“While Britain’s pets are pampered and adored, many Brits are living an increasingly frugal lifestyle – and it seems life remains cushy for our four legged friends. Indeed, new research from Mintel finds dog food sales have hit a billion as the nation’s dog owners lavish their loved ones with snacks and treats.

Mintel’s research finds sales of dog food reached a record £1 billion in 2012, driven by a growth in the nation’s treat culture. Accounting for a tasty quarter (24%) of all dog food sales, snacks and treats jumped up 6% between 2011 and 2012 to reach £239 million. Meanwhile, natural treats increased 8% over the same one year period to reach a tasty £40 million.

But while sales of treats are thriving, the wet and dry dog food sector has been less impressive as consumers switch to homemade alternatives. Indeed, while scratch cooking is off the menu for many of the nation’s households, homemade food is a firm favourite for more than a third (34%) of Britain’s cat and dog owners. Accounting for 43% of all dog food sales, the wet dog food sector has remained virtually static (at £433 million in 2012) while volumes decreased by 1% between 2011 and 2012 to 309 million kg. Value sales of dry dog food have been nothing to bark about increasing just 2% between 2011 and 2012 to reach £287 million, volumes increasing less than 1% to 213 million kg in 2012.

Alex Beckett, Senior Food Analyst at Mintel said:

“”The same species which love nothing more than to gnaw on a juicy bone or drag in a luckless chaffinch now tuck into home-made dishes prepared by concerned owners who pay close attention to their dog or cat’s diet. That Britain remains a pet-loving nation is indisputable and the bar is raised high for the healthiness and level of innovation in pet food. Considering their owners may have been wolfing down high profile poor quality processed foods recently, you have to wonder whether Britain’s pampered pets are getting the better treatment all round.””

While consumers continue to feel the pinch and household budgets are tightened, less than one in five pet owning Brits (17%) admit they are buying fewer pet treats than a year ago to save money. And it seems that Britain’s ladies are a bit of a soft touch when it comes to treating our four legged friends, as just 15% of female dog owners say they are now buying fewer treats compared to one in five (19%) men. And proving only the best is good enough for the nation’s pampered pets, today a significant four in ten (38%) pet owners agree they would rather cut back on their own food before cutting back on their pets, while one in five (19%) pet owners are concerned there are not enough gourmet cat and dog foods available. What is more, as many as one in two (51%) owners are worried about their pet getting all of the right nutrients.

“”Introducing more sophisticated recipes could support value growth for the market, considering a significant number of cat or dog owners agree there are not enough gourmet cat and dog foods. Taking cues from human food markets, such as using regionally sourced ingredients, traceability of meats or ethnic-style recipes, could translate into wet food for cats and dogs to provide more upmarket appeal.””Alex continues.

Does my collar look big in this?

But as to if our pets are indulging in one snack too many, for some it is hard to tell. Indeed, it seems it is not just humans who have concerns over expanding waistlines, with as many as one in five (21%) owners struggling to tell if their pet is overweight or not. Meanwhile, a nearly equal number (19%) are interested in weight management pet food.

Regionally, the Scots and those living in the North are the biggest softies when it comes to pet treats – just 13% of these consumers admit to reducing the number of treats they are buying compared to a year ago. But it is bad news for London’s pets as their owners are most likely (21%) to be buying fewer pet treats than last year. All is not lost for Londoner’s four legged friends as health is a number one priority for these pets. Londoners are most likely to agree that pet food with health benefits is worth paying more for, with 69% of London pet owners claiming this – compared to East and West Midlands who are least likely to say this at 54%.

Proving they really are man’s best friend, today, dogs are the nation’s favourite pet – one in three (33%) households own one. Cat ownership comes in a close second (31%) while fish (17%) complete the list of Britain’s top three pets. Small mammals such as guinea pigs, rabbits and mice are found in 10% of homes, while one in twenty (5%) households own a caged bird. Mintel’s research finds the North West is Britain’s number one region for pet ownership. Indeed, today some 71% of consumers living in the North West own a pet compared to a national average of 63%. When it comes to our four legged friends, dog ownership peaks in the North, North West and Scotland, with almost four in ten (38%) households owning one. This compares to just 29% of households in the South East and East Anglia. Meanwhile, those living in the South West and Wales (38%) are the biggest cat lovers, with those in the North and Scotland having the lowest feline ownership at 28%.

Overall, medium sized dogs (including Labradors, Spaniels and Staffordshire Bull Terriers) dominate Britain’s dog households, making up half (51%) of all Britain’s dogs. The next most popular dog size is small dogs (36%) – including Jack Russells, Dachshunds and Yorkshire Terriers. Meanwhile, 14% of owners have a large dog such as an Alsatian, Old English Sheepdog and Husky. Just 5% of Britain’s dogs are extra small breeds – such as Pugs and Chihuahuas. Regionally, those living in the North West, Yorkshire, Humberside and the North and Scotland are most likely to own a small dog (40%), while medium dogs are most likely to be found in Inner and Greater London/South East/East Anglia (52%).

Despite the economic climate, pet toys recorded a 1.3% growth in value sales from 2011-12 to reach £76 million and were bought by over half (53%) of pet owners in 2012. Showing just how cherished the nation’s pets are, as many as one in five (19%) pet owners buy Christmas stockings for their pets. Finally, when it comes to playtime, it seems dogs have the upper paw as, today, over two thirds (67%) of dog owners bought toys in 2012, which is notably more than the 54% of cat owners.

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