Millennial Think Tank: Their Impact on the $58.5 Billion Pet Industry

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After the holiday hiatus, our Millennial Think Tank returned to focus on Millennials and their pets. Of course all generations love their pets, but we wanted to get a read on our Millennials and pet ownership. This week on the panel we had:

  • Samantha Estoesta, a young Millennial working in Public Interest Research – soon to be pet owner
  • Kelly Mosgofian, a young Millennial working in Sports – Cat Owner
  • Helen Androlia, an older Millennial working in Social Media – Cat Owner
  • Tiffany Daniels, an older Millennial working in Government & Community Relations – Dog Owner
  • Kelsey Pollack, a mid-Millennial working in Academia – Cat Owner

You can listen to or watch the entire hangout, or read the recap below:

When we first thought about covering this topic it seemed a bit ‘soft’ from a business perspective. We like having fun with our Think Tank, but we’re really doing this to gather insights. However, when I started digging deeper into the Pet Industry, I uncovered some amazing facts, primarily from the American Pet Products Association:

  • Americans spent $58.5 billion on their pets in 2012. Yep: BILLION
  • In 1994, Americans only spent $17 billion.
  • There are 83.3 million dogs in the US, and 95 million cats.
  • The Pet Industry was barely affected by the Great Recession

One thing is very clear; Boomers and their ‘humanization’ of their pets have definitely changed how society views pets, as a part of the family in most instances. We wonder if this will change at all with the often pragmatic Millennials as their spending power grows.

How old were you when you got your first pet as an adult?

Helen was raised in a family that believed a pet was a necessary part of any family. She was given her cat Ophelia as a Christmas present as soon as she was out of University residency and in her own home. Kelsey got her cats when she moved with her husband out to California; she’d love to have more animals and dreams of a hobby farm full of rescue animals, but cats are all she can handle right now in her Silicon valley home. Tiffany got her cockapoo when she was 24; she met him at a terrible home breeder’s after taking her grandmother to look for a pet – she felt that she had to rescue him. Kelly brought his rescue cats from his childhood home.

We talked about how animals and their position within our lives have changed. Samantha has relatives who have a farm, name their animals, but still raise them as food. However, most of the panel are not in contact with animals that will become their food.

Does your pet’s appearance/breed say something about you?

Kelly spent a good amount of time describing the tortoise shell coats on his cats; he doesn’t choose pets based on how they look but he thinks that men in particular buy dogs trying to make a statement. Sometimes large breeds are there to indicate manliness and the ability to manage a large animal.

Helen intended to get a cat that reflected her ‘inner Goth’ personality; she went to the shelter to select a purely black cat. However, when Ophelia, a primarily white cat approached her, it was love at first site. She once rescued a senior cat just to give him a loving home for the last few months of his life.

Tiffany had an interesting take on this issue, stating that she knew many people who rescued because they saw THAT choice as a reflection of who they are.

How many of you rescued your animals?

Apart from Tiffany, who technically bought her dog from a home breeder (although she did it to rescue him), all of our panelists rescued their pets. Kelsey spoke of a friend who needed a hypo-allergenic animal and felt a lot of guilt about going to a breeder.

Samantha talked about an old high school friend who bred teacup dogs to be tiny, and how most of her friends are horrified by that. Most of the panel thinks that people looking for pets should consider rescues. However, they understand that there are cases where the need for a specific breed takes people to breeders.

The panel is definitely suspect of organizations labeling themselves rescues when they are actually puppy mills.

Do you buy premium food for your pets?

Kelsey is by far the biggest spender on her pets’ diets; she buys premium food, distilled water, and even calming treats for her cats. She pays ‘top dollar’ for her pet food. Helen did the same with her cat, chuckling a bit at cat food names like “Surf and Turf,” but she still paid premium dollars for them  – along the lines of $25 per bag of dry cat food.

Tiffany, our most pragmatic panelist, does not buy premium food for her dog, as she doesn’t for herself. She does spend quite a bit of money on grooming. Kelly buys the best he can afford, but because he is still in the early years of his career, he can’t swing the top shelf food.

Samantha is going to discuss her future pet’s diet with her vet, but is a bit suspect of pet food trends, citing a case of someone trying to make their pet a vegetarian.

Kelly brought the expected Millennial skepticism to our discussion, cautioning the panel against taking advice from vets; his experience at a pet store opened his eyes to the fact that vets often get kick backs from certain brands.

When do you splurge on your pets?

Kelsey is the biggest spender on our panel, including 3 boxes of toys and the premium diet we discussed earlier. She spoke of her guilt over not giving them more ‘educational toys,’ but they simply wanted a string and feather. She also spends money on premium litter, and went as far as buying it for her parents.

Helen showed us a splurge that a friend bought for her after her beloved cat passed away – a beautiful painted portrait of Ophelia the cat.

When I asked  whether any of our panelists purchased tech for their pets, Kelly wished that he could afford it. Kelsey has a device to watch her cats but she cannot talk to them.

Are your pets like your children?

Helen stated that she and her friends talk about their cats as if they are their children; they all mourned her cat Ophelia when she passed and had a funeral. She showed us a wall full of cat art, and spoke about how part of her identity was tied to being a cat lady. She realizes that, had they all been from earlier generations, they would be talking about their children in the same way.

Tiffany does have clothing for her dog, actually quite a few outfits, which is only fitting as he is named Rodman, after Dennis. She has received Christmas ornaments with her dog’s image on them, and has given gifts with his image.


  • Our Millennials are just as passionate about their pets as their parents’ generation was; we foresee that spending on pet products will continue to grow.
  • The fact that many Millennials are having children later means that a lot of their energy, and budget, is channeled to their pets.
  • There is definitely an opportunity for the pet tech segment of the industry to grow, as almost all of our panelists would be interested in using it.
  • The push for rescues over dogs bought by breeders is strong with this generation.

It will be interesting to watch how our panel changes its opinions and spending habits as the years go by and their responsibilities and lives change.

Catch us next week as we explore Mobility & the Automotive Industry0005021124.

Photo credit: nikoretro via photopin cc.


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