Just a few years ago, the idea of having an animal companion in China was far-fetched. But with younger generations more exposed to how pets are treated as family members elsewhere and society’s changing views on pet ownership, Chinese Millennials and Gen Z people have been eagerly welcoming furry friends into their homes. This surge led to booming growth for China’s pet industry – expectedly skyrocketing up to 66 billion dollars in 2023!
During this pandemic period especially when lockdown restrictions were set in place around the world, individuals looked towards these companionship animals not only providing comfort but also becoming part of their families. Chinese pet parents want to give the best to their pupils and they are gladly investing in pet care, pet accessories, and most importantly – high-quality pet food.
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In this blog post, we will take a look at China’s pet food market and examine the opportunities for foreign brands to sell pet foods and pet treats in the Chinese market.
China’s pet industry overview
China’s pet industry is undergoing an unprecedented boom, with predictions that it will reach 66.1 billion dollars in 2023 – 10 times more than just a decade prior! Chinese pet owners are no longer treating them as mere guard animals but instead keeping companion creatures they otherwise would not have owned before. In the past five years alone, nearly half of the city-dwellers now own a pet to love and care for.
Pet ownership is still rather low, as only 6% of Chinese netizens are pet owners. Still, it also presents great opportunities for foreign and Chinese domestic brands, as the market will definitely grow.
There is more cat than dog owners in China, as you can see on the graph above. This means there will be a bigger demand for cat food than dog food in the Chinese pet food market. According to China Briefing, the popularity of cats is growing faster than that of dogs, growing almost 20% year-on-year, while it grew only 4% when it comes to dogs.
China’s pet food market
According to iResearch, China’s pet food market is the one developing the fastest in the overall pet industry. The pet food industry has reached 133.7 billion yuan in 2021 and is expected to go up to 241.7 billion yuan in 2025. Chinese people are becoming more and more aware of the importance of good nourishment for their pets, investing in high-quality pet food products.
In 2021, almost 40% of families in first and second-tier cities had pets, today the number will be even higher. But today, due to preservation and logistics matters, most consumers that purchase pet food decide to buy dry pet food. The pet snack market is also not developed yet.
Why is the pet food market growing in China?
There are many reasons for the rising interest in pets, so let’s divide them into some factors;
Pet ownership has become increasingly popular among the modern middle-class population in China. China’s pet industry is flourishing. Now, pet ownership has become a symbol of wealth and financial success. This is primarily true in the case of the affluent, middle- and upper classes, many of which were affected by China’s strict one-child policy. They are now happy to own pets.
Not only do Millennials show excessive love for their animals. In fact, approximately 61% of urban residents over 65 live with a pet, compared to the national average of 44%. Many elderly people in urban areas, who don’t live with their children prefer to own a pet.
According to Market Research firm Euromonitor, China’s pet care is swiftly overtaking the world’s biggest market – the United States – that developed by just over 4 percent in 2015 (to an estimated USD60.6 billion).
China now has the third-highest figure for dog ownership in the world. The National Bureau of Statistics reports that the country is home to 54 million pet dogs, behind only the US (77 million) and Brazil (35.7 million). China’s cat ownership is even higher – first in the world with 58 million.
Social & Cultural factors
Mrs. Chen, a 60-year-old pet owner mentioned at the International pet expo (SIPE) 2016, that she spends a few hundred kuai on her beloved pet every month and her usual pet-related expenditure entails her poodle’s dresses, and imported pet food.
In another instance, pet beauty therapist Huang Yuwen, a 26-year-old, owner of two dogs attending SIPE’s competitions and beauty contests, also mentioned that she spends a big slice of her monthly income on imported food for her pets, this way she makes sure that she is feeding the best quality food to her pets.
“Pets have become part of the family, and owners are willing to spend a lot on them,” says the senior manager of Pet Fair Asia’s organizing committee, Grace Wu. “We want them to look good and be healthy, but we are also more attentive towards their needs, just like parents would be with their children.”
Nowadays many people live alone in China, both older people and young ones that don’t have a partner yet, and they decide to get pets to keep them company. Many young couples also decide to have a pet instead or before they decide to have a kid.
Food safety concerns work in favor of foreign pet food production
Food safety in China is no hidden topic and many think that one-fifth of the country’s soil is contaminated. Chinese who can afford to buy imported food prefer buying from foreign brands whenever possible and those who can’t just hope that they’re lucky. Chinese contaminated pet food may get the headlines in the U.S., but food safety is far worse—for animals and people—in China itself.
Lately, China has become a key market for companies to launch new pet food products, and due to food safety concerns, pet owners import all-natural nutriment for their pets, growing pet food sales of foreign companies.
