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Purrfect business

From special hotels to salons and toys, Asia’s pet industry  is expanding fast and generating big profits

JOHANNES EISELE / AFP

By PEARL LIU in Hong Kong – September, 2016
For China Daily Asia Weekly

When Emma Jia was in Hong Kong recently for a five-day holiday, she was unable to relax. She spent most of her time worrying about her “son and daughter” staying at a pet hotel back in Beijing.

“I will never leave them alone again,” said Jia, as she busied herself shopping for clothes and toys for her “kids” — a 4-year-old shih tzu named ChouChou and a young cat.

The 31-year-old spends a lot of money on goods and services for her pets — sometimes more than she spends on herself — including, on that trip, over HK$5,000 ($645) at one pet supplies store alone.

“I need to buy some presents for them to cheer them up,” she said. “I heard that ChouChou has been depressed since I sent him to the hotel and has not eaten much for a while.”

For Jia, spending money on pet products is not a luxury but a necessity. Pet food and grooming supplies go on her shopping list alongside milk and soap and shampoo. And she is hardly the only one.

Pretty much all of Asia is going wild over dogs — or cats, birds, hamsters, guinea pigs; in fact, all of the cute animals held dear to owners’ hearts. Pets can provide a lot more than emotional support.

Pretty much all of Asia is going wild over dogs — or cats, birds, hamsters, guinea pigs; in fact, all of the cute animals held dear to owners’ hearts.

For some they generate big profits. A whole industry that has operated in the West for decades is now expanding in Asia and the prospects for growth are very good.

Asia’s pet products market was worth an estimated $10 billion in 2015, according to consulting firm Frost & Sullivan. At first blush, this is a large number and one that has contributed to the emergence and growth of pet fairs, events and publications throughout Asia.

It is a number driven by economic growth and an emerging middle class. But what really has the industry salivating is the prospect for growth in the region.

The same industry in the United States — with about an eighth of the population of this region and less than a third of the population of China alone — was worth $60.28 billion in 2015, according to industry body the American Pet Products Association.

Spending on supplies and over-the-counter medications alone in the US is likely to reach almost $15 billion this year.

People are splashing out more on veterinary care, while services like grooming, walking, training, pet sitting and exercising grew 11.8 percent to be worth $5.4 billion.

All of these services are now taking off in Asia. In Singapore and Hong Kong, pet groomers are fashionable, while they are also very common in Seoul and Tokyo.

According to Euromonitor International, the pet food markets in China and the Philippines likely grew by 10 percent last year, 14 percent in Thailand and Indonesia and by a staggering 25 percent in India.

Asia’s pet care market is growing  about 4.6 percent per year and accounts for about 9 percent or $9.8 billion of global spending of $105 billion.

Asia’s pet care market is growing about 4.6 percent per year and accounts for about 9 percent or $9.8 billion of global spending of $105 billion.

Neil Wang, global partner and president for Greater China at Frost & Sullivan, noted that Japan accounts for 40 to 50 percent of the Asian market, with spending of $4.8 billion in 2015. Pet owners there are the biggest spenders per capita in the region, with the average cat or dog owner spending $78 per year on their pets.

“In line with the economic growth in Asia, an increasing number of people are keeping pets,” he said. This includes those who consider animals as family members and are willing to make purchases for them.

“The main consumer group for pet products is the middle- to high-class pet keepers, especially the young generation living in first-tier cities,” Wang said.

In Japan, for example, cat cafes are popular spots for customers to spend time with resident animals. And forget the Hello Kitty theme park; the Motoazabu Hills Forest Tower apartment complex in Tokyo features a special foot bath for pets.

However, the market is still very much in its infancy in the largest and fastest-growing economies, like the Chinese mainland, India and Indonesia, where there are billions of people and a rapidly growing middle class.

Although China’s pet products market is still developing, the success in Shanghai last month of the 19th annual Pet Fair Asia, where a bigger-than-expected crowd forced the box office to shut down after three hours, suggests huge potential.

Wang pointed out that China’s pet population is relatively low when compared with around 400 million pets in the United States and 200 million pet dogs and cats in Japan. “In China there are around 100 million pets,” he said.

