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US pet market follows owners into high tech, organics and nail varnish

With owners ever more keen to impose their lifestyles on their four-legged family members, organic foods, interactive digital pet monitors, canine cosmetics and feline fine dining were all on offer at this year's Global Pet Expo in Florida.

Photo: The big push: promoting pet products is a huge business.
The big push: promoting pet products is a huge business.

'Human tested, dog approved' was the mantra at the recent Global Pet Expo in Florida. While perusing the pet-friendly products on show, attendees were obliged to watch their step as dogs of all sizes, some in special strollers, padded along the aisles or took their turn on booth duty, advertising specialty beds and drool collars.

In a predictably feline fashion, cats voted with their paws when it came to their own presence, even though a large portion of the show was specifically devoted to their well-being. Perhaps more understandably, reptiles and fish were also relatively low profile, though both had – comparatively small – dedicated zones.

In 2013, according to the American Pet Products Association (APPA), Americans spent US$55.7 billion on their pets. It is expected to rise to US$58.5 billion this year, with the largest portion – US$21.6 billion – being spent on dog food.

As a rule of thumb in this growing industry, the trends in the pet sector tend to mirror the preoccupations of the owners. This has seen staying fit, eating healthily (possibly even organically) and connecting socially being imposed on a whole generation of four-legged (etc) friends. With "baby boomers" (those born between 1946 and 1964) now accounting for the largest number of owners, many pets are treated as family members with a substantial amount spent on their food and well-being.

Dogital revolution

With the present human predilection for all things digital, it's hardly surprising that this has filtered through to the animal arena. Susanne Demery, a Buyer with Melbourne-based Pet Imports Pty Ltd, had travelled to the event in search of "anything technology-related".

Assessing the allure of high-tech for pet-owners, she said: "That's the direction people are going right now – and they are absolutely willing to spend money. They want to know what their pets are doing when no one is watching them. I purchased a little camera and put it on the collar of one of my cats. It turns out she visits three other families. I can see what they're feeding her and how she sits on their lap."

In line with this, several vendors had camera-enabled devices on offer, ranging from a basic stationary unit to high-end infra-red systems, complete with night-time vision and outdoor capabilities. One such installation was the Motorola Scout System, on show at the Pet Expo courtesy of Binatone, Motorola's North American licensee.

Explaining its appeal, Jessica Stoddard, Binatone's Director of Product Marketing, said: "People used to use baby monitors to keep an eye on their pets, now they can download an app and see a live stream from their own homes. Our product also has a two-way radio so you can interact with your pet. You can even connect multiple cameras to the same device for a better view."

Taking the concept to the next level was PetSafe, a Tennessee-based pet products manufacturer and distributor, with the introduction of its Social Pet app. This allows owners to not only to watch their pet at home, but also to remotely dispense treats and post photos from the live feed directly onto their social networks.

Robin Rhea, a Senior Brand Manager with PetSafe, said: "It's great for when you're at work and want to do something nice for your pet. An owner can add their friends to the app and allow them to also activate the dispenser and to share photos." At present, Social Pet is currently only available via Amazon, although a potential launch through major retailers is under consideration.

With wearable wellness products already a must for the elderly and the health-conscious, the arrival of a canine equivalent was pretty much a cert. In this regard, Voyce, courtesy of Virgina's i4C Innovations, a manufacturer of specialist dog-friendly products, certainly didn't disappoint. Launched at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the device allows owners to track their dogs' activity levels, heart rate, weight and other vital signs.

Describing the impact of the system, Adam Little, a Veterinary Consultant with i4C, said: "When we debuted Voyce at CES, the response was overwhelming. The feedback showed that people wanted it for smaller dogs and even for cats. We are now developing a device for small animals and one that allows vets to monitor animals' vital signs in real time."

From 'Pawdicures' to puzzles

With family lines becoming blurred, it is perhaps understandable that a number of people-focussed companies, notably Arm & Hammer, Shout and Burt's Bees, have begun to extend their brands into the pet sector.

Fetch is a New York-based manufacturer specialising in producing pet products under license from mainstream brands. Angela Chou, the company's Production Co-ordinator, sees this migration as increasingly inevitable.

She said: "People treat their pets like family and we need to start coming up with more products that cater to that. The basic question people ask when buying these products is: 'Would it be good enough for my child?' Cute and innovative come as a close second."

While licensed pet lines are not produced at the same facilities as the brand's people products, the manufacturing process still has to adhere to the same overall guidelines. According to Chou, among the most popular items in this sector are Burt's Bees shampoo – not, fortunately, hair care for hive-dwellers, but treatments for puppy and adult dogs' coats.

Photos: It’s a dog’s life: canine nail polish and organic meals.
It's a dog's life: canine nail polish and organic meals.

Explaining its popularity, Chou said: "People love the fact that it's 97% natural, with no sulfates, paraben or synthetic fragrances. You could bathe your child in it. Just as they are happy to spend money on their kids, people are happy to spend money on their pets."

For those keen to take a more extreme approach to extending their personal style to their menagerie, Bed Head, a California-based personal grooming company, has launched Pet Head. This brand extension has seen the company introduce a range of pet-friendly shampoos and, most recently, fast-drying nail polish.

Justifying this somewhat outlandish proposition, Janice Binkley, part of Pet Head's marketing team, said: "Our founder, Kyara Mascolo, has eight dogs and 12 cats and she wanted to have 'pawdicures' with her French bulldog. This polish is both human-tested and dog-approved. The polish dries in 20 seconds and comes in purple, pink, fuchsia and blue."

If you are a little concerned about terrier tedium while they're waiting to have their nails done, then there may be a solution even to that, with Zoo Active Products AB in Florida to promote its range of doggy distractions.

Explaining its proposition, Nina Ottosson, the company's Founder, said: "I started this business to mentally activate dogs in a positive and educational manner. We now offer a range of games and puzzles of different levels of difficulty. They all encourage pets to roll, twist and muzzle their way through a maze to reach treats. They can also be used as interactive food bowls."

Judging by the activity at this year's event, it's quite likely that the contents of any food bowl, interactive or not, may be purely organic. With an entire pavilion dedicated to such foodstuff, at least one attendee was clearly delighted.

Mia Nelson, the owner of California's Mountain Paws, a new pet boutique, had organic baked goods and treats at the very top of her shopping list.  She said: "I'm looking for decorated and seasonal treats. They have to be organic and made in USA."

Chances are, she wasn't disappointed. The pavilion was brimful of canine cookies that certainly had people – never mind pooch – appeal. At the Bocce's Bakery stand, for instance, the New York-based company's all-natural treats (made with human-grade ingredients) abounded, complete with such exotic labels as "Lobster Roll", "Truffle Mac and Cheese" and "Apple Pie".

In terms of hound-friendly haute canine, Texas's Frenchie's Kitchen offered the chance to sample sweet potato and carrot puree, beef and barley, or turkey and quinoa – all on white porcelain plates. Clearly satisfied with the reception she was getting, Liz Mosesman, the company's Founder, said: "People are asking questions about the ingredients and where they come from and whether the cartons are recyclable. They are far more educated about pet products than they used to be.

Photo: Canine consumers: roundly hounded by exhibitors.
Canine consumers: roundly hounded by exhibitors.

Global Pet Expo 2014 took place on 12-14 March at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. It featured 985 exhibitors and attracted about 14,000 attendees.

Anna Huddleston, Special Correspondent, Florida

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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