The Pet industry is one of India’s fastest growing markets, it has taken center stage mid and post pandemic. As families and individuals realised the magnitude of being confined with each other for an unspecified period of time, as always, humans turn to animals to fill a void. Not only did the pet industry and every niche within it take note, investors are taking note. They’re dolling out money, sizeable amounts to a small and medium sized pet businesses. But what are they bank rolling?
This may be India’s defining pet care moment, does the industry become a mere extension of the western standards and practices of pet care or will India forge a new way altogether?
Humanisation of pets, is an indicator of how the industry is growing. How the industry matures depends on the quality of products and services pet companies offer. But it also depends on what consumers demand. A mature consumer demands quality and ease of use. They want solutions to real problems without complicated methods.
In particular the pet industry in India, or globally has the added burden of catering to a customer who cannot speak. The care taker community of these customers have convinced themselves they can speak to the speechless and are demanding anthropomorphised goods and services.
Food is central to our existence human or animal. It is our source of energy, nutrition, health and productivity. It is therefore a matter of little wonder that pet food has taken centre stage in the industry. As humans emerged from hunter gatherers, to agriculturists, and settled into an industrialised life food has changed. As we changed our eating habits from simple and slow we did the same with our companion animals. Are we both now on the cusp of returning to the community kitchen recipes or are we going to further industrialise our food?
What is the Scope of India’s Pet Industry?
The scope of India’s pet industry depends on finance. But any industries maturity goes beyond numbers and figures. It is about a mature audience and consumer who educates themselves and those around them to demand a better product. That product may be education, automobiles or pet care. The scope and growth of an industry is measured by the demand of its consumers for better products and services.
A decade ago the pet industry offered collars, leashes and feeding bowls. Those pioneers laid the foundation for what today is being courted by investors locally and globally.
An Investment in Pet Companies Dedicated to Pet Wellness and health
Investments are like meals. Some good, some bad – one learn’s to pick and choose as we evolve. Smart investors hire smart advisors and research markets and products before investing. Which brings us to an investment in pet wellness. Pets are not people but their systems function like ours. Put in good nutritious food, spend time on exercise and socialisation and you will have a happy healthy pet.
If you live the fast food 9-5 life time tabled life- packaged foods have snuck their way into your kitchen, on to your plate and into your pets feeding bowls. To be fair most of people live this life. Work life balance is for most people a luxury. Typically the affluent, among them or expats who can afford relocations across countries along with pets and kids have the advantage of hired help. These are key drivers of influence in an industry finding it’s feet.
Pet wellness like human welfare includes a range of products and services. From Pet insurance, clinics and recovery aids the companion animal industry is maturing. The potential for new and innovative pet companies to contribute to a young industry is immense.
Pet wellness extends beyond spa days and grooming. It is a complete health package which gives a pet family the opportunity to provide products (entertainment & wellness) throughout their pets life.
Where do the current spate of pet boutiques and spas tell us about the pet business?
It tells us about pet owners and how they view their pets. Pets are family members is a long standing belief, but the humanisation of pets and the over the top clothing and “twinning sets” for human and canine now tread on uncomfortable ground. Entire sections of an industry are dedicated to clothing a species never meant to be clothed. The undeniable element of control to this pet and owner (sorry- pet parent) relationship.
The Indian pet family is evolving, along with it the industry will cater to it’s demands. But is it also not the responsibility of industry to not purely pursue profit but progress, in thought and action. We have the power to educate and learn from the factors contributing to animal ill health and diseases from pet industries across the globe. Pet boutiques and spas are big business, for many essential services, because they are ignorant of the basic needs and care routines of a dog or cat.
How has pet food changed?
We know a ‘Westernised diet’ of a human being brings less than desirable consequences. A loaf of bread you buy has a shelf life longer than most small creatures. This is true of pet food as well. When the role of dogs altered in our lives, so did the way they eat. A quick history of how we eat. Modern eating is as much an industrial activity as manufacturing. Food processing plants (once upon a time family farms) churn out fillers not food! People and pets are now for the most part filling themselves with items out of a package.
When you read about the history of dogs and their evolution, these are images that come to mind!