“Also, Chinese pet keepers were (once) more willing to buy basic pet products and are now gradually switching to luxury ones. Hence, the China pet product market is still developing and showing large potential.”

Something similar is happening elsewhere in Asia.

“In developing regions like Southeast Asia, the pet product market is still an emerging market and the pet food business is growing rapidly, while in mature markets such as Japan, veterinary care is expected to be one of the strongest drivers of the market,” Wang said.

Consumers have already upgraded to luxury pet products in Japan. “However, in developing countries, the awareness of purchasing goods for pets has just emerged and consumers’ purchasing power is limited by relatively lower disposable incomes,” Wang explained.

Consumers have already upgraded to luxury pet products in Japan.

But as incomes rise, the industry is expecting a similar increase in spending on pet products. “The pet food business still leads the market, while other services like vet care are also rapidly developing,” Wang said.

“The pet product market in Asia is becoming increasingly mature and diversified, and is likely to grow faster than the world average in the coming years.”

Entrepreneurs are tapping into the opportunities. Among them is WH Cheung, who has run a pet shop with his wife in Hong Kong’s Wan Chai district for more than a decade.

“When we first opened the store, most customers were celebrities or professionals who had large flats or even gardens,” Cheung said.

“They drove their cars to buy food or some basic supplies, or called for delivery. Raising a pet was kind of a symbol of their identity of being middle to upper class.”

But now, the profile of Cheung’s regular customers has changed: They are more average people. And the products they want have also changed, with certain clients likely to keep more exotic pets like snakes.

“We’ve seen more young couples coming and asking for a lot of new stuff — for example, portable bathrooms for pets, and mini GPS trackers for pets,” said Cheung.

“I have to admit that many products we are selling now in the store were first introduced to us by our customers. They are quite demanding to provide the best things for their pets. The relationship is more like parents with their kids.”

As pet ownership becomes more common and products grow in diversity, the industry itself is expanding.

As pet ownership becomes more common and products grow in diversity, the industry itself is expanding.

Cheung has noticed there are not only more competitors but also others offering complementary services, such as pet beauty salons and dog hotels. “The landscape has changed rapidly and the entire industry has taken off,” he said.

These are the kinds of services that Jia, and many other “mothers”, look for and are willing to pay for. During her time in Hong Kong, she stayed in constant communication with the owner of the Beijing pet hotel where she left her dog and cat.

She said she did extensive research before choosing a particular place, and made sure the facility was ranked among the top five in multiple pet forums. Even then, demand is high and a place is not guaranteed.

“You have to book at least two weeks (in advance) to make sure there are still available rooms,” said Jia.

Owners can then check on their pets through pictures and clips the facility sends every few hours, she said.

“The most important thing is that they have vets in house in case the pet gets sick. Pets, dogs in particular, get sick easily when they suddenly come into a totally strange environment.”

For her five-day holiday, Jia spent HK$2,000 on her own stay in Hong Kong, sharing a room with a colleague. But a shared room was not an option for her “kids”. Two portable pet houses cost her around HK$2,500.

Pet fairs lap up big demand Expos large and small spring up across Asia as rising affluence leads to a surge in numbers of animal owners

A DOG is transported in a buggy at the Pet Fair Asia in Shanghai on Aug 23, 2014. Alongside the surge in pet ownership, the fair has seen huge growth since its inception in 1997 and similar events are springing up across Asia. AFP

By PEARL LIU in Hong Kong
For China Daily Asia Weekly

The 60,000 visitors crowding outside the Shanghai World Expo Exhibition & Convention Center in 37 C heat last month were not there to ogle celebrities or make any kind of statement.

They were looking for wares for their dogs, cats, canaries, or whatever pets they hold dear — and the heat was so intense that two dogs died, with other reports of more than a dozen suffering from heatstroke.

“We were supposed to open at 9 in the morning, but considering the unexpected long queue, we had to open the fair half an hour earlier,” said Grace Wu, a senior marketing manager with VNU Exhibitions Asia, organizer of Pet Fair Asia, which has been held annually since 1997.

