Chinese petfood market’s growth includes rapid product expansion

Name just about any petfood trend that has prevailed on the global market, and it is now showing up in the nascent yet rapidly developing market of China.

Perusing the stands of China-based petfood manufacturers at Pet Fair Asia last week, I was struck not only by the fact that there were several more of them than the year before, including at least one company making its market debut; but what also stood out was the number of premium and specialty petfood products being launched by these companies.

Grain-free, functional ingredients, limited ingredient diets – name just about any petfood trend that has prevailed on the global market in the past few years, and it is now showing up in the nascent yet rapidly developing market of China.

Pet Fair Asia, one of the largest pet trade shows in China, reflects this development. Many of the petfood stands were quite large and impressive; the show, held annually in Shanghai at the World Expo Exhibition and Convention Center, increased exhibit space by over 13% this year and will be expanding further next year with a third hall. A second hall was added just last year, growing exhibit space by 48%, with a 9% rise in professional visitors to the show. (Final numbers for this year’s show are not yet available.)

For the third straight year, Petfood Forum China took place during Pet Fair Asia, this time on August 22. Paula Flores, head of pet care research for Euromonitor International, started the conference with an overview of the global and Chinese petfood markets, noting that petfood accounts for 39% of China’s US$1.56 billion pet care market. That contrasts with the global market, where petfood comprises about two-thirds of the world’s US$98.3 billion pet care sales.

Still, that 39% in China is up from 37% in 2013, and individual petfood categories are increasing from 5% to 12% a year. Euromonitor projects such growth to continue through at least 2019, with premium petfood sales rising 10% to 13%.

Flores noted a few examples of premium and specialty products in her presentation, such as a dog food from Nory Pet Shanghai – which debuted a new name, NatureBridge, at Pet Fair Asia – called Nutritionist with taurine and chondroitin; plus Bile Natural Food with black rice, oats and fish oil from Shanghai Fubei Pet Food.

I found many others in the Pet Fair Asia exhibit halls, with common functional claims including helping brain development, improving and protecting gastrointestinal function and the digestive system, strengthening teeth and bones, nourishing skin and coat and improving the immune system. (I’m assuming these types of claims are much less regulated in China than in developed petfood markets, but that’s an unknown at this point.)

Multinational companies and petfood manufacturers from other countries were also well represented at both Pet Fair Asia and Petfood Forum China – not just the larger brands that first made inroads in the Chinese market, such as Mars (including, separately, its Royal Canin division), Eukanuba and Unicharm, but also names such as Wellness, Vets Choice, Fromm Family (which its Chinese agent, the Winson company, told me had been there since 2008), Natural Balance, Spring Naturals, Verus, Annamaet, Smart Bones and Almo Nature, to name just a few. There was even a petfood manufacturer from Israel, Aitomax.

Petfood suppliers also had stands, with processing equipment and packaging materials the most prevalent; there were also a few ingredient stands. Some of these exhibitors were multinational companies but many were from China. These, too, had increased in number from the year before.

All this reflects not just the growth of this dynamic market but also the increasing sophistication. Yes, China has a long way to go, especially in terms of quality and safety, which will become paramount as more petfood manufacturers there seek to export to other markets. Yet the learning curve is not nearly as steep as you might imagine, and the market’s players are coming on strong.





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