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Dog Ubers and Feline Financial Services Enliven Pet Expo Singapore

This year's Pet Expo Singapore saw competing brands of healthier pet foods jostle for consumer approval, while pet hair vacs, medical insurance for four-legged friends and even bespoke taxi services for domestic animals did the rounds.

Photo: Best in show: Prime specimens take a bow at the Pet Expo Singapore.
Best in show: Prime specimens take a bow at the Pet Expo Singapore.
Photo: Best in show: Prime specimens take a bow at the Pet Expo Singapore.
Best in show: Prime specimens take a bow at the Pet Expo Singapore.

If Singapore's pet-supply market could be likened to the global fast-food industry, then its McDonald's equivalent would clearly be the Pet Lovers Centre (PLC). The 42-year-old company seemingly has an outlet on every street corner of the island republic – 64 in all – and has opened 23 stores in Malaysia and a further five in Thailand.

Perhaps feeling it doesn't have to work too hard on building its brand, PLC's expected mega-stand was notably absent from this year's Pet Expo, which billed itself as "the largest Pet-ducational Fair in Singapore". Instead the company opted to co-brand its presence with Lintbells, the UK-based natural pet supplements specialist whose products are now available through all PLC outlets.

Heading the Asian push for the British company was Fiona Stanton, Lintbell's International Marketing Manager. Outlining the brand's heritage, she said: "We are the number-one supplier of pet health supplements in the UK, with four of the past five winners of the Crufts Dog Show having been reared on our products.

"To date, our Asian presence has been limited to Taiwan and Hong Kong, so we are delighted to be expanding into Singapore in partnership with PLC. From here, we are hoping to move into Thailand and Malaysia, while Japan will feature in our plans a little further down the line."

Another supplement company that was also making its Pet Expo debut was Tokyo-based AstaReal. Explaining his company's presence at the show, President Vincent Wood said: "We've been trading since 2004, but we're here this year to promote the availability of our product range in Singapore. Our key ingredient is astaxanthin, a naturally occurring pigment known to give many sea creatures their red colouring.

"Some 20 years ago, it was also identified as a powerful antioxidant. Since then, we have been harvesting astaxanthin from algae and making it available in products suitable for humans, as well as other products targeted at dogs and other animals, particularly ornamental fish.

"We now have offices in Australia, India, the US and Sweden, and see Singapore as the ideal springboard for accessing the Southeast Asian market. We also see certain similarities between Singapore and Hong Kong, especially in terms of population density, wealth and the presence of a substantial expatriate population. With that in mind, Hong Kong has been earmarked for the next stage of our expansion plans."

Moving from the marine-based to the plant-based, Singapore's Optimus Pet was looking to promote its own brand of highly nutritional vegetarian pet food. Explaining the concept, Candice Huang, the company's Business Development Manager, said: "Truly holistic health begins with natural and optimum nutrition for every member of the family, including pets. To that end, we offer plant-based foods suitable for all pets. Available in a tablet, powder or liquid form, we believe they are the most nutrient-dense pet foods currently available.

"Our products have been available through vets since 2010 and have proved effective in treating a number of ailments by helping to boost immune systems. This has seen them used to treat skin, joints and eye problems.

"In our experience, many pet-owners are only too aware of the high level of additives and artificial supplements found in many pet-food brands. With our range, they know they are getting something more natural.

"All of our products are specially manufactured in Taiwan. As well as serving our existing client base in Singapore, we are now looking at expanding into South Korea, the US and Vietnam. At the moment, we are also in preliminary discussions with a Hong Kong distributor."

Another company aiming more at the premium end of the pet-food market is Singapore-based B2K. Introducing its current range, Director Kenneth Koh said: "Among our current best-sellers is an eco-friendly cat litter made from the residue of soy-bean production, and a range of liquid snacks for cats that help with urinary-tract infections and other ailments. We are also now offering our Kit Cat food range in 26 countries and our premium dehydrated dog food. This is basically home-cooked dog food, to which you just have to add water.

Photo: Bosch’s pet vac.
Bosch's pet vac.
Photo: Bosch’s pet vac.
Bosch's pet vac.
Photo: Healthy plant-based pet food.
Healthy plant-based pet food.
Photo: Healthy plant-based pet food.
Healthy plant-based pet food.

