China has fallen off the map because its pet food turned out to be a killer. This is India’s chance

The global pet care market has reached a whopping $73 billion, of which 50 per cent comes through pet food sales. The US, followed by Japan, the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Australia and Canada account for 90 per cent of the market. The emerging markets are China, Brazil and Mexico.

India is a growing market, going by increasing pet ownership in cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore.

The pet care industry in the US is highly regulated. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) and the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) are legal bodies that control the industry. Pet food and drug safety is regulated by the FDA, and ingredients such as the meats, fish and poultry used in pet food is controlled by the USDA.

The largest exporters of pet food and treats to the US are China and Thailand. However there are accessories such as grooming brushes, dog leashes, shampoos and so on that also come from China. China offers the lowest cost products to the largest pet care and arge volume retailers in the US.

Pet safety is paramount

People in the US value their pets and treat them like family members. Indeed, they are willing to spend more money on pets than on themselves.

Food safety is one of the main concerns while buying pet food. They want to make sure the pets do not fall sick or die by consuming the food. While ensuring the safety of pet foods, the FDA also actively goes after companies that make unwarranted claims on pet foods.

Pet food has to be nutritionally balanced and complete for dogs and cats. This is a minimum requirement. Dogs and cats have different nutritional requirements. Since pet food is the only food dogs or cats are fed they have to meet daily nutritional requirements. Pet treats, also called pet snacks, need not be nutritionally balanced and complete as they are fed to the animals only occasionally.

New opportunities

In the past several years there has been considerable pressure from US consumers against Chinese pet foods and treats. This is because many dogs and cats have died or became very sick as a result of consuming these treats. One of the largest pet food contract manufacturers from Canada which was making pet food for many large global pet food companies went bankrupt because the foods made by that company killed many dogs and cats.

As more companies have started making China-free claims in pet foods and treats, opportunities to export to the US have opened up. Thailand has been associated with clean and safe pet foods and pet treats; many US and European companies source products from that country. Brazil, Columbia and Peru are other emerging exporters.

I wrote about the Indian pet care market 15 years ago in a leading feed magazine. At that time India was not even being looked at as a potential market. I felt India could be a potential contract manufacturer of pet treats and if properly executed it could replace China in the US and European markets. I approached one of the largest industrial houses in India and presented a case for pet care exports but there was no interest.

Since then, the pet care industry has taken a foothold in India. The Indian market is likely to be a $400 million industry of which food could be $200 million. It requires some imagination and creative innovation for new players to enter the market.

As distribution remains king in all consumer product goods businesses it requires someone willing to commit to pet care in India and beyond to build this exciting business.

The writer is a US-based pet nutrition expert

(This article was published on November 16, 2014)