z’s overall loss of trust in large corporations and governmental institutions in today’s chaotic world.

The attitudes of Gen Z pet owners toward pet products produced by smaller companies are more complex and, perhaps, surprising.  Gen Z pet owners are as likely as Millennial pet owners to trust the quality of pet foods produced by smaller companies such as regional or family-owned companies.  However, they are less likely to trust the pet foods produced by smaller natural/organic product companies (48% vs. 54%).  This finding may be related to the fact that Gen Z pet owners are less likely than Millennial pet owners to consider natural/organic products to be safer (59% vs. 75%) or better (59% vs. 73%) than standard national-brand products.  The data support an overall conclusion that many Gen Z pet owners believe that claims made by natural/organic pet product marketers are no more trustworthy than those made by marketers of general-market pet products.

An April 2017 study by IBM’s Institute for Business Value found that members of Gen Z “are quick to spot misdirection and do not respond to hype.”  As noted by Media Post columnist Darren Ross (April 5, 2017), when reaching out to Gen Z, “In the era of ‘fake news’ and a loss of trust in corporate and political institutions, brands need to be honest and transparent about who they are and what they offer to constantly prove themselves trustworthy to this critical audience of 70 million.”

It is also likely that smaller marketers need to be prepared with something more compelling than a run-of-the mill message if they are to reach out successfully to Gen Z as well as Millennial pet owners.  While noting that Millennials are more conscious about brand and ingredient integrity, one pet-supply store owner cautions, “Millennials really like brands with stories and purpose that are different than the typical ‘We donate to XYZ pet-related, national nonprofit.’  They really like unique brands and stories” (Pet Business, March 31, 2017). 

-- By Dr. Robert Brown and Ruth Washton, market research analysts

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