Purring for Pet Profit: Embracing the COVID-19 Opportunity

Jun 4, 2020

Who couldn't use a heaping dose of love from a paw-fect pet right now? With animal shelters nearly empty—there’s been a 700 percent increase in households fostering pets and 10 times the adoption applications since the first week of March*—it seems we all could. Pets are a bigger part of our lives than ever before, with almost 50 million more U.S. households filled with pets than children.

So what do all those furry family members mean for sales in the grocery sector? A lot, according to Red Oval Partner Nestlé Purina:

  • Pet owners spend 27 percent more per trip than non-pet buyers, and pet is the second biggest trip driver behind pharmacy
  • Stores with an average or better pet performance have seen their total store performance four times higher than retailers with a below average pet performance
  • Stores that lose a pet owner who shops in the category also loses six trips per pet shopper
What’s New in Pet During COVID-19

With most consumers limiting the number of stores they visit, grocers saw a huge spike in shoppers buying in the pet category in mid- to late March. While the data suggests that spike was directly related to panic buying, pet specialty stores have continued to lose market share during stay-at-home orders—seeing a nearly 30 percent loss compared to last year**—which is an opportunity for IGA retailers to convert those grocery shoppers to pet aisle shoppers during and after the pandemic.

So what can you do to ensure your store is seeing its full pet care sales potential during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond? Take a look at three key tactics you can use now to maximize pet category sales—including promoting the upcoming pet photo competition—and get a sneak peek a the pet aisle redesign resources coming your way later this month. 

1. Promote pet care often

Work with your brands, like Purina, for a national merchandising plan. Develop a strong frequency of promotion on social media and in your weekly circulars. Create promotional end caps in-store. “It’s all about the marketing plan that is going to get the people in your stores and make them realize that you’re a place for pets,” says Nestlé Purina's Pat Patterson. 

One easy way to up your pet care credibility this summer is with the long-running and ever-popular IGA and Nestlé Purina annual Picture Paw-fect Pet Photo Competition. 2020 marks the 10th year for the photo competition and we know our loyal IGA shoppers are eager to submit photos of their faithful companions on IGA.com. With five categories and a grand prize of Purina pet food for a year (in the form of 12 $20 gift certificates good for Purina products), this highly anticipated annual event draws thousands of entries each year.

IGA retailers can drum up shopper excitement now in anticipation of the contest, which will run from June 28 to July 31, 2020 and feature the following categories:

  • Your new addition
  • Rad roommates
  • Making the most of it
  • Funniest moments
  • Social distancing adventures

Click the below graphics to download and share with your followers on social media, and stay tuned to your email and The IGA Minute for more details as we get closer to the competition launch.

IGA-Purina Pet Photo Competition Social Media Graphics

IGA-Purina Pet Photo Competition Social Media Graphic with woman and cat

2. Vary your assortment

“Make sure that you're offering the variety that the shoppers need,” says Patterson. Cross promote your product mix, like dry and wet foods for dog and cat, and ensure you have a good selection of the natural lines, as Patterson notes the better-for-you trend applies to pet care as well as human food consumption and is boosting profitability in grocery stores across the country.

During IGA's pilot redesign of a pet aisle at Mahomet IGA in Mahomet, Illinois, the store worked with Purina to customize assortment to meet their shoppers' needs, and IGA created signage to call attention to wet and dry food options and highlight pets' changing needs in various stages of life—from kitten and puppy through senior. Carrying different sizes of offerings—including larger size bags and variety packs of cans—is also important, especially as COVID-19 drags on and shoppers continue to stock up for their pets.

Pet Aisle Assortment Mix-800w

3. Create a friendly, appealing shopping environment

Take a look at your pet aisle. Is visually appealing? Is easy for shoppers to navigate? Keeping your aisle organized, clean, and brightly lit are simple steps that go a long way to increasing pet aisle sales in the short term, but what about the long term? A redesign, like the one recently undertaken at Mahomet IGA that resulted in a 10 percent sales increase in just three months, could be the answer. 


At Mahomet IGA, the team put a strong emphasis on welcoming the shopper to the exciting, new pet aisle with large signage and end caps anchoring the aisle.  

While an aisle redesign might be the last thing on your mind in the midst of the pandemic, the trend of shoppers limiting their store visits and purchasing more at their local grocer is expected to continue well beyond the summer months. That, according to IGA CEO John Ross, may translate into an opportunity you can't afford to miss. "When we began exploring the pet aisle as a means for our retailers to increase sales, we saw great potential. Now COVID-19 has amplified that potential even more," Ross says. 

The good news is that IGA and Purina plan are finalizing a formula—and resources—that will make a pet aisle redesign as painless as possible—even during the mad rush we've seen in recent months. Resources coming your way soon include: 

  • A playbook detailing profitable assortment, merchandising, and marketing tactics
  • In-store visual merchandising, digital and social media, and other promotional resources that draw attention to your pet aisle 

Stay tuned to The IGA Minute for the full breakdown of this pet aisle redesign and the release of the new pet care aisle resources coming in a few weeks.

*Adoption and fostering data from the Directions COVID-19 Consumer Response Tracker 4/15/20
**Data derived from AC Nielsen w/e 4/25/20

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