The Rapid Growth of the UK Pet Market

Pet care in the UK has been growing consistently year on year, with the most recent stats from the UK’s Office for National Statistics showing that expenditure on pets and related products reached £7.9bn in 2020, up 170% from 2005.

Covid has driven a surge in pet ownership not yet covered in the ONS stats, but recently shared by the Pet Food Manufacturers Association showing that 3.2 million households in the UK have acquired a pet since the start of the pandemic, largely driven by Gen Z and Millennials.

Pet Food Manufacturers Association

Pet owners have over the last five years, begun to spend significantly more on their pets on average creating a mini-boom for brands and retailers in the pet space.

Amazon’s Dominance in UK Pet Food

In the last two years alone, Amazon’s sales of pet food have grown by 67% and their sales of wider pet supplies by 79%, with dog and cat food now generating £11.5m of revenue per month (£138m/year) on Amazon UK.

Amazon has for some time had a good grip on the pet food market, but the importance of this has become even more obvious with Amazon creating bespoke areas in their warehouses for rapid handling of inbound and outbound pet food products and specific warehouse machinery to facilitate the easy moving of large and heavy bulk pet food items.

With pet food being a high-volume, largely commoditised product category, often bought in bulk and too heavy to pick up unless you have a car; pet food made the perfect category for Amazon to dominate online.

With a broad product range on offer from almost every pet food brand, free next day delivery for Prime members, a selling model that drives keen pricing for consumers; it is no surprise that Amazon has become the largest seller of pet food online by a long way.

Perhaps more surprising though is how complacent some of the larger brands have become at selling on Amazon – treating it more like a grocer, enjoying growing sales but missing out on the full opportunity they have available if they truly excelled at the more technical side of Amazon.

The Shape of the Dog and Cat Food Market on Amazon UK

UK pet ownership is 50/50 across cats and dogs, with approximately 12m of each pet in the population. Due to the different diets and nutritional requirements of each pet, this translates into a monthly sales opportunity tipped in the favour of dog food, with 66% of monthly sales on Amazon UK going into dogs, and 34% into cats.

This further breaks down into wet and dry food categories as shown below:

Chart by Visualizer

Selling Models for Dog and Cat Food on Amazon UK

With readily shippable items and good average prices, this category is the perfect candidate for an Amazon Seller model using Amazon FBA for fulfilment. For brand owners this would give all the benefits of Amazon Prime (rankings advantages, next day shipping for consumers and increased conversion) and retail level margins – yet most brands operate on the Amazon Vendor model.

Despite the increased margin opportunity likely to be available on Seller, the majority of the brands operating in this market are major global brands, more familiar with key account management rather than direct selling through Amazon, and for that reason alone the Vendor model makes more sense commercially to them. It’s about the management of high-value purchase orders and the movement of large quantities of goods, rather than D2C selling.

What we do see in this market though as a consequence of this, is major brands treating Amazon more like a grocer and focussing on the commercial relationship more than the technical aspects of growing sales demand and volume on Amazon (listings, imagery, rankings, advertising etc..) – something which Sellers put more focus on as their success depends on it.

Brand Owner Market Share

Like most mature markets there are a small group of manufacturers producing dog and cat food under different brands in the UK.

Looking at the brand owners, we see huge dominance in the market with just four brands taking 75% of the sales in the market. Nestle brands own 34% of the sales, with Mars taking second place at 17%.

Chart by Visualizer

Just under half of Nestle’s sales come through their Lily’s Kitchen range driving £1.5m sales per month.

It’s unlikely this range has been developed specifically for Amazon, but what Nestle has got right with the Lily’s kitchen products is great consumer branding that resonates with Amazon’s growing younger audience, an on-trend product appealing to the health-conscious pet owner, a keen price point, bulk packs and a high-quality set of Amazon listings compared to the competition.

Key Market Trends

Dry Dog Food

Dry Dog food accounts for £5.75m of sales on Amazon UK every month, with the best selling brand being Harringtons at £1.45m per month and three brands taking £1m+ each per month.

Harringtons’ bulk bags of dry dog food are listed reasonably well, play to the bulk buying and value mindset of the Amazon customer and appear to be regularly traded on price to entice new customers into the brand.

That said, there is still good scope for improvement in their listings to sell the quality of their product better, drive greater conversion and grow sales further.

Chart by Visualizer

Looking at some of the lesser players in this category, we would have expected recognised brands like Purina, Wagg and Iams to be taking greater market share, but all appear to be lacking in most areas of their Amazon strategy. Their listings, imagery, advertising, EBC and storefronts all have significant room for improvement and a great opportunity to grow their market share.

Key trends in dry dog food on Amazon UK:

  • Brands with a strong ethos focussing on the quality of ingredients and pet wellbeing are winning through Vs the mid-market brand giants
  • Lots of smaller, newer brands are disrupting the market
  • Vendor relationships make up the majority of sales rather than Amazon Seller
  • Consumers are buying large bulk volume, with lots of subscribe and save listings to drive repeat purchase
  • There is lots of opportunity for brands to push their brand messaging harder across their USP’s and brand heritage
  • Listing quality overall is relatively high, however, most brands are using very typical FMCG pack shots designed for the grocers rather than an Amazon first image approach covering product features, benefits and brand messaging.

Wet Dog Food

Wet dog food is a smaller category, but still with a small number of brands taking the lions-share of the market. Lily’s and Forthglade do well here, taking £360k+ each per month in sales, but then there is huge fragmentation in the market with many brands competing hard for much smaller shares of the market.

Chart by Visualizer

Given Harringtons’ success in dry dog food, we expected to see them cross-selling better and owning a greater share of the wet dog market – perhaps an untapped opportunity for them to grow their sales here relatively quickly.

