Many pet owners consider their furry companions an extension of their families. And just like with their families, when it comes to what their pets eat, most owners aren’t just grabbing the cheapest products on the shelves. Today’s consumers, especially pet owners, spend more time researching brands before they buy than ever before; more than 80% of consumers research products online before making a purchase, and most of them aren’t landing on brand pages. Google and its search partners receive an average of 550,000 queries for dog food and “best dog food” every month. Studies show 60% of product research starts in search engines, and 61% of shoppers read online reviews.

All of this begs two questions: what kind of information are pet food consumers looking for, and how can brands make sure their voice is part of the conversation?

Consumers research pet food nutrition information online

From age to allergies, many pets have special dietary needs that have their owners shelling out for premium brands of food. With the cost difference that comes with that shiny bag — from $250 per year for basic dry dog kibble vs. up to $1,000 per year for a specialty or premium brand — comes greater skepticism on the part of the consumer. Some of the specialty categories that are of increasing interest to consumers:

Age — there’s increasing skepticism surrounding the need to feed young animals different food than their adult or senior counterparts. Consumers want to know whythey’re paying more for that bag of kitten food.

Weight management — although the image of a chubby dachshund eating Cheetos from his owner’s hand is endearing, there is now a robust literature surrounding the damage that excess weight does to animals’ organs and endocrine systems.

Raw/grain-free/or evolutionarily appropriate food — Just like the Paleo or Raw Foods movements among humans, there is a growing movement among pet owners to provide their animals a more species-appropriate diet free of grains, fillers and other processing byproducts.

Consumers seek quality and safety for their pets

Recent scandals like the mass recall of Chinese-manufactured dog treats after more than 1,000 dogs deaths were linked to jerky treats, Purina’s pending lawsuit and the recent admission in court by premium brand Blue Buffalo about misleading consumers regarding the ingredients in their food have shaken consumer confidence. Legal settlements to resolve customer disasters prove costly, as Blue Buffalo’s $32 million dollar settlement demonstrated recently. Consumer trust is easily lost by brands whose promises go undelivered, and today’s consumers are using third-party resources to research ingredients and safety of available pet food brands. Package labeling is no longer the sole source for information about the origins and quality of the ingredients in their selected pet food.

Consumers rely on reviews and recommendations

For many pet owners, veterinary recommendations, expert reviews and the experiences of other consumers play a critical role in deciding what to feed their animals. According to a 2013 Nielsen study, consumers trust earned advertising — word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and families — and consumer reviews more than company websites or advertising (92% and 70%, vs. 58% and 36%, respectively).

Transparency increases trust among consumers

By focusing on transparency and independent expert reviews, pet food brands can increase the trust consumers place in their messaging, and by partnering with third-party review sites like ConsumerAffairs, brands can respond to upset customers and show potential customers that customer satisfaction is at the top of their priorities. Interested in learning how to become a ConsumerAffairs accredited brand? Schedule a call to find out how today.