Pet food has changed drastically from the scraps around a nomadic community to table left overs and now the ultra processed kibble. Kibble is the sliced bread of dog food. A modern wonder, we buy bags that sit in a corner of the house and believe it is a perfectly balanced meal! The pet food industry in India much like the junk food industry is gaining prominence.
Companion animals are entirely dependant on humans to make sensible choices in the interest of their health as well as planetary health, a reality we can no longer ignore.
Photo Credit: Vishva Patel Pexels
Future of the Pet Food Industry in India
The pet industry in India is in its nascent stage. It may be a worth a hundreds of million dollars, but at it’s heart, the industry is largely disorganised. The pet care industry of course includes pet food which accounts for a major share of industry growth and sales. Paw parents and pet wellness are now at center stage of a middle class on the rise. Which means traditional kibble foods are going to see competition.
Conglomerates can survive competition because of their financial clout and reach. However, the small independent companies who persevere with curating rather than selling eventually emerge as top dog. Quality food is now recognised as an investment in the health of a family and community which translates into the health of a country.
How has pet ownership changed?
Pets are no longer viewed as animals who hang around the back yard or have limited access to the indoors. The way we live has changed and along with us our pets have moved. Cats and dogs emerged the winners as cattle, sheep, goats and hens due to decades of educational institutions telling us so are still largely considered food. Now that we’ve established that dogs and cats are the most popular pets, because of their size and ability to fit into our urban lives, let’s look at their welfare. It is an undeniable fact that human beings share a unique bond with cats and dogs. It is assumed that as canines and felines evolved alongside humans over hundreds of years, they took on personality and physiological traits to make themselves more appealing to the human species.
“Puppy eyes” are undeniably irresistible – human and canine – how many times have you been scolded to “stop making puppy eyes to get your way” It seems our canine companions figured this out long ago and their evolution and survival was key to humans accepting them as part of the ‘tribe’. But we are now living (most of human population) so far removed from simple tribal life that we have taken our canines into our hyper active urbanised lives and decided it is appropriate for them to have wardrobes and play dates. Is this a point of no return? Or have we crossed the line and it is still within our grasp to reel ourselves in.
We probably are still in a position to stop and reconsider the direction we are taking. Are the demands we are putting on another species in keeping with its innate behaviours and needs? Do dogs really need a cake, party and knife to cut said cake topped with an open flame (candle)?
Has the pet boom lead to an abandonment boom?
Ask an animal welfare worker (activist makes them appear to be zealots) and they’ll probably tell you pet abandonment is not a new phenomena. They are of course right but post pandemic pet abandonment is likely to be the kind we’ve never experienced. No matter where in the world you live, if you have worked or interacted with rescue groups and organisations long enough the writing is on the wall.
We’ve legitimised back yard breeders by buying cheap quickly manufactured puppies. And we did this because we were bored, seeking entertainment and need to keep the kids entertained. Or a need to create a family without human children, pets are taking their place. The troubling part is when an industry grants you quick access to a living being and then panders to unnatural demands of goods and services for a pet.
Are we creating an incompetent pet parent?
Groomers, walkers, ready meals (commercial) and home delivered. All these are valuable services, but where is the regulation (at this stage even if it is self regulation)?
We need to empower pet owners and families so that they are not over whelmed by the burden of pet care. Because to pretend that pet care is easy is akin to pretending child care is easy. It’s hard work coupled with a dedication to discipline. Being your dog or child’s best friend is setting them up for limited success.
However, be there with a support voice not afraid to correct of criticise assures we set them up for success. If we expect pets to be well behaved mini people (a tall order) it is our duty to train and teach them.
Internet age pet care is vastly different from old school pet care. Before the age of “Google it” we read about it, studied it or went to the vet. Information at our finger tips is fantastic but please it is essential that as an industry we do not encourage the rampant consumption of information which if not properly understood can have catastrophic effects for pet and owner.
Let’s stop telling owners Pet are their Best Friends
Puppies are mini chewing, biting, peeing, eating machines. They will and can test your love. So as an industry it is urgent that we educate before we encourage the rampant buying or even adoption of cats and dogs. Caring for a pet can quickly over whelm a family emotionally as well as financially. We support shelters and rescue centers, but it is going to be a collective effort to stop at the source and not create an unnecessary burden on limited resources.
Where do we go from here?
We continue to learn and grow, but realise that as an industry and a community if we put profits over pets- we both loose.