Monday, December 20, 2010

Americans spend more money on pets than children

Beware what you read on the Internet. I know, that should go without saying. But even supposedly seasoned journalists like those of us at Petfood Industry/ have to relearn this lesson from time to time.
Yesterday we posted a news item with a headline that is definitely a grabber: "Americans spend more money on pets than children." The source, a blog on the website for The Telegraph in the UK, seems solid at first glance; the blogger, Pete Wedderburn, is trained as a veterinarian and has been writing a column about pets for 25 years.
However, nowhere in his post does Wedderburn attribute his source for the claims he's making: "... in the USA, where all worldwide trends seem to start, children's toys have been overtaken by another, rapidly growing market: pet products. Astonishingly, people are now spending more on their pets than they are on their children."
Wedderburn does acknowledge that the "statistic" he's referring to (but never actually reveals) encompasses the entire pet market, including petfood, and he's comparing it mainly to children's toys. Perhaps he never makes the direct comparison because he doesn't have exact data for pet toy sales vs. children's toys sales -- and because his headline and main claim are a lot more provocative and guaranteed to grab attention?
 Americans now spend US$21 billion a year on children's toys and games, according to the NPD Group, a market research firm. (Full attribution: I found that statistic in an online article about US toy purchasing, not on the NPD site, though I looked there.)
 The American Pet Products Association (APPA) estimates US pet owners will have spent a total of US$47.7 billion on their pets by the end of this year. So yes, $47.7 billion is more than the $21 billion spent on children's toys -- but it's not a very exact comparison, is it?
Unfortunately, APPA does not break out sales of pet toys, so I couldn't make the direct comparison, either. Now I'm curious! If someone knows the annual US sales of pet toys, please share.
(By the way, APPA's estimate for total 2010 petfood spending is US$18.28 billion. We should know soon if that holds up.)
In trying to find data to back up Wedderburn's claims, I did find some interesting information -- on, yes, another blog! -- that could possibly explain them. At first glance, a table with data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis on where Americans have increased spending since the recession began seems to support the claims. The table shows pets as the second category, ahead of education and child care. And the amounts spent from the last quarter of 2007 through the second quarter of 2010 (this blog was posted in August) show pet spending at US$5.7 billion versus US$3.6 billion for child care.
But you have to figure that at least some portion of the US$36.9 billion spent on education included for children (even public schools charge various fees), as did spending on healthcare, food and drink, personal care products, telephone equipment, etc. That child care figure is probably just money spent on having a child watched by someone other than the parents. (Children's toys aren't mentioned.)
Anyway, I updated our news item to reflect that the information is solely according to Wedderburn, and I included a link to the blog on American spending habits. Lesson learned!

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