Insights 29/09/2021 Nick Dormon & Andy Capper

The Pandemic Pet Boom: It’s Time for Pet Care To Go Green

As the Covid-19 pandemic saw us retreating into our isolated bubbles, many of us turned to animals as a source of comfort. Beyond canine companionship, animal purchases of every kind took off during lockdown. From felines to fish, the UK population acquired over 3.2 million pets since the start of the pandemic, a trend that translates across the pond, where 10% of Americans adopted a new pet in 2020.

Who is this new generation of animal lovers? According to a study, 59% of new pet owners are millennials and Gen-Z (16-34), many of whom are first-timers.

This emerging cohort of pet parents are facing very different territory from their boomer predecessors. Having more time (and, in some cases, disposable income) to spend during lockdown, these new pet owners are far from the traditional “nuclear family + pet” model that prevailed for so long. From university students, house-sharers, and single-person households, everyone wants a pet. Plus, the typical family structures historically targeted by pet brands are rapidly changing.

The demographic embodies an attitudinal shift long preceding the coronavirus—that of conscious consumerism. Growing up in an era of melting ice caps and climate anxiety, this generation is increasingly looking for sustainable and ethical products in every facet of their lives, pets included. Consumers now expect brands to put their money where their mouth is concerning sustainability commitments, a priority that has not gone unnoticed by the pet sector.

How do pets contribute to the climate crisis? It turns out their carbon paw-print is pretty high. In the US alone, pet meat consumption produces around 64 million tonnes of CO2 per year—the equivalent of a year’s worth of driving from 13 million cars. That means your average dog’s carbon footprint is twice that of a 4×4 automobile. If the pet industry was a country, its carbon emissions would be more than the CO2 produced in the Philippines, a nation populated by 111 million people.

With this new cohort of pet owners putting the climate first, now is the ideal time to redesign the pet sector to be more sustainable, be it ingredients and supply chains or product design and brand communications. But beyond that, we need to rapidly change our behavior as consumers so we can make more informed, conscious choices when it comes to our pets. There exists a real opportunity for brands to respond to the post-coronavirus world by offering consumers attractive solutions that make their pet care easier and more environmentally friendly.

Indeed, there were many sustainable pet care brands already on the market before the pandemic. Take Rocketo, the air-dried dog food which weighs three times less than fresh—a light-weighting tactic that saves 75% on carbon emissions when shipping. Claiming to herald “a new dog food standard,” the brown paper packaging and minimal ink make scant use of unnecessary materials, telling a visual story of the eco-friendly ingredients within.

The packaging for Only Natural Pet, by comparison, is constructed from I’m Green Polyethylene—a bio-based resin made from ethanol, a renewable and sustainable resource produced from sugarcane. This material selection reflects the brand’s vegetarian pet food offering, which means less land, less water, and, ultimately, less impact per bowl.

But the most successful pet brands will be those that respond to the post-covid consumer market holistically. Besides the demand for more eco-friendly products, today’s consumers also want more personalized experiences for their pets. Lockdown living has seen a rise in subscription-based services, which are more convenient during isolation, with DTC and e-commerce booming exponentially. Much like in humans, a “one-size-fits-all” approach is ineffective and could explain why 50% of UK dogs are overweight.

Brands such as Bug Bakes offer a targeted and tailored nutritional plan for our pooches by adjusting portion size to match dog breed, size, and age. What’s more, their produce is made from sustainable insect protein, tackling the over-consumption of meat among pets, all tied together in 100% plastic-free packaging.

Beyond food and packaging, the pet sector is still marred by single-use plastics in the form of waste bags. Beco provides a plant-based solution: home-compostable bags made from cornstarch, which disintegrate without a negative impact on the planet. The brand also offers bamboo water bowls, food scoops, and hemp pet beds, demonstrating that sustainable homeware needn’t stop with human-focused design.

Environmentally-friendly as they are, all of the above examples can only go so far in making real change in the sustainable pet care movement. What we need now is holistic design that considers what drives humans to choose products for their pets and also how they interact with them in the home.

For example, waste in the pet food sector often stems from ineffective paper packaging, which tends to rip and spill across the floor. Sustainable packaging can only make so much impact if the product inside still goes in the bin. The answer is investing in more durable packaging systems, ones that not only reduce waste, but improve brand quality and assurance.

We envisage a dog food container that supports the better management of dried food in the post-coronavirus world. Imagine a robust outer shell made from bioplastic, strong enough for repeat usage, proportionally designed to fit neatly in standard cupboards. A resealable and secure closure with a snap release clasp not only guarantees long-time freshness for the food inside but also ensures that canine companions can’t help themselves to the product within.

A simple scoop that clips into the lid is both ergonomic and shaped to enable accurate portion control, eliminating waste while mitigating the issue of over-feeding. With a separate cover and base to ensure easy cleaning, the result is a functional design that improves user experience, the key to nudging consumers towards more positive behavioral changes.

Earlier lockdowns provoked a shift in consumer behavior, which saw many people favor convenience over conscious consumerism. But things are changing. The young, fun-loving cohort that spent the pandemic curled up on the sofa with a pet are now out on the town again. It’s more critical than ever to create compelling rituals within pet care that are not only convenient for this new generation of pet owners but considers the environment too.

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