The company, a joint venture between European convention industry leader Jaarbeurs and Shanghai-based Keylong Exhibitions, started operating in China two decades ago and was among the first companies to organize pet fairs throughout Asia.

The idea that people in this region would be spending large amounts on pet products might have seemed a little far-fetched 20 years ago, but the market is now estimated to be worth more than $10 billion. And when there is a large market, there are large fairs.

The idea that people in this region would be spending large amounts on pet products might have seemed a little far-fetched 20 years ago, but the market is now estimated to be worth more than $10 billion.

Once a solitary operator looking for a toehold in the Asian market, VNU is now a large player fending off competition and hosting grand shows.

Earlier this year, VNU acquired Aquarama, an exhibition focused on aquarium supplies and ornamental fish, in a move to further consolidate its coverage of the region’s pet exhibition business.

“With a long history of doing such exhibitions in Europe, we’ve witnessed the enthusiasm of pet owners in Western countries and we saw (how) that would be duplicated here along with economic development, and the pet-related business exhibition becoming a behemoth in the region,” said Wu.

Never underestimate people’s love for their pets, she said. “It’s no less than what parents give to their kids.”

Pet Fair Asia 2016 in Shanghai included some 800 domestic and overseas vendors — about 100 more than last year and 150 more than in 2014.

And this year’s show easily topped the record 2015 attendance of 55,000 visitors. Less than three hours after opening, the box office closed because the exhibition center was too overcrowded.

“A lot of vendors who applied failed to get entry due to the (size) of our venue,” said Wu, adding that the company is looking to move to a bigger space next year.

Across the region the business of pets is growing fast, and there are fairs large and small.

Across the region the business of pets is growing fast, and there are fairs large and small.

Bangkok has the Petfood Forum Asia event; Singapore has the magazine Clubpets, which recently published its 60th issue; and Malaysia has the Pet World Malaysia exhibition and Pet Fiesta Expo.

Multiple fairs are also scheduled every year in Japan, which has the largest industry in the region.

And in April, the Korea Pet Show (Kopet) attracted 35,000 visitors and buyers from 16 countries.

Leia Choi, chief of overseas business for Kopet, said: “It is not just about business. Pet exhibitions are the only kind of show (where) people can bring their own pets.

“There are not just booths and display boards. There are dog shows, pet beauty pageants and pet beauty salons. Even if you are not a pet owner, you would love to come and see the cute dogs and cats and may become a potential buyer.”

The interaction with real animals is the best marketing point of a pet business exhibition, she added.

Industry experts see the boom in the region’s pet business as fuel for the growth of pet fairs, and they expect more such events.

“Before, the whole region lagged behind in terms of economic development and we had to focus more on our own food and shelter. Spending on pets was an extra, a luxury expense,” said Choi.

Much has changed.

“Now, as Asians we are aware of meeting our emotional needs and pets are always seen as the best soul companions. More pet owners means more consumers of pet products, and exhibitions are needed to link those manufacturers and distributors to the consumer,” said Choi.

Daniel Cheung agrees. The former executive vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Exhibition & Convention Industry Association believes this is a “golden time” for pet fairs. He has seen the whole industry grow by leaps and bounds in the past couple of years.

“We saw some small pet product fairs 10 years ago, but it did not come to maturity until the past few years,” Cheung said. “You cannot organize a successful exhibition if there are only eight to 10 suppliers of dog food and accessories.

“Before, there were just two to three dog food brands. Now, there are more than a dozen. And it is not about just food and basic accessories, there are also pet shampoos and pet strollers. One easy way to see the expansion of pet fairs in Hong Kong is the upgrade of venues,” the veteran exhibition professional said.

People are made of stories, not atoms.

In 2010 the Hong Kong Pet Show, the special administrative region’s main pet fair, moved from a 30,000 square-foot site to the current 120,000 sq ft hall at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, the city’s major exhibition venue.

But further growth will be constrained by the size of the local market.

“It is like wedding fairs and food fairs, the main target is local residents and you cannot expect the size to double or triple in a short time as the market is there already,” said Cheung.

