If you’re eyeing the expansive Chinese market for your products, understanding the heartbeat of Chinese consumer behaviour is your compass to success. Let’s unravel the insights hidden within the pet market trends and their implications for the total consumer market.

From the staggering surge of the pet industry to the shifting preferences of pet aficionados, the pet industry trends in China are as fast moving and sometimes eccentric as the rest of the market!

China Pet Market Size: A Phenomenal Industry in Bloom

The pet business in China is flourishing. These days pets are more like members of the family, especially among younger generations, whereas in the past they were seen as “tools” effectively. eg to guard a house, farm or business

According to iResearch, this market’s size, which spans food, healthcare, goods, and services, is poised to soar to a jaw-dropping 392 billion yuan (€49.48 billion) this year alone. Imagine a compound annual growth rate of 33% between 2019 and 2023! Such is the meteoric rise of the pet industry in China.

But who’s driving this whirlwind of growth? None other than the young adults aged 21 to 30, representing the millennial and Gen-Z generations. These pet enthusiasts are turning to furry companions like cats, dogs, and even aquatic marvels. Now, here’s the twist: PWC China’s 2022 report introduces a compelling shift – cats are reigning supreme over dogs as the pet of choice. In an era of bustling lifestyles and the challenges posed by the pandemic, these feline friends sync perfectly with the rhythm of life and are easier to keep in a small city apartment. The strict Covid lockdowns during 2022 also accelerated this trend in the Chinese market for pet products amidst concerns about not being able to walk dogs outside.

What adds intrigue to this saga are the societal shifts shaping Chinese consumer behaviour. With declining marriage and birth rates, juxtaposed against a surge in disposable income, the consumer landscape is changing at a rapid rate. The golden age of infant formula and mom n baby products between 2009-2019 has been replaced by a massive growth in the popularity of keeping pets as both the number of single & DINK households grows.

Food is the most mature segment of the pet market

In many ways the pet food market runs parallel to the baby food market in most countries. As consumers become aware of the need to take care of the nutritional requirements of special groups (such as kittens or senior dogs) then specialised food begins to emerge. This process of increasing sophistication has also taken place in China, with products becoming not only more complex, but also more premium.

At present the fast growing part of the food market is snacks, treats and freeze dried foods.

Demand for food with specialised nutritional benefits is convincing pet owners who previously did not buy pet food, to try commercially packaged food.

PWC, China Pet Industry 2022

Products Tailored for the Pet Market in China: Innovation is King

As with humans, innovation is a key value that Chinese consumers also appreciate in the offerings for their pets. Domestic companies are at the forefront of this artistic blend, crafting products that resonate with pet owners’ hearts, for example in the field of supplements.

Case Studies

Sensiatric is a name synonymous with essential oils for pets, meticulously designed for purposes like foot care, joint health, urinary wellness, and digestion ease.

And then there’s the SJ Pet House, nestled in Guangdong, with its tonic soups featuring ingredients like cod, shark cartilage, and casein phosphopeptides (CPP).

Nutritional supplements for pets are common in the pet industry trends in China. The Chinese market for pet products mirrors the baby industry

That’s not all though. You can also find cat foods enriched with hyaluronic acid for glowing skin, L-Carnitine for weight control and heart health, prebiotics for a flourishing gut, and even “low-fat, low-cholesterol” and “anti-aging” doggy delights or oil for paw care.

This sophisticated narrative is a testament to consumers’ desire to extend their own health-conscious lifestyle choices to their beloved pets. It’s a harmony of Yang Sheng, the Chinese concept of wellness, and the West’s fitness ethos.

The rationalization of pet consumption has become a trend, with personal preferences of pet owners accounting for 70% of the total. The top three attributes that consumers consider most when buying pet products are product quality, price and safety.
This trend is reflected in the subsequent digital marketing of pet products, where highlighting the functional features of the product itself and the high quality of the product can positively influence consumer decisions journey

Peggy Peng, ChoZan China Ecommerce Marketing & Digital Space Report 2023

Pet Industry Trends are not only limited to Food: Products and Services also have huge potential for growth

Whilst pet food, including supplements, might be the first thing you think of when talking about the pet market trends in China, you shouldn’t ignore the vast array of products and services “around” the concept of keeping pets.

These start with the mundane such as fur care products, OTC medicines, accessories and toys & go through to services such as veterinary, grooming and beauty and then other less mainstream services such as cat cafes, kennelling services or pet detectives.

Yes, you did read that correctly.

With hugely increased pet ownership in the past years, the number of pets that go missing or are stolen has also shot up, leading to a specialised “pet detective” career. Owners are willing to pay a premium for the return of their fur (or scaley) baby.

Pet detective is a new career option now that the pet market in China has grown so strongly

Tech assisted products are already becoming more popular too. eg wearables with GPS tracking, automatic feeders or water dispensers, but also Catlink’s higher tech items such as their digital cat toilets with automatic cleaning and odour control functions.

Fit Your Packaging to the Chinese Market for Pet Products

Packaging is more than a vessel; it’s a storyteller. I’ve spoken about this before when talking about marketing to Asian countries & the critical role it plays.

Enter the realm of Chinese pet product packaging, a canvas where creativity has to meet cultural resonance. As with emerging consumer brands, clear visual identities and marketing narratives that resonate with the targeted consumers are important.

eg Furry Tail’s cat food packaging nods to Saturnbird and Wonderlab, iconic domestic dried coffee and prebiotics brands.

