As more consumers consider their pets family members, they continue to spend even on discretionary purchases.
By Martha Spizziri
In spite of the ongoing recession, global sales of pet products continue to increase, with worldwide spending reaching 56.8 billion euros (about $81 billion), according to market research firm Euromonitor International. For the first time, as stated in report by Euromonitor, European expenditures exceeded those in North American with 21.7 billion euros (about $31.1 billion) spent on pet supplies in 2009, compared to 21.3 billion (about $30.5 billion). That growth should continue.
“For the next years, you can’t call anything recession-proof anymore, but within that context, pet food is,” said Euromonitor global research manager Lee Linthicum.
Euromonitor has revised its 2009-2014 growth forecasts for pet food and care downward slightly, he noted–from nearly 3 percent to 2.3 percent year-on-year growth, adjusted for inflation.
Still, “the human industry would kill for that growth,” Linthicum said.
In Britain, a relatively mature market, the growth rate for that period will be slightly below average at 0.9 percent. That is according to a February 2010 Euromonitor report titled, “Pets at Home sale underlines potential for pet superstore growth in UK.”
Products that offer convenience have been selling well, and premium products and discretionary items such as treats, clothing and high-tech gadgets remain surprisingly popular. A big reason for that, according to Euromonitor, is the trend toward humanization of animals, especially in Western Europe. People increasingly see their pets as members of the family, and spend money on them accordingly, said Linthicum. That trend is especially pronounced in the United Kingdom.
”Britain is an anomaly in the context of Europe. They’re more like America in terms of humanization of pets,” said Linthicum.
“The international pet industry is trying to overcome the present economic crisis with new products and innovations,” said Klaus Oechsner, committee chairman of the German industry.
Examples include products aimed at keeping pets fit and well: relaxing music for pets, special dog beds and toys. Another trend is convenience.
“While consumers place considerable value on the companionship that pets can provide, most want to minimize the time and effort they expend on pet-related chores,” said Linthicum.
“There is also a lifestyle trend, with really lovely accessories like collars, leads or bowls in fashionable colors,” Oechsner said
Pet Food Trends
Nevertheless, Linthicum said that Britons and other Europeans are not as likely as U.S. consumers to spend on whimsical items such as pet yoga and clothing. European owners are more apt to spend on health-related purchases, such as food for a specific breed, age or health condition, or food that is fortified with ingredients such as probiotics or omega 3.
“The same functional ingredients you’d find in human food,” Linthicum said. “They’re buying premium pet foods–Eukanuba, Iams, Hill, Purina One. With few exceptions, you’re not going to change your brand of pet food, particularly if you’re a premium pet food customer.”
Oechsner reported that pet owners also are interested in foods that are free of preservatives, coloring agents and other possibly unhealthful ingredients.
Despite the addition of human-type ingredients, an emerging trend is pet food that is “based as closely as possible on the animal’s natural nutrition,” said Hans-Jochen Büngener, chairman of the Interzoo exhibition committee, in a March press release. Alexandre Saiz Verdaguer, CEO of the European Pet Product Wholesaler Association, predicted that grain-free, 100-percent meat pet foods, “will be new mass sellers of next decade.”
Büngener also said he sees a trend toward more products in the food-supplement segment and expects to see many new products in the health and fitness segment introduced at the Interzoo trade fair in May.
Despite a willingness to spend on premium foods, Linthicum noted, “People are trading down within premium brands” — that is, they are still buying those brands, but choosing less-expensive lines. Pet-food companies may offer consumers some relief, though. Antje Schreiber, spokeswoman for the Interzoo pet-products trade fair, said that some pet food companies would reduce their prices.
Competition from Pet Superstores
Pet superstores such as Pets at Home, Fressnapf and Petco, may profit the most from consumer attitudes.
“People are shopping smarter, so that tends to favor pet superstores because they can still get brands like Hill’s and Eukanuba, but cheaper,” Lee Linthicum said.
Linthicum also pointed out that the superstores are adding more services, such as grooming and boarding and even veterinary services in some cases, making themselves into one-stop shops.
“It’s a retail format that seems to be working very well,” he said, pointing to the expansion of such chains as proof.
Though in some markets, such as Italy, Spain and Portugal, there is a bias toward smaller pet shops, “It’s only a matter of time till [pet superstores] are there as well,” he predicted. In those countries, the bias is mainly a result of the current, fragmented nature of retail, he said.
He noted that in France, by contrast, competition from superstores is held in check by zoning laws.
Linthicum said independent pet shop owners could best deal with the competitive threat in two ways: First, independent shops could “remake themselves into a destination in their own right,” offering their own grooming, training and boarding services. In addition, they can continue to do what they have always done well: Provide expertise customers cannot necessarily get at a superstore.
Customers’ willingness to spend on pets may not be as strong when it comes to fish. John Dawes, who reports on aquatic pets for Pet Product News International and other publications, said that some European fish importers and wholesalers are reporting increased interest in the modestly priced “bread-and-butter species” in preference to some of the more specialized–often more expensive -types of fish.
Small “nano aquaria” are becoming more popular in Europe and worldwide. They are attractive to consumers since they can be set up at a relatively low cost, and because they fit in small spaces. They are often sold in packages that include all the necessary equipment — aquarium, lights, filters, and stand — which makes it easy for people to get started in the hobby. Dawes noted that larger models are being introduced that stretch the meaning of “nano.”
Heightened awareness of the negative economic and ecological consequences of invasive species is starting to take hold in the aquatic industry and among consumers. In the Netherlands, several parties, including the pet trade organization Dibevo, recently signed an agreement to voluntarily refrain from selling and producing five pond plant species. In the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, the governments support an awareness campaign. The U.K. government launched the Be Plant Wise website to educate the public about the problem of invasive pond plants. It includes a video showing how to identify invasive species. In Holland, the campaign is now also supported by the aquatic industry, according to Dr. Alex Ploeg, secretary general of the group Ornamental Fish International.
“Increasingly, the industry is becoming involved in the consultation process regarding invasives with government agencies and is being seen more and more as being part of the solution rather than being blamed as part of the problem,” said Dawes
In the United Kingdom, reptiles have surpassed cats and dogs as the most popular pets.
“There has been a trend towards keeping some of the smaller Asiatic monitors over recent years, and crested geckos have soared in popularity,” said David Alderton, editor of Britain’s Practical Reptile Keeping (PRK). “People are predicting big things for hog-nose snakes, with the number of color morphs expanding rapidly.”
Bearded dragons are the most popular species, according to a recent PRK survey. Mediterranean-type tortoises are also favorites.
As for herp product trends, Alderton said, “Vivariums are definitely out for tortoises, especially Mediterranean ones.”
Most breeders now recommend tortoise tables as being the best environment. They are usually made of wood and often are available from companies that make rabbit and guinea pig runs, he added.
In other herp-product news, the PRK survey found that readers favored Exo-Terra brand terrariums — not a big surprise, according to Alderton. He said the appeal is likely the range’s adaptability and the wide selection of related equipment available. Alderton also mentioned that hobbyists are becoming more interested in providing the proper lighting — both to protect their herps’ health and to help encourage breeding.