The only way to expand beyond a certain point might be to bring in foreign visitors, as demonstrated by South Korea’s Kopet expo.

“We saw no overseas exhibitors until last year,” said Kopet’s Choi.

“We (started) one-to-one pre-meetings in 2015 to attract overseas manufacturers who would like to export their products to Korea. Before they fly to the show they can talk to each other.

“If both sides are interested in the deal, they can then come and score the contract. If they are not interested, we can help them change to other buyers. This unique system has largely saved them the time of just wandering into the fair venue.”

Looking to target the Chinese mainland — potentially the largest market in the region — Kopet has implemented strategies to reach out to people on WeChat and QQ, two of China’s most popular instant messaging tools.

Kopet’s aim is to attract potential buyers and vendors to participate in the biggest pet exhibition in South Korea.

None of these developments is much of a challenge to Shanghai-based Pet Fair Asia, the market leader that has benefited from the large population at home.

Still, as it faces more and more competitors in China and the region, the pioneer hopes its 20th anniversary pet fair next year will take the event to the next level.

Still, as it faces more and more competitors in China and the region, the pioneer hopes its 20th anniversary pet fair next year will take the event to the next level.

“We’ve seen pet supplies getting intellectualized and humanized and this will be our main focus,” said Wu from VNU Exhibitions Asia. “Visitors will see more innovative products making their debut at our exhibition next year.”

Creature Comforts Keeping cats and dogs can help children learn about relationships and fill empty nests for parents

By YANG YANG
yangyangs@chinadaily.com.cn

Afew months ago, I bumped into a friend in a Japanese restaurant. He ordered a bottle of sake and invited me to join him. When I told him I was going to get a cat, his jolly mood turned somber.

“My dog died a week ago,” he said.

He recounted how he had gotten the husky, how much he loved it, how it had waited until he had returned from a business trip before it died, how he had taken it to a veterinary clinic in a vain attempt to save its life, and how on a rainy night he had dug a grave for his departed friend.

As he told his story, we both had to hold back tears.

Three years ago, Dandan, a 5-year-old dog my parents had, was knocked over and killed by a car. When they told me about how she had died, my mother — seldom one to shed tears in front of me — cried. My father tried to cover his sorrow by walking away.

Dandan had been a loyal companion to them after my brother and I had left home, bringing much joy and comfort to their lives.

“He was a family member,” my friend said of his husky. “I’d always wanted a dog since middle school. Finally, more than 10 years ago, my father gave it to me as a reward for gaining admission to a good university.

“He ate even better than me — all imported dog food — and I walked him twice a day if I was not away on business,” he said. “My son loved him, and he loved my son, too.”

“He ate even better than me — all imported dog food — and I walked him twice a day if I was not away on business.”

Stories of humans grieving for animals they have formed close bonds with go back thousands of years. In fact, research published in May last year suggests humans have been keeping animals as pets for 27,000 years. It is likely that the genesis of this was human ancestors capturing young wolves and taming them to become companions.

Cats were not tamed until about 3,600 years ago, initially by ancient Egyptians.

Since becoming a full-fledged “cat mother” I have been surprised to discover just how many people around me have pets.

Forbes magazine quotes data from the National Bureau of Statistics that show China has 27.4 million dogs, the third-highest after the United States and Brazil, and about 58 million cats, second only to the US.

According to Goumin, an online network for pet owners, 79.5 percent of Chinese owners are in their 20s and 30s, while more than 58 percent are women. It also said that the nation’s pet economy has grown at an annual rate of 30 percent in recent years.

Forbes magazine quotes data from the National Bureau of Statistics that show China has 27.4 million dogs, the third-highest after the United States and Brazil, and about 58 million cats, second only to the US.

Some people say children growing up with pets are more willing to share and communicate with others. Keeping pets provides Chinese born in the era of the one-child policy with a reflection of their relationships with their parents, lovers and children. For many elderly people whose children are not around, pets can become the biggest comfort in their life.

Charlotte Qiu, 32, moved out of her parents’ home last year. Initially, she was unhappy in her job, and outside work her life seemed to consist of little more than an endless succession of blind dates. “I seemed to have no interest in anything, and I was on the verge of depression,” she said.

