Health economics of China’s pet food industry

The pet industry in China began to take official form in the 1990s, when the Ministry of Agriculture approved the creation of the China Small Animal Protection Association (CSAPA). Since then, pets have begun to take a much higher position. They were once nothing more than an animal in the backyard. About a decade ago, they started becoming part of the family. The establishment of pet stores with professional pet supply sales and services represented by the troubled Shanghai family has increased pet-centric consumption.

At the beginning of the 2000s, the market witnessed a new era of competition. A group of foreign pet brands entered the Chinese market, one after another, all bearing expectations of the huge rising space of the Chinese pet industry. This not only put pressure on domestic pet brands, but also served as a catalyst for the development of China’s pet industry.

As disposable income and consumption levels for Chinese consumers continue to rise at a steady pace, the number of pet owners has also shown an upward trend — reaching 68.44 million in 2021, according to the China Pet Industry White Paper. The trend towards living alone – due in part to the marriage of younger generations later and later – as well as the aging of the population, is fueling the growth of this furry affluence.

In general, the past 30 years have witnessed a great development in the pet industry. Among them, the pet food market is currently the largest segment and the most competitive market within the industry due to the characteristics of high frequency consumption and high need.

Diverse pet food market

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With the continuous improvement of consumer awareness of science-based pet ownership, pet food is not limited to the traditional concept, but consists of a variety of items such as staple food, nutrition and snacks, among which are also various ingredients. Driven by the pursuit of high-quality functional and refined products, better ingredients have come to the fore: baked foods, raw bone-in meats, freeze-dried meats and other attractive products are all new trends for pet lovers.

Additionally, when it comes to catering to the diverse needs of pets, pet food specialties have made their mark in recent years. Mr. Hemi (Chinese: 黑 ), a domestic pet food brand, is one of the leading companies. It focuses on fresh, steamed food without adding any preservatives or food attractions, and advocates a customized nutritional program to provide nutritionally complete food. Sarah Zhou, co-founder and chief operating officer, told EqualOcean that more and more people are now making their own pet food, which not only helps pet health, but also enhances human-pet interaction and deepens their mutual bond. This is a roundabout guide to the philosophy of good, scientific nutrition for pet owners. “These pet lovers are also our target consumers,” she added.

Reasons to upgrade pet food consumption

First, the group of young people has become the main consumer of the pet market, and because their consumption patterns have a positive effect on pet consumption. In terms of consumer demographics, 70% of pet owners are women—a much higher percentage than men—and the majority live in Tier 1 and Tier 2 cities. As white-collar workers, they are often willing to spend and scatter) on pets, Which leads to the upgrading of pet food consumption and the development of various pet industries.

Second, the evolution of the role of pets. according to[sl1] Third party research, in the first quarter of 2021, 37.1% of Chinese pet owners considered their pets to be their best friend, 23.5% as their children and 17.1% as relatives; This means that nearly 80% of pet parents consider them to be part of their family and have a closer emotional connection with them. Only about 20% of owners are of the opinion that “a pet is just a pet”. From this perspective, it is only natural that people offer the best quality products – different types of nutritious and innovative foods for example – to their family members, and are often reluctant to make major changes if their animals are thriving and feeling fine, unless there is significant economic distress.

Third, there has been a shift in consumer psychology. In the past, when the pet industry was in its infancy, consumers did not care much about the ingredients of the pet food they were buying or whether the nutritional contents met high standards; However, this is not the case at present. Pet owners tend to feed their pets more scientifically to improve their physiological and psychological condition and extend the life of their pets.

Pet Food Trinity ‘Health Economics’

Health economics, in the broad sense of the word, sees health first and foremost as a form of wealth. In the pet industry, while the high cost of medical care for pets continues to be a major pressure on pet owners, most young people believe that raising the level of pet food consumption can, to some extent, avoid the occurrence of serious pet diseases. After all, spending on quality pet food and nutrition is just a drop in the bucket compared to the high cost of medical treatment.

Based on this, an increasing number of pet food establishments are scrambling to release pet food products that can meet their physiological needs, health needs, and emotional needs – a kind of trinity in the pet food industry.

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First, pet consumers’ concern about the physiological needs of their pets is the lowest and most important factor in the hierarchical scheme – eg, simple staple foods that help pets grow. As a necessity for pet nutrition, pet foods are staple foods and will always occupy a large share of the pet food market. However, even though some companies offer a standardized ingredient table, consumers are still concerned about quality, because “puffed” staple foods make it impossible for consumers to see product details. “They (consumers) just want to believe what they see, and our products perfectly meet their demands,” Sarah told EqualOcean in an interview.

Second, when meeting basic needs, pet owners generally resort to focusing more on the health of their pets by providing them with pet nutrition products such as fish oil and vitamins, as a supplement to their basic diets. It is no longer limited to simple satiety, but also features the pet’s immune system, bones and joints, brain, heart, dental care and more. In other words, pet food foods are gradually approaching the level of human health care products, becoming more refined and diverse. Under the influence of the expansion of the pet market and the change in the concept of pet ownership, there is great value in the pet nutrition industry.

Finally, pet ownership entered the level of Maslow’s emotional needs, an order of magnitude higher than the physiological and health needs in this article. Owners buy snacks to please their pets, choose the right food for their pets, such as individual food, or give their pets raw meat and bone food in keeping with the nature of the animals. Sarah Hemi, co-founder of Mr. Hemi, also told EqualOcean that pet consumption, especially pet food, should take into account the emotional needs of pets rather than consumers’ preferences, because the pet is the true recipient of the food. The relationship between pets and owners is no longer one of absolute superiority, but one of care, love and respect. Compared with material consumption in the past, the emotional consumption of pets is more flexible and continuous consumption behavior, with huge prospects.

I look ahead

Pet ownership in China is showing few signs of slowing down as the trend of valuing pets as family members is already well established, along with improving people’s living standards and the rise of millennials. As an essential component of the pet industry, the pet food sector has a lot of room for growth in the future, and the greatest success lies amidst the fierce competition in specialty, new and purer food products.

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