Driven by increased focus on pet health and the powerful role in pet owner lives of the human-animal bond, U.S. sales of pet food will rise 16% between 2015-2018 to reach $33 billion. The projection was made by market research publisher Packaged Facts in Pet Food in the U.S., 11th Edition.

Packaged Facts estimates pet food sales in 2013 were $28 billion.  The pet food category experienced much of its growth outside of the core mass market, particularly in channels like farm/feed, Internet, and pet specialty. Sales are expected to remain relatively flat through the rest of 2014, though opportunities exist in the premium food sector as pet owners purchase these products to protect the health of their four-legged, feathered, finned, and furry family members.

“Looking ahead, the trick will be to find ways to grow this mature market, since at its current pace pet population growth is not sufficient to drive higher levels of market growth,” comments Packaged Facts research director David Sprinkle. “For several years much of the dollar growth in the pet food market has come from converting pet owners to higher priced foods as part of the humanization trend.”

Premium pet foods will account for 42% of pet food sales in 2014, followed by regular pet food at 30% and value pet food at 12%, with treats comprising the remaining share of sales.  On both the dog and cat sides of the market, the premium share of sales has expanded, mostly as a result of growth in the superpremium segment. Treats have also grown their share of the market, primarily due to the robust interest in treats among dog owners, many of whom have turned to functional treats as a way to ameliorate pet health conditions and promote overall wellness. Cat owners, on the other hand, have not proven as likely to indulge their pets in superpremium fare, and have also been slower to embrace functional treats, suggesting areas for market expansion as cat food and treat marketers continue to trend into premium and functional fare, with products and trends often crossing over from the dog side.

Pet owners are also focused on general pet health. In the next year, 30% will take their pets to the vet, according to AudienceSCAN. Pet owners are also more likely than average to support locally-owned businesses with 65.5% saying they prefer to buy from these establishments when price and product are the same. Marketers might want to tout their strengths on social media. At least 32.9% of pet owners have started an online search in the past year because of a post they saw on social media.

AudienceSCAN data is available as part of a subscription to AdMall for Agencies. Media companies can access AudienceSCAN data through the Audience Intelligence Reports in AdMall.