"Our most successful recent launch, however, has been our Nutrience range of pet food, which contains seven different kinds of fish. I'd say, at this particular event, our sales have been 50% food and treats and 50% accessories."

Something of a veteran of the event was Wellness, the US-based pet-food brand. Giving his take on the global trends affecting the sector, Director Esmund Low said: "We have been in the business for 14 years and have attended every Pet Expo except the very first one.

"We are now seeing raw and wet food selling particularly well, a development that is in line with the international shift towards higher quality pet foods. This year, food has represented roughly 40% of our sales at this event, with treats and accessories accounting for a further 30% each."

Perhaps one of the more surprising exhibitors at this year's event was Bosch. Explaining just what had bought one of Germany's leading home-appliance suppliers to a Singapore pet show, Benjamin Then, a Sales Consultant with the company, said: "We are here to promote our new pet-friendly vacuum cleaner – the Zoo ProAnimal. This is the first time we have attended the Pet Expo and we have been delighted at how well our sales have gone, especially as it is something of a premium product and retails for about US$500.

"Unlike traditional vacuum cleaners that fail to pick up pet hair, ours has been designed specifically for that purpose, performing at least 30% better than any comparable model. The Pet Expo has proved a great opportunity to showcase this addition to our range, while also giving us the opportunity to network with potential customers."

One of the clear growth sectors at this year's event was pet insurance. Among the many exhibitors specialising in this sector was Singapore-based Liberty Insurance. Acknowledging the growing concerns on the part of pet owners that are driving this sector, Carey Ang, the company's Financial Services Director, said: "In Singapore, no one apart from us offers insurance that covers non-surgical procedures, something that is important as more and more pet owners have become concerned over their pets' possible medical expenses.

"With each visit to a vet easily costing a few hundred dollars, we provide 50% reimbursement for non-surgical procedures and 70% in cases where surgery is required. One non-surgical procedure of growing concern is the treatment of skin problems. In this instance, a particularly chronic condition can cost several hundred dollars for medical care alone. This is without taking into account any special dietary requirements or supplementary care."

Doctors Beck & Stone is one of Liberty Insurance's partner companies. A veterinary practice, it first began trading in China in 2009, subsequently opening additional clinics in Hong Kong and Singapore. Explaining its USP, Dr Cheryl Tay, a Senior VIP Veterinarian with the practice, said: "What really sets us apart is that we provide a far wider range of diagnostic services than most other vets, including ultrasound scans and eye examinations. We also provide 24-hour monitoring at our hospital facilities, which also offer suites, allowing owners to stay with their pets."

Given the growth in pet health food, pet home appliances and pet financial services, it is perhaps unsurprising that dedicated pet taxis were not far behind. This, indeed, is now the service on offer from Singapore-based PetMate, a subsidiary of CarPal, a business that bills itself as "the Uber of the world of goods vehicles".

Explaining the thinking behind this new venture, Marketing Director Joanne Hwang said: "In a similar fashion, we are pretty much an Uber service for the pet in your life. Drawing from our pool of 2,500 freelance drivers, we provide a dedicated point-to-point service, unlike other pet taxi services that tend to service only specific routes, typically picking up several pets every trip.

"We launched in 2015 and typically make more than 300 trips a week. We also collaborate with 60 pet businesses across Singapore, including vets and grooming salons, and offer a flat fee to all of their customers. We have now extended the service into Malaysia and Hong Kong and plan on introducing it in a number of other Asian cities."

Photo: Wellness: Capitalising on the trend for higher quality pet foods.
Wellness: Capitalising on the trend for higher quality pet foods.
Photo: Wellness: Capitalising on the trend for higher quality pet foods.
Wellness: Capitalising on the trend for higher quality pet foods.
Photo: Newly available in Singapore: The Lintbells range.
Newly available in Singapore: The Lintbells range.
Photo: Newly available in Singapore: The Lintbells range.
Newly available in Singapore: The Lintbells range.

Pet Expo Singapore 2017 was held from 14-16 April at the Singapore Expo.

Ronald Hee, Special Correspondent, Singapore

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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