Pet lovers unleash potential

Pet industries have much to gain from the fact that pets are now valued as family members and their owners are seeking low-maintenance care solutions

There’s good news for the pet accessories and healthcare industries in Mintel’s latest research into pet ownership. Over half of British households own a pet, and slightly more own dogs than own cats. The UK is home to 8 million cats and 6.5 million dogs.

The petcare market has grown from £349m in 1999 to £371m last year. Much of this growth is attributed to a strong performance in the healthcare sector, which achieved a ten per cent growth over the past two years, outpacing the rest of the market. The wider range of medication treatments available, improvements in formulations, and greater consumer awareness of availability thanks to more media coverage of pet health issues have contributed to this growth, as has the rise of pet superstores.

The principal pet treatments and medicines in the UK centre on treating fleas – flea preparations account for almost half of the sector’s value. Just over half of all pet owners buy pet healthcare products such as worming medicine, flea products and vitamins. Purchasing peaks among the 45to 54-year-olds; C1s; groups that are pre-family or have no family; and households with two full-time earners.

Dental applications, multivitamins and supplements, and travel sickness treatments are also commonly available for pets. The vitamins and supplements category alone accounts for 11 per cent of the pet healthcare market, with an estimated market value of £17m. Herbal remedies and cod liver oils are also popular buys in this rapidly expanding portfolio.

The pet toys sector is another growth area. In 2001, it accounted for 15 per cent of sales within the accessories category, which is now worth £55.7m and has grown 36 per cent in sales value between 1996 and 2001. Much of the growth is driven by interactive and premium-priced toys, and many of these products are imported – the US is the main source of imports.

The trend for pets being treated as one of the family, and possibly as a child substitute, is suggested by the high level of pet toy buying. Toys are the most popular products bought by pet owners, with 35 per cent of all pet owners having bought their pet a toy in the latter half of 2001.

Pet shops, including pet superstores, are the most popular places to buy accessories, accounting for about 60 per cent of sales in 2001. Between 1999 and 2001, these outlets’ share of the market increased and sales grew by nine per cent.

Grocery multiples continue to perform strongly, helped by their tendency for attractive point-of-sale displays. According to Mintel, the larger grocery stores often stock a wider range of products than specialist pet shops, but pressure for space from other lines tends to limit the returns supermarkets can make in this sector.

Garden centres are also diversifying into the pet accessories market and during 1999 and 2001, their sales increased just higher than the market as a whole. DIY stores, whose market share of pet accessories rose in the mid-Nineties, are now losing ground to pet superstores, which are often located in the same retail parks and account for six per cent of all sales.

The Internet provides another channel for purchasing pet accessories and healthcare products. Mintel’s research shows that 26 per cent of all Internet users own a dog and 25 per cent a cat. The Internet provides pet owners with a vast network of online-only distributors of pet care products, as well as information that potentially provides online pet owners with good market knowledge so that they can make informed purchase decisions. Home delivery also makes it easier to buy bulky items.

Overall, it appears that the young’s readiness to buy pet healthcare and accessories is a strong force behind the pet market’s success. Younger consumers tend to believe that their pet deserves an enormous amount of care and attention and, according to the study, the cost of products is not a deterrent to purchase.

Because pets tend to be valued as family members, their health is now a major concern and hence big business. Pet owners wish to care for their pets in the same way they care for themselves, with quick, convenient, health conscious solutions being mixed with occasional bouts of luxury and pampering.

Also, the trend towards one-person households, higher levels of personal disposable income, and the desire for low-maintenance solutions is good news for producers of automatic pet feeders, pet carriers, automatic cleaning cat litter trays and interactive toys.

The pet accessories and healthcare market is expected to continue to grow over the next five years. The main contributor to this growth is likely to be new product development – where innovative products will be launched aimed at the low-maintenance pet market – and in products that pamper the four-legged family members.

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