Andrew Atkinson

The Cute & the Fluffy Take Centre Stage in Shanghai

2017/09/05 Andrew Atkinson
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If anyone harboured any doubts about the mouth-watering growth expected of China’s pet market a stroll through Shanghai’s New International Expo Centre last week would’ve quelled those concerns. Pet Fair Asia 2017 came to a close on Sunday bringing roughly 250,000 visitors over the four days, the hordes of accompanying animals not included. The magnitude of the event reflected the industry’s rapid growth. 2017 saw an upgrade in venue to cater to the surge in exhibitors, visitors and events, and notably powerful air-conditioning following the death and heatstroke of several dogs at the 2016 edition.

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A striking feature of the exhibition centre was just how much of it was occupied by high-end products. But it wasn’t just the leashes embezzled with Swarovski jewels gleaming at passers-by, pet food brands were notably pushing into the premium range. High meat content, targeted diets, animal ancestry and scientific benefits were messaging widely seen. The New Zealand booth was chief amongst them, building on their safe and healthy perceptions with freeze-dried products maximizing nutrient intake, to flax-seed oils ensuring omega-3, to air-dried lamb and venison offerings, to green-lipped mussel powder supplementing a healthy diet.

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In a market where 40.9% of dog owners take their companions to beauty salons, the strength of these booths was unsurprising. Deluxe baths endlessly lined walls and high-end shampoos, soaps and scissors/trimmers drew the crowds. Stylists went to work with all the tools on display – no doubt in preparation for the ‘catwalk’. It wouldn’t have been a China event without a constructed arena for a pet fashion show.

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There were of course a stream of niche products dotted around the place. In a market which has expanded so quickly it will continue to see these niches grow. Whether it be for more irregular animals or for particular needs of animals across different climates or just for the luxury lifestyles owners want to create. A patisserie for dogs gave a glimpse into that luxury pet world which is seeing industries sprout to support it – just look at the rise of pet hotels.

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As the pet becomes more and more a part of the family in China, and living spaces keep growing, brands are looking to capture some of that space with an ever-growing assortment of machines and devices to make life that much better. There was a lot of buzz surrounding the self-washing cat toilets almost bigger than your own. Then there were the more quirky devices – dogs were cooped up in what looked like incubation units pumping out Mozart and filtered, purified air. I was told they had other features, blow-drying and mood lighting amongst them.

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In China, pets are on the up. Owners are trading up at a blistering speed and opportunities are presenting themselves in both traditional and non-traditional ways. The industry has become far more sophisticated since the 2016 fair. In 2017 those brands not holding a unique position or offering uninspiring cheap food mixes found themselves pushed to the edges of the halls. The humming middle was the domain for the sleek and informed – some expansive booths felt like strolling through an Apple store, a world which their affluent and doting target consumers aspire to.
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