Economy, domestic pet food has room to grow in South Korea

Changing attitudes about dogs and cats have created an opportunity for economy-priced pet foods in South Korea, especially for domestic brands.

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(Karakoram | Dreamstime)
(Karakoram | Dreamstime)

Until a few decades ago, many in South Korea considered cats as little more than vermin, Sunny Moon, food and nutrition consultant with Euromonitor International, told Petfood Industry. Similarly, dogs occupied a lower role in society than they do now. However, changing attitudes about dogs and cats have created an opportunity for economy-priced pet foods in South Korea, especially for domestic brands.

In the case of cats, Koreans have adopted the idea of being a cat mom, without actually adopting a cat. Unlike the pet parenting phenomenon of the United States, Japan and other nations, South Korean “cat mums” feed stray felines, as opposed to babying furry house pets.

“There are quite a lot of stray cats in Asian countries, including Korea,” she said. “Some of them are fed by travelers, especially in hot spots of famous cities, but residents also feed stray cats in Korea. Until the early 2000s, people kept away from stray cats and did not take care of them. As a result, stray cats bred quickly and caused a social problem. As cats found food on the street, rummaged through the trash, and attacked people in hunger, residents began to view cats more negatively and consider them to be dangerous vermin. However, the Cat Protection Association developed a social campaign to improve consumers’ awareness of these cats, encouraging people to live together with the stray cats and care for them. People began to put out cat food in places where cats often hang around, and they often prepared leftovers for the stray cats. This has turned into a culture of caring for stray cats in South Korea.”

Attitude change about dogs and cats in South Korea

Moon examined this cat mum phenomenon and other aspects of South Korean pet food in the report “Pet Care in South Korea: A Leading Frontier in the Asia Pacific Market.” Cat food has been a particularly strong point in the South Korean market. Cat moms helped boost South Korea’s economy cat food market. Starting in 2000, these economy brands have targeted marketing to these feeders of ferals, as well as dog owners in rural areas. As a result, economy pet food grew to account for more than half of all pet food sales in South Korea by 2016.

“The Korean pet food market has shown a unique trend for the past few decades,” Moon said. “As you know, people in South Korea had eaten dog meat before the 2000s, and this eating culture still exists today. However, animal welfare has increasingly improved. For dogs, economy pet food has expanded to feed dogs that live outdoors and are usually fed leftovers.”

Pet food marketers have tried to persuade senior consumers that economy commercial pet food could be cheaper than leftovers and much healthier for their dogs, she said. A similar message has been used for cat mums. Since many segments of Korean pet culture are quite mature, as in other developed countries, manufacturers now are trying to deliver this same message to emerging consumer demographic groups, among whom dogs and cats still eat leftovers and trash on the street. This economy pet food market opportunity may set South Korea apart from similar nations.

“Normally, the economy pet food category is negligible in these countries, because only high-income consumers purchase and feed commercial pet food,” she said. “However, now is the time for Korean players to develop economy pet food in emerging markets to promote improved animal welfare.”

South Korean domestic pet food producer opportunities

Domestic pet food manufacturers may have numerous advantages in taking advantage of this opportunity and others in the South Korean pet food market, Moon said. Along with shorter supply chains, domestic brands may have superior knowledge of the unique requirements of local consumers, such as demand for smaller-sized kibbles for small dogs.

“Mid-priced local brands particularly benefited from having gained a good reputation among consumers by offering similar quality to global brands at a lower price,” she said. “Domestic players also benefited from some imported premium brands facing supply issues towards the end of the review period due to lockdowns and travel restrictions in many western countries.”

Pet ownership growth rates declined during the pandemic in South Korea, as people feared transmission of the virus via animal hosts. However, as these concerns decline, Moon expects pet ownership growth rates to increase again.

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