She decided to get a cat. When it arrived, things began to pick up, but soon the downsides of this constant companion became obvious. For a start, the cat seemed to be immune to toilet training and would constantly leave a mess in Qiu’s apartment. That led to bouts of yelling at the cat, which seemed unable to play the role of the docile feline.

“Then I realized that perhaps I was being mean to her,” Qiu said. “She was doing her best to make me think about my relationships with my parents and friends.”

Wu Jian, 27, who is from the central city of Changsha but lives with his girlfriend in Beijing, adopted a ginger-and-white cat named Bergman three months ago.

“We wanted to make ourselves feel responsible for taking care of a living creature,” he said. “A dog was the first choice, but we weren’t sure we would have the time to walk it every day. So we opted for a cat.”

Resolving disputes

Sometimes, Wu and his girlfriend — both of whom are from one-child families — quarrel over whether they should swat the cat if it misbehaves.

“If we can tackle these disputes in a positive way, we can do the same when we have other similar problems and get along better,” Wu said.

His girlfriend even created an account on Sina Weibo, the Twitter-like service, to record interesting moments of their lives from the perspective of the cat. Wu added that when he feels down, the cat cheers him up.

Another person to have found feline solace is Wu Bao, who teaches architecture at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing. Wu, who is in her 30s, lives alone.

She has four big cats, three of which are named after her favorite Spanish football players: Lionel Messi, Juan Mata and Andres Iniesta.

“Before I got my first cat, Leo, I had never laughed loudly at home on my own, or talked to myself,” she said. “I was kind of boring.”

Since she often had to go away on business, and worried that Leo would feel lonely at home, she got another cat, Juan Mata, and the two cats quickly bonded. She then bought another two cats in quick succession.

Wu has got to know the character of each cat, she said, adding that local mixed breeds like Leo make the best pets as they interact better with humans. When the weather is good, she wakes up in bed surrounded by four cats, “feeling like a king”.

“Keeping cats has changed who I am. I used to care only about myself. But after learning to look after cats and caring about their happiness, I’ve become a better teacher.”

“Keeping cats has changed who I am. I used to care only about myself. But after learning to look after cats and caring about their happiness, I’ve become a better teacher.”

However, keeping cats remains a minority interest in China. By 2014, 2 percent of families in urban areas had them, while 7 percent had dogs, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.

Dogs have become companions for the elderly as more young people head to big cities to seek employment opportunities.

When Jiang Xiaobin moved to Beijing to work for a newspaper four years ago, her parents back in Hangzhou, East China’s Zhejiang province, adopted a poodle called Xiaohei.

Part of the family

After returning home, her father will make a beeline for the attic, where the dog stays during the day. “My parents treat him like a son, kind of like a replacement for me,” Jiang said. “My father is his first master, my mother the second, and I’m just his sister.”

In fact, the dog has become a frequent topic when her parents speak with her on the phone, and many of their daily activities now revolve around the dog.

“My parents have become good friends with a lot of other dog owners. One owns a hardware shop and helped us repair a broken tap in our bathroom,” she said, adding that walking the dog every day also helps her parents stay healthy.

Research that shows children who keep pets tend to look after the weak and are less likely to feel lonely.

Zheng Richang, a psychology professor at Beijing Normal University, has done research that shows children who keep pets tend to look after the weak and are less likely to feel lonely. Keeping pets can teach children responsibility and independence, he said.

“Many families have only one child, which easily makes children self-centered and poor at communicating with others. But keeping pets nurtures patience, empathy and a sense of responsibility.”

In some countries, including Germany and South Korea, doctors prescribe keeping a pet to help cure depression or an addiction, explained Tao Ran, director of the medical addiction unit at the Army General Hospital in Beijing.

Seeking action on strays in Beijing People who make it their mission to look after homeless cats share an uncommon kindness

YANG JIE with two of her seven cats. PHOTOS BY YANG YANG / CHINA DAILY

By YANG YANG
yangyangs@chinadaily.com.cn

It is almost impossible to know how many cats exist in China, with many strays living a miserable existence in which they face natural threats and the darker side of humanity.

