Fair puts pet owners in cat and dog heaven

For pet owners, the Pet Fair Asia hosted every August in Shanghai is the ultimate carnival.

For pet owners, the Pet Fair Asia hosted every August in Shanghai is the ultimate carnival.

It’s an opportunity to take in the transformation in this fast-changing industry over the past year, gain new knowledge, get together with like-minded pet owners and of course, splurge a little to make the furry friends happy.

The 2018 fair from August 21 to 25 featured 16,000 brands from 1,300 exhibitors across 10 pavilions, organizers said. More than 48,000 industry professionals and 145,000 visitors were at this year’s fair, a new record.

Experienced pet owners were battle ready for the annual festival, bringing large suitcases, carts and extra manpower to purchase pet food and other supplies. Most brands that were well stocked for the fair offered free samples and great deals.

“The high-quality imported pet food is not cheap, it’s always great to save some money and try new things,” said Wu Li, who was armed with a suitcase and shopping list.

China’s pet industry has skyrocketed in the past few years. The market has reached over 170 billion yuan (US$25 billion), and it is estimated that Chinese dog and cat owners will spend over 5,000 yuan per pet this year, according to the Pet Industry White Paper 2018 published by online pet forum Goumin.com.

Fair puts pet owners in cat and dog heaven

Sitting on the shoulder of its owner, a cat takes a bite of a pet food snack at this year’s Pet Fair Asia.

The trends

In the pet food sector, health and wellbeing is becoming the main focus of product development and promotion in both domestic and foreign brands.

Ziwi Pets, a New Zealand pet food company that produces the Ziwi Peak air-dried and moist food for cats and dogs, was one of the most sought-after brands at the fair. Pet owners favor the brand for both the balanced formula and high-quality natural ingredients sourced in New Zealand 100 percent.

One kilogram of its air-dried beef for dogs retails at 340 yuan while a 185-gram can of lamb-flavored cat food is 33 yuan. Venison and lamb with mackerel products are even more expensive. It could cost over 1,000 yuan a month to feed a pet with food from the Ziwi Peak range.

Expensive, but all Ziwi Peak stock brought to the fair was sold out within hours of the opening day.

Top foreign brands like Ziwi Pets, Orijen and Wellness have gained loyal customers in China, and more niche brands are entering the booming market.

They include Vital Essentials, which specializes in freeze-dried formula and The Honest Kitchen, known for its dehydrated recipes.

Domestic brands are also playing the health and nutrition card this year, stressing natural formula and good ingredients in their promotions.

In the pet supplies sector, tech-infused products and chic designs are catering to the needs of both pets and owners, and they also come with high price tags.

Petkit has launched a smart pet house named Cozy this year. It is equipped with temperature and humidity sensors and an air-conditioning system that can adjust the temperature automatically, providing a better sleeping environment for cats and dogs. Owners can even control the smart house remotely via their smartphones.

At 899 yuan, Cozy only fits cats and smaller breeds of dog.

Auto-cleaning litter boxes were also a hit at the fair. For multi-cat households, the 5,000-yuan litter boxes may be a worthwhile investment.

Aesthetically pleasing pet products were also popular, though they’re not cheap. While a regular litter box from brands like Catidea costs around 50 yuan, design-centric brand Pidan Studio’s new snow mountain-inspired litter box retails at 230 yuan.

Fair puts pet owners in cat and dog heaven
Ti Gong

Petkit's smart pet house Cozy.

Fair puts pet owners in cat and dog heaven
Ti Gong

Litter Robot’s automatic litter box was designed to free cat owners from cleaning duties.

In China, dogs and cats are no longer treated as help to guard the door or catch mice, but as close family members that live carefree lives like princes and princesses. Pet owners are keen to provide the best supplies they can afford to their animals.

But some people may have taken it too far by trying to give the pets a human lifestyle.

Animal grooming is now a major sector in the pet market. At the fair, a few companies tried to catch the public’s attention by dyeing animals’ hair and fur in vibrant colors and with images of cartoon characters.

“It’s almost hard to watch the poor poodles being painted in colors, I don’t think it’s cute and pretty, but ugly and cruel. Animals don’t need to dye hair like people do for beauty,” said visitor Linda Xu.

Also noticed at the fair were the catteries’ displays. While some breeders kept cats separate from visitors in special glass containers with enough space to play, one Ragdoll cattery decided to show the cats out in the open so that everyone could pet them.

Though some people found it interesting and cute, others thought the display was putting the animals at risk. Cats are easily stressed and being in a chaotic environment with many hands petting all over them, as well as countless dogs walking by (visitors can bring their pets to the fair), could be traumatizing.

There were also vendors selling very young kittens at the fair. For them, not only there’s the stress of noise and huge crowds, but also the risk of getting sick as kittens generally have low immunity and shouldn’t be exposed in such an environment.

Another phenomenon visitors saw at the fair was the increased number of copycat brands.

American pet food manufacturer Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance Pet Foods posted a notice on WeChat to state it was not related to the Jokul Natural Balance Pet Foods exhibited at the fair and had no factory in China.

The Jokul foods, produced in Foshan, Guangdong Province, have an almost identical name, logo and product design as the American brand.

Just next door to Jokul Natural Balance, Chinese brand Benefits (倍内菲) was found to have packing similar to American brand Primal Pet Foods.

Visitors also found vendors selling packages of notable foreign pet food brands, which are used by some dried food companies to counterfeit the products.

The fair hosted a pet fashion show this year, with dogs dressed up in costumes walking the runway just like human models.

To make it even more like a Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, a ridiculously expensive pet wedding gown was shown to the audience. With a price tag of 600,000 yuan, the white dress was hand-stitched with “Baroque palace style gems.”

Fair puts pet owners in cat and dog heaven

A luxurious hand-stitched pet wedding gown is showcased at the fair, with a price tag of 600,000 yuan (US$87,837.4).

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