Packaging often aims to resemble popular human consumer brands in the pet market in China - Chinese consumer behaviour confirms that this is successful

Right now the colours that grace pet food packaging—macaron shades, neon pops, and ombre gradients mimic aesthetics more reminiscent of vaping brands. And if that’s not enough, imagine Pidan’s whimsical collaboration with Tencent’s Honor of Kings mobile game, turning your fur baby into a virtual character.

Marketing to the Pet Market Trends in China: Navigating the Digital Landscape

When the consumers are mostly millennials and Gen Z’s, the marketing spotlight automatically shines on digital strategies tailored for Chinese consumer behaviour. As in many countries around the world, the marketing trends that are effective in the pet industry are similar to those used to market in the infant space, as a household pet often plays a similar role within a family.

Enter the captivating world of Online-to-Offline (O2O) integration, which is probably more advanced in China than anywhere else in the world! Each touch point in the consumer journey may alternate between the offline and online worlds before finally resulting in a purchase. Tmall, JD.com, Xiaohongshu, Douyin, and WeChat – these platforms emerged as catalysts for businesses to engage with their audience.

The stage belongs to short video platforms like Douyin, where pet influencers hold court and social commerce is king. Douyin’s impulsive advertising designed for short attention spans dovetails beautifully with the pet industry’s penchant for immediate gratification. Short video platforms combined with influencer marketing isn’t a silver bullet solution though – you have to be smart about choosing your channels carefully to make the most of limited budgets.

It’s not easy to build the trust of consumers in the Chinese market for pet products, and this can be easily lost with irresponsible behaviour. As in other sectors, you need to constantly monitor media and especially social media channels for any hint of negative news. For brand owners, the window of time in which you need to react to any kind of negativity is far smaller than it would be in your home market, so make sure you monitor this constantly. The wrong response to any kind of media crisis can completely destroy your brand equity in the market.

Education is also a driver of market growth

Consumers turn to both online and offline channels to learn more about how to care for their pets, however as the majority of pet owners are young, digital channels are the most important in the Chinese market for pet products.

Brands such as Royal Canin have always invested in their vet programmes, to educate about their prescription food products. Now, domestic brand owners are starting to educate store owners and sales staff about product claims in key regions and cities.

Investment in online education by brands has also increased beyond simply working together with influencers and sharing cute photos. Brands such as Fancy Feast, Alfie and Buddy have comprehensive KOL strategies where they actively invest in livestreaming, especially around product launches.

Solid Gold uses their official profile on WeChat as well as many mini-groups to interact with their users, and brands such as Pure & Natural have been using Zhihu to share knowledge about pet care with users. (Zhihu is ideal for this as the user base is largely young and well educated, exactly like the demographics of the pet owners).

Case Study: Pure and Natural, a domestic premium pet food brand

Pure and NAtural logo, a domestic Chinese pet food brand

Strategic segmentation: Focus on the niche of pet owners concerned about additives and artificial ingredients in pet food – portfolio was adjusted to take account of the cat preferences

Focus on Production Quality and Ingredients: conscious pet consumers know that Pure and Natural is strict in the selection of their ingredients as well as their production process. Advanced production techniques (80°C low temp baking or patented cold processing technology) ensure that the nutrients are maintained in the products whilst also retaining the natural good taste

Marketing: Using Zhihu to educate consumers about the benefits of high quality ingredients. Solid strategy around educating store owners. This omnichannel approach focuses on better serving customers.

Route to Market: Pure and Natural keeps a high level of control over their offline channels, which means good control over pricing (no dumping).

Website also focuses on the “shiny metal production line” to emphasise hygiene and quality. This isn’t something that is in focus in Europe or the US, but it is important to Chinese consumers who like to inform themselves in detail before committing to a product.

CRM & Loyalty: Club for customers to collect points, download coupons, learn about special offers etc – this is a key step in their strategy for customer retention.

Understanding Chinese Consumer Behaviour is key to succeed in the Chinese Market for Pet Products

In this tale of pet market trends, you can see that many consumers have begun to treat their pets like their family member (often as a substitute for a child) and are prepared to spend huge sums of money on them. Consequently, many pet brands are using the tactics often employed in the mom n baby industry to gain and retain consumers. Some key learnings:

  • China is a market too big to ignore, but many segments are already a competitive red ocean
  • although many people only talk about online sales, for pet products you need strong distribution in the offline markets, including lower tier cities if you want to be considered a major player (relationships with distributors are key!)
  • trust, safety and health are key drivers to convince consumers of buying your products
  • even for pet food, attractive packaging is essential to cut through the noise and attract consumers’ attention
  • marketing pet products in the same way as equivalent brands for humans helps with brand recognition
  • collaborations with popular IPs can aid with brand recognition, especially when you’re starting out
  • strong control during the production process is a success driver within China

Building and maintaining a high level of trust with Chinese consumers is often easier said than done, and post pandemic whilst consumers are willing to pay for premium offerings, they first have to be convinced that they are receiving value for money.

If you’re looking to export into the market (for food) then remember that the import requirements for meat are extremely strict. The ultra-premium market offers potential for imported brands, especially if you can demonstrate technological advantages over domestic competition.

As in many other areas in China, the ability to execute well and fast as well as to evolve quickly are key attributes for success.

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