Although China has no regime to protect animals like stray cats and dogs, there are many good-hearted people who care about their well-being.

Yang Jie, 30, said when Beijing’s residential bungalows were torn down at the beginning of the 21st century and residents were relocated, many cats were abandoned by their owners.

“When I was little, almost every family had a cat,” she said. “They were kept with relatively few restrictions, allowed to run free. I almost never saw a stray cat.

“But when people moved into high-rises they no longer wanted to keep cats, so they were abandoned in the streets.”

Cats at that time were not treated as pets. Rather, their job was to catch mice, just as dogs were supposed to act as guards. Owners failed to neuter their cats, which resulted in many more kittens being born soon after they were deserted.

Cats at that time were not treated as pets. Rather, their job was to catch mice, just as dogs were supposed to act as guards.

“That may be why there are so many stray cats now,” Yang said.

Eight years ago, when Yang was about to graduate from university, she decided to take home the “poor deaf cat” she often fed at the school.

Since then, she has collected seven grown-up cats in her parents’ home and a blind kitten she temporarily keeps in a neighbor’s empty apartment.

“Apart from the first cat and her two kittens, the other four were picked up on the street. They all have physical problems, and no one wants a disabled cat, so we look after them.”

In addition to the eight cats, Yang cares for 40 strays that wander her neighborhood.

She gets up at 5 am, tends to the cats at home and then goes to feed the strays at 6 am. They wait for her, come rain, shine or freezing cold, she said.

“Originally, I fed them at 7 am, but a lot of people are driving their children to school then, and it’s easy for hungry cats that are scurrying around to be hit by cars.”

After seeing that happen twice, she decided to change the feeding time.

“I was so devastated seeing a cat run over that I couldn’t work that day.”

“I was so devastated seeing a cat run over that I couldn’t work that day,” she recalled, sobbing. “Such a lovely animal died simply because drivers don’t slow down, even in a residential area.”

Yang has made it her mission to find people to adopt the cats. Over the past few months, she has found homes in Beijing for 40 kittens.

She closely questions those applying to take the cats to ensure they go to a good home, and she is willing to drive great distances if she finds someone who may be suitable.

“I want to visit the adopter’s home to see what the living conditions are like,” she said.

Lu, nicknamed Maolaolao, of Beijing, has been helping to care for stray cats for 15 years. The 52-year-old retiree is publicity shy, fearing the better known she becomes, the heavier her workload will be.

“Over the past 15 years, I’ve not taken one single day off from feeding these strays,” said Lu. “I have to go because they are waiting for me. If I didn’t turn up, the cats would take refuge somewhere and wait until I finally did.

“These days, stray cats can’t find much food in rubbish bins because of garbage classification. All the bins have a lid, and waste is packed in plastic bags. Now, people cook little food, and not much goes into the waste. If I don’t feed the cats they will starve to death.”

Each month, she said, she spends her entire pension as well as the donations she receives from benefactors on the cats. Cat food alone costs her between 7,000 yuan ($1,050) and 8,000 yuan.

However, Lu said she dislikes asking for charity, as she fears people will turn her away.

“There are many who really dislike people like us. If we raise money to help animals, they will say: ‘You people spend the day pleading for help for stray cats and dogs, but you are the ones who need help.’ As if there is something to be ashamed of in what we do.”

Despite her reticence about asking for help, if the cats fall ill, expenses can be extremely high, and Lu feels she has no choice but to seek donations.

Her mother and elder sister have told her they dislike what she does, but she is resolved to carry on.

“Retired people like me will eat whatever they want to eat, travel to wherever they want, and enjoy their lives. But I have to live frugally to save money for these cats and dogs.

“Sometimes, I feel really bad, but thinking of their poor situation, I can’t stop feeding them. I’ll continue to try my best to help them until the day when I can’t do it anymore.”

There have been several high-profile cases of dogs and cats being mistreated in China recently.

“The government needs to pass laws to protect these small, helpless animals,” Lu said.

Yang added: “All lives are equal. If you don’t love them, at least don’t hurt them.”

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