Pedigree seems to have a good share in the mid-market brands, but a disappointing level of competition coming in from Butchers and Winalot who are all owned by different brand owners and should be in a keen fight for market share.

Pedigree’s brand recognition is likely to be propping their sales up on Amazon and compensating to some extent for some low-quality listings and an under potentialised Amazon strategy. Butcher’s on the other hand, despite lower market share, appear to be playing well at Amazon with a higher than average listing quality and overall Amazon strategy winning them market share.

Looking at some of the lesser players in this category, we would have expected recognised brands like Purina, Wagg and Iams to be taking greater market share, but all appear to lack in most areas of their Amazon strategy. Their listings, imagery, advertising, EBC and storefronts all have significant room for improvement and a great opportunity to grow their market share.

Key trends in wet dog food on Amazon UK:

  • Vendor relationships again make up the majority of sales rather than Amazon Seller
  • Consumers are buying large bulk volume, with lots of subscribe and save listings to drive repeat purchase
  • Listing quality overall is relatively high, however, most brands are using very typical FMCG pack shots designed for the grocers rather than an Amazon first image approach covering product features, benefits and brand messaging
  • There is a gap in the market for retailer own-brand products – such as Wilko, Pets at Home or Jolly’s to take some market share from other value brands.

Dry Cat Food

Purina has real dominance of the Dry Cat Food market on Amazon UK, with £393k of sales through their premium ONE range and £196k per month through their mid-market Go Cat range.

Chart by Visualizer

Lily’s Kitchen, surprisingly, is the underdog in this category, with 10th place and £40k/month of sales, likely held back by the strength of other players strategies in this market rather than any weaknesses in their own.

Key trends in dry cat food on Amazon UK:

  • Smaller, newer brands look to be finding it difficult to unseat the brand leaders
  • Smaller packs are being purchased in this category, but there is still a bulk buying mentality
  • Vendor relationships make up the majority of sales rather than Amazon Seller

Wet Cat Food

Mid-market brands like Felix and Whiskas dominate this category on Amazon. With keen price points and OK listings, they both have a great market share.

Felix however seems to have an odd Amazon strategy. Their listings are dominated by resellers who are selling on Amazon Seller and self-fulfilling, driving volume in a hands-off way but diminishing the brands price point. This is at odds with the remainder of the market where the brand themselves are selling to Amazon on Vendor and as such able to offer the consumer the benefits of Prime, and benefit themselves from greater sales at a deeper margin.

Chart by Visualizer

Key trends in wet cat food on Amazon UK:

  • Consumers are buying large bulk volume, with lots of subscribe and save listings driving repeat purchase
  • Vendor relationships make up the majority of sales rather than Amazon Seller
  • Smaller, newer brands look to be finding it difficult to unseat the brand leaders due to their brand awareness
  • Listing quality overall is relatively high, however, most brands are using very typical FMCG pack shots designed for the grocers rather than an Amazon first image approach covering product features, benefits and brand messaging
  • There is more consumer consumption in wet cat food than in dry cat food, offering up potential cross-sell opportunities that are being missed.

Our Tips for Success in Dog and Cat Food on Amazon UK

Dog and cat food on Amazon is an exceptionally large market, dominated by major brands – some of which are doing very well through brand recognition rather than being exceptional at Amazon selling.

This creates opportunities for everyone. For the large brands that already have a big market share, there is a market share battle to be had by becoming great at Amazon and not just great as a brand.

For challenger and lesser-known brands, this creates a great opportunity to take on the big guys who don’t have their eyes (yet) on a pure Amazon selling strategy and to nibble a bit of their market share.

Either way, our three tips below apply…

Treat Amazon as your number one sales channel

Amazon has market dominance in the UK for pet food sales online, and are rapidly eating offline market share.

Treating Amazon as your number one sales channel, rather than a key account, will set you in good stead for growth.

Many of the major brands that dominate this category are re-using image assets designed for the grocers, writing copy that is under optimised for ranking on Amazon for generic terms and not using Amazon’s tools to the best of their ability for advertising.

Making Amazon your number one sales channel will shift your focus and set you up for greater success.

Have an Amazon strategy, not a grocer strategy

Continuing from the above, and perhaps one of the most obvious statements we’ve ever written – create an Amazon strategy for selling on Amazon and not a grocer or key account strategy.

Looking at the listings from the major brands we see a common theme. Lots of volume and sales going through well-recognised brands but with listings, images, content etc.. clearly carried over from other sales channels as an afterthought.

The typical journey for major brands on Amazon is to find themselves opening a Vendor relationship through a national account manager and then having to provide content to Amazon as a consequence of that.

Over time this content improves, but it’s very rare an Amazon-first approach is taken to the content and growth strategy for Amazon. It’s almost always an afterthought to the commercial relationship.

Flipping this around and looking first and foremost at how you excel at creating consumer demand for your products on Amazon through great content, listings, images, advertising, storefronts etc.. will re-shape your success.

Think first about how you drive consumer demand specifically within the Amazon channel, and then enjoy the rewards that come from this – increased PO’s on Amazon Vendor, or greater sales on Amazon Seller.

Excel at everything

This category is tough. It’s mature and dominated by big brands, so there is no room for a 2nd rate Amazon strategy or looking to only excel in certain areas (i.e. focussing on ads rather than listing optimisation).

With large, mature markets, dominated by big brands with huge budgets you have to use every opportunity you have to your advantage on Amazon. In dog and cat food, being exceptionally at everything on Amazon is a minimum requirement.

Can We Help?

At Venture Forge we build all our client’s Amazon growth strategies on solid insight and deep market research, working with major brands from across the world. If you’d like to discuss how we can grow the sales of your pet food brand on Amazon, we’d love to have a chat.