Last week was a big week for dogs in China: China’s agriculture ministry released a draft classifying them as pets not livestock. The announcement follows February’s nationwide ban on the trade and consumption of wildlife in China following widespread suspicions that that the COVID-19 outbreak stemmed from the virus being transmitted from wild animals to humans.
The reclassification is one of the silver linings from the pandemic in China, at a time when pets have been the unsung heroes in many homes. While some owners abandoned their pets during the outbreak – fearing they’d spread the virus – most of China’s pet owners found their furry friends provided a much needed source of comfort, companionship and even entertainment during the challenging time.
100 million Chinese families already had pets in 2018, with many doting on them. As long ago as 2017, 41% of China’s pet owners took their dogs to a beauty salon. During last year’s Singles’ Day shopping festival, imported cat food was the best-selling category on Tmall Global, outperforming other popular import categories such as baby formula and face serums. Online sales for pet health supplements grew 50% annually between 2017 to 2019, many pet fashion accessories and beauty product categories saw triple-digit growth on Tmall Global between June and December last year, and premium imported pet food grew 400% YoY in January. With consumers feeling closer to their pets than ever since the outbreak, the category is likely to have shifted up another gear.
Three quarters of China’s pet owners are aged under forty, making this a segment that is already very digitally savvy in China. An estimated 90% of owners bought pet products online in 2018. The rise of digital consumption resulting from the lockdown has online opportunity for pet-related content and products accelerate even further. One of the rising channels from COVID-19 – livestreaming – saw a 375% growth in sessions featuring pets in February.
Savvy brands have been quick to respond to this trend. China’s red-hot beauty brand Perfect Diary casted China’s top beauty influencer and livestreamer Li Jiaqi’s puppy named Never to promote its collaboration with Discovery Channel. Swedish fashion retailer H&M has launched a line of dog fashion to tap into the trend.
Chinese consumers’ love of their pets is only going to grow, fuelled by other macro trends such as singledom and decreasing fertility rates. There are plenty of opportunities to capitalise on this trend – from incorporating cute pets into communications, to developing pet-specific products, to partnering with brands resonant with pet owners. We can also learn from successful brands in the category such as subscription-based direct-to-consumer (D2C) pet company Mollybox who provide a valuable case study about how to adapt to the COVID-19 and capitalise on the growth of subscription-services across many industries in China.
There are also likely to be indirect trends stemming from rising pet-affection in China. Animal welfare will be increasingly top of mind with consumers which will reward brands who align with organisations supporting this. We are also hopeful that it will accelerate the adoption of China’s cruelty-free legislation on cosmetics, skincare, and other products to allow imported products not tested on animals to be sold in China. Here’s to our furry friends!
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