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Asia's Growing Animal Love Affair Prompts Rise of Premium Pet Sector

The pet economy is thriving, as ownership climbs and owners spend more on their furry friends, a development that created a huge volume of sales opportunities for exhibitors at the recent Taiwan Cat Festival & Pet Products Fair.

Photo: Hello pet: Visitors arrive for Taiwan’s most tabby- and terrier-friendly expo.
Hello pet: Visitors arrive for Taiwan's most tabby- and terrier-friendly expo.
Photo: Hello pet: Visitors arrive for Taiwan’s most tabby- and terrier-friendly expo.
Hello pet: Visitors arrive for Taiwan's most tabby- and terrier-friendly expo.

Toilets in Taiwan can befuddle visitors unaccustomed to warmed WC seats, jets of water and spritzed fragrances, but cats take to the CatGenie convenience like ducks to water, according to Taiwanese TV celebrity Jacko Chiang. In his latest role as CatGenie Marketing Manager, Chiang showed off the high-tech feline toilet to the crowds gathered at the Taipei Nangang Exhibition Center Hall for the latest edition of the Taiwan Cat Festival & Pet Products Fair, as well as streaming live videos of the demos to Facebook.

Emphasising the Pennsylvania company's sales pitch, Chiang said: "Your cat self-washes, now, so does your cat box. It's a cat box that cleans like an appliance and flushes like a toilet. Invented by a former Israeli rocket scientist, this is the solution to cat smells and at the same time, a way of helping save the environment."

Most of those gathered at the CatGenie booth were previously unaware that green, high-tech cat toilets even existed. As a result, many seeing the demonstration for the first time seemed to want one, despite the somewhat steep cost of US$765 (plus cleaning granules and solutions).

As well as the ranks of sales displays, there was plenty to keep both pet 'parents' and their 'fur babies' entertained. Dedicated cat and dog meeting points for pets to mingle were popular, as were pet beauty contests and quizzes for their owners. Treats for the pets and grooming tips for the owners were also widely on offer.

Among the show highlights were Apple-inspired displays of smart pet feeders from Fresh Element. Millennials in particular seemed to like the cleverly constructed, beautifully designed food dispensing machines, with apps to control them from anywhere in the world. Most notably, Petkit's Eversweet Travel One-Touch Pet Bottle, in four, bright, primary colours, was a 'Red Dot' design award winner.

Nowadays, a bright new pram being wheeled around town is, apparently, almost as likely to contain a pet as a child. The variety and – on occasion – the price tags of the prams on show was bewildering, with Taiwan's Ibiyaya brand running the largest booth.

There were also jogging strollers, which allow owners to run when their pet doesn't want to, and pet bike trailers attached to cycles that allow people to pedal while pets glide in comfort behind. For its part, Taiwan Aoyu Hardware, the local holding company for China's BDG, offered an electric bike with an incorporated pet cage.

According to Grand View Research, an American market-research consultancy, the global pet-care market is worth more than $131.7 billion. It also forecast an annual growth rate of 4.9% over the next six years, with the market estimated to be worth $202.6 billion by 2025.

According to another market-research body, Germany's Gfk, about 57% of the world's population are pet owners. This breaks down as dogs being man's best friend, at 33%, followed by cats (23%), fish (12%), birds (6%) and a rich assortment of other animals making up the rest.

Pet ownership in Asian countries is lower than most other regions but, according to GfK, comprises a significant and growing share of the global market. This is due to the overall size and growth rate of the human population, rising disposable income and improved pet health awareness.

Pet ownership is highest in the rich countries, most notably the United States, while there are twice as many cats as dogs in China because the mainland's cities aren't dog friendly. In Hong Kong, research by the Veterinary Surgeons Board suggests pet ownership increased 72% between 2006 and 2016, with the number of pets expected to reach 545,600 in 2019. Revenue from pet-food sales in the city was expected to rise to HK$1.1 billion in 2018.

Photo: Paws for the camera: Designer dog-snaps.
Paws for the camera: Designer dog-snaps.
Photo: Paws for the camera: Designer dog-snaps.
Paws for the camera: Designer dog-snaps.
Photo: Four-wheeled friends: Pet perambulators.
Four-wheeled friends: Pet perambulators.
Photo: Four-wheeled friends: Pet perambulators.
Four-wheeled friends: Pet perambulators.

Food and medical care constitute the biggest pet-care costs, but innovative products and services are also driving the market. This is partly due to the twin trends of 'humanisation' and 'premiumisation'.

Changing family structures in developed countries include marrying later in life or staying single, having smaller families or not having kids at all. Young singles and the elderly population turn to four-legged friends for company, while urbanisation means big dogs are impractical, so smaller dogs and cats are preferred.

A change in attitude towards pet care means they are often treated like surrogate children or family members – hence humanisation. When interviewed at the Fair, pet parents typically asked to be named after their charges.

"Weimi Baba", for example, the proud owner of a largish hound said: "We brought Weimi here so he could try out some new foods. It's a bit like going to the night market for him. We are also looking for new cat litter. It's a family day out."

Greater disposable income due to rising wages and no-children lifestyles has meant more money to lavish on pets. This presents an opportunity for pet-product suppliers to cash in by providing premium goods and services.

The premium goods featured at the Cat Festival ranged from organic-vegan treats to artfully constructed pet furniture from Meow House and Sky Tower. There were also designer animal nappies on offer from Japan's Pet's Republic.

Among the premium pet services on offer at the expo were pet therapy, 'social petworking', where animals have their own social media presence; and 'etipet' or etiquette training sessions, where animals are taught to behave at the table.

Pet boarding, for when owners are away from home and unable to care for their charges, has become more luxurious as the market has become more competitive. At the same time, pet-friendly restaurants and hotels have become more widely available, as has pet studio portrait photography.

Originally from Turkey, pet photographer Matt Aslan has been working in Taipei for the past eight years. At the Cat Festival he set up a small table with mood lighting and snapped away as pet owners offered up their animals for a free picture. Many of them liked what they saw and later made bookings for a full studio session.

Commenting on the success of his venture, he said: "At our studio, pets are the most popular subject. We can charge up to $2,265 for a set of prints. This is more than many people will spend on family photos or photos of their kids. They really love their pets here."

This pet-centric attitude has created plentiful business opportunities and a strong cottage industry has quickly evolved in Taiwan and elsewhere to meet the needs of demanding pet owners. Andy Chang, the founder of Taipei-based Pep&me, produces a line of prepared meals for pets that uses coconut oil and top-quality ingredients. It was his love of dogs and wish to start his own business, he says, that inspired him to adapt Western pet culture to Asian sensibilities.

Explaining his approach, he said: "All our meals are low in salt, sodium, oil and chemical additives, so they improve your pet's diet, which improves health and is much better than spending on vet appointments. Prevention is always better than cure.

"All our ingredients are certified for human use, so the quality is high and so is the safety. Actually, a lot of our staff snack on the pet food we make because it's so tasty and healthy."

Photo: Bow-wowed: Expo attendees overwhelmed by sheer range of pet products on show.
Bow-wowed: Expo attendees overwhelmed by sheer range of pet products on show.
Photo: Bow-wowed: Expo attendees overwhelmed by sheer range of pet products on show.
Bow-wowed: Expo attendees overwhelmed by sheer range of pet products on show.

The biannual Taiwan Cat Festival & Pet Products Fair takes place at the Taipei Nangang Exhibition Center Hall.

Jules Quartly, Special Correspondent, Taipei

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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