Published on: January 9, 2023
How did this happen?
China’s younger generations (millennial and Gen-Z) have been brought up with a more cosmopolitan worldview, which includes the notion of cats and dogs as cherished companions to be nurtured. Remarkably, roughly 90% of Chinese pet owners are females and more than 76% are under 30 years old. Younger generations living alone in tier 1 or 2 cities are looking less to traditional family units and more towards pets for their emotional needs.
With this youthful demographic, it’s unsurprising that 90% of all pet consumables in China are purchased online and that 70% of this market is dominated by international companies.
These young pet owners are high-income, and they are prepared to lavish money and attention on their companions. By 2025, China’s pet industry is estimated to reach US$113.9 billion in total annual revenue. This provides a huge opportunity for local and international companies operating in these spaces.
So how can brands take advantage of China’s pet mania in the coming year?
The pet market in China is primarily driven by new pet owners that are young and educated. Nearly 90% of Chinese pet owners hold a bachelor’s degree. This is in a country where, according to official census data, only 15.5% of the total population has benefited from post-secondary education.
These educated customers want their pet food to be fresh and nutritious, and they are spending money on natural and organic pet food. They are also especially keen on food products that offer functional benefits such as the promotion of gastro-intestinal health and teeth cleaning.
While pet owners in China are increasingly price-conscious, they primarily focus on quality and safety. As a result, international companies dominate the pet food market space in China.
According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada data, China imported US$182 million of dog and cat food from Canada in 2021, making up the largest international market share at 47%. This is, in part, due to Chinese consumer trust in international brands to deliver on safety and nutrition. Even for pet food, the scandals of tainted baby formulas in 2008 still cling to people’s minds.
Looking for proof of the popularity of Western brands doing well in the space?
One of the international premium pet food companies that have successfully entered the Chinese market is Champion PetFoods from Canada. Their Orijen brand of cat and dog foods are currently top-sellers on Tmall.
The use of superfoods to improve pet health is a popular trend that has made its way through the global pet food market (not just China’s). Blueberries and cranberries, for instance, are widely used, thanks to their antioxidant properties.
In recent years, an increasing number of domestic brands are developing health-oriented pet foods enriched with local superfoods such as eels, goat milk, and Chinese yam. Traditional Chinese medicinal (TCM) herbs are also beginning to appear in Chinese pet food.
The images of these functional ingredients have prominent placement on the packaging, and they often are accompanied by claims that are also used in human foods. Cheer Share’s dry dog food, for example, features honeysuckle flowers and is claimed to improve dogs’ vision.
What you’re going to see over the next year in China, where food has been considered as medicine for centuries, is pet food products inspired by local food and health trends, which will only be more and more popular.
Pet treats are primarily given sparingly as an occasional reward or indulgence in the West. Many pet owners in China, on the other hand, give treats to supplement their pet’s diet. In particular, treats that address oral hygiene, digestive health, and joint mobility are top choices amongst pet owners.
As awareness towards the composition of pet food products continues to grow, so will the increase in demand for food in its natural state.
Raw, freeze-dried pieces of meat or vegetables fit Chinese pet owners’ preference for nutrition and freshness while addressing the desire for convenience and taste. According to JD Pet’s data, the sales of freeze-dried food in the first 10 minutes of JD’s 2022 Super Promotion Day on June 6th exceeded the entire day’s sales on the same day last year. The product sub-category is clearly growing — expect that to continue in the coming year.
This trend has also expanded to complete food products.
Local and international brands have all recently launched 100% freeze-dried diets. This allows pet owners to choose to give freeze-dried foods directly to their pets as a meal, mixed with dry kibbles — or give it individually as a healthy treat.
The other trend to watch is how tech-savvy millennials and Gen Zers combine their love for pets and gadgets. Smart water dispensers, smart feeders, and smart cameras are three pet tech categories that are becoming the norm for pet owners in China. JD Pet’s data revealed that searches for automated feeders and water supplies increased over 150% YoY during the 2022 618 shopping festival.
Digitalization is currently the trending keyword for pet tech in China. These products usually come with Wi-Fi capabilities and a mobile phone application, which allows remote control and monitoring of the pet’s wellbeing.
While local pet tech brands are enticing pet owners with smart-looking designs and intelligent functions, Chinese pet owners first and foremost value safety and reliability.
As China’s Pet Industry and Consumer Behaviour Report by Goumin (China’s biggest online pet owner community) reveals, more than 70% of users’ purchase decisions are based on product safety and durability. Due to recent reports of electric shocks coming from local pet tech products, more consumers are now turning to international, well-known brands with solid reputations.
One such company is Whisker, formerly known as AutoPets. Their Litter-Robot has achieved considerable success on both sides of the ocean due to its extensive safety features and comprehensive warranty.
WPIC was able to help ensure Litter-Robot’s successful presence in the Chinese market by creating localized content for Chinese social media, building and deploying KOL (influencer) campaigns, and executing product demonstrations.
The new pet economy offers endless opportunities for digital content marketing in China. In addition to launching pet products in the market, brands can convey pet-friendly values through KOL partnerships, social media, and creative campaigns.
Partnering with China’s hugely influential social media stars (KOLs) is one of the most effective ways to build consumer awareness and drive sales. But did you these KOLs can often be pets themselves?
A white Scottish Fold cat named Erdou currently has more than 37 million followers on Douyin, closely followed by Paofu, an American Shorthair with 23 million followers. Not only that, but these pet KOLs have their own Douyin social commerce stores, and they offer product placement and other promotions alongside pet product brands in the market.
Partnering with four-legged influencers (or their human handlers) is invaluable to helping brands actively engage with China’s younger, pet-owning consumers. Why is that? Because over 80% of Chinese pet owners get advice and recommendations on their pets via the market’s leading social media platforms.
Furthermore, pets can frequently steal the limelight in promotional campaigns for even non-pet-themed products! An eyeshadow palette sold by a beauty brand featured a campaign with a toy poodle KOL named Never, resulting in the brand selling over 90,000 units in less than 10 seconds!
With more than 200 million pets, China has quickly become the third largest pet-owning country after the United States and Japan.
And what we’re seeing as we kick off 2023 is that Chinese pet owners are increasingly seeking products that mirror their preferences, such as technology-forward products that reduce household chores, or food products with clear labels. In particular, one of the trends driving growth in pet food and treats is the human wellness trend of healthy eating, which has translated to the pet space.
Across multiple functional benefits, consumers across China are very interested in what they feed and how they treat their four-legged family members, which leads to buying more natural, health-focused, and premium products from international brands.
Moving into 2023, the health and wellness trend of healthy food with clean labels and positive nutrition claims will continue to guide consumer purchase decisions, providing massive opportunity for international brands in the pet food, pet wellness, and pet care space in China.
Let's take the first step.