“A number of pet food manufacturing companies are introducing products specifically targeting China,” Gu says. They count it as having strong growth potential. Targeting pet owners, that are profoundly drawn towards products’ health benefits and labeled as ‘no additives’ and specialized foods.”
How to promote a pet food brand in China? Look for pet owners online!
Online retail was reported to be the most suited channel for all types of consumers to obtain products within China, and all other retailing methods are considered either difficult or expensive. Chinese consumers prefer imported goods in specific categories, such as milk powder, diapers, and pet food, identifying them to be of higher quality and more trustworthy.
It might be challenging for international brands to unlock the potential of the growing pet food market in China, but there are ways to reach out to many pet owners through online channels. Most Chinese households prefer to search for and purchase products online, especially when it comes to young people. But before selling, you need to start by establishing your brand on the Chinese internet.
Branding is your first step in China
Chinese consumers never buy from brands they don’t know. This is why it’s important to establish your presence on the Chinese Internet.
The first step is to build a professional Chinese website hosted in Mainland China. Although a website is not meant to sell, as this role belongs to online marketplaces, your Chinese website is the hallmark of your brand. Whenever someone is looking for pet food and they come across your site, they will want to find all information needed.
Having a Chinese website is also crucial for a good Baidu SEO strategy. Baidu is China’s biggest search engine and the place where Chinese people look for information. This is why you need to take care of a good SEO strategy so that your website appears in search results.
In addition to that, you should also participate in online forums and communities around pets, so that people recognize your brand. This way you will also help your Baidu score.
Focus on your e-reputation by starting official accounts on Chinese social media platforms
If you want to establish your business’s presence in the Chinese market, a comprehensive approach is needed – one that doesn’t just rely on having an official website but also involves utilizing various influential social media platforms. After all, it’s on these sites where Chinese people can both find and share recommendations with their peers.
The most popular platforms are WeChat, Weibo, RED, and Douyin. WeChat is an overall platform reaching all age groups, as it gathers an audience of more than 1.26 billion monthly active users. There you can send newsletters, and talk to consumers through private messages or group chats, but also offer a dedicated mini-program centered around your brand, which also has a built-in WeChat store.
Other platforms are better when it comes to reaching out to new consumers, as they are more open than WeChat. On Weibo and RED you can post content, organize discount events, polls and collaborate with pet influencers. Douyin is the Chinese version of TikTok focused on short-video content.
Where to sell pet foods online in China?
The best way to sell pet foods is through cross-border e-commerce platforms like Tmall Global and JD. This is the solution for brands with an established presence in China, as those platforms are rather expensive, and don’t want to collaborate with unknown brands without good branding.
Entering the Chinese e-commerce market via Tmall
Tmall holds the biggest market share in the e-commerce market of China at 57%. It mainly focuses on premium brands. This characteristic makes Tmall the most expensive e-commerce marketplace in China. For Chinese consumers, a high price indicates high quality therefore many customers prefer buying their products from Tmall. It provides an opportunity for international brands to open exclusive online stores and directly sell products to Chinese consumers without being physically present in China.
To protect the exclusivity of the online marketplace, TMALL has an invitation-only policy where only qualified international brands can either be invited to join or can apply through a certified third-party agency (TP).
We are a certified Tmall Partner agency and we can help you with setting up a store on the platform.
Entering Chinese e-commerce via JD.com
JD is China’s largest online direct sales company. It relatively has less market share than Tmall. It operates seven fulfillment centers and 166 warehouses in 44 cities. JD.com has 4,142 delivery stations across several districts of China. International companies can open individual online stores on JD.com and brands are permitted to import food, beverages, apparel, and shoes from overseas. JD’s cross-border service, JD Worldwide, enables suppliers to sell directly to Chinese consumers without a local presence.
JD.com is less expensive than Tmall. It provides active global promotion of JD Worldwide (mainly in the U.S. and Australia) and supports in-house logistics services. JD.com has a zero-tolerance policy for counterfeit products (just like Tmall).
Selling pet foods through a WeChat Store
Social e-commerce is becoming increasingly popular in China, resulting in the biggest social media platforms offering their own marketplaces. One of the best places to sell products without the need for a big initial investment (like on Tmall and JD) is WeChat, which offers a whole e-commerce system of mini-apps linked to a WeChat payment method.
WeChat e-commerce is a great solution for all brands and a good place to start and test the market. As it’s an all-in-one app, you can easily promote your store in the app, which makes it easier to get customers in the beginning. There are also many third-party store providers, so the launch is very easy.
We can help you enter China’s pet food market!
Chinese economic development has established investment opportunities for international brands by providing in-house state-of-the-art social e-commerce platforms that are engrained in Chinese consumers’ lifestyles.
Gentlemen Marketing Agency provides international brands with tools that are optimal to unlock this enormous market to earn their full potential and multiply sales with millions of users. If you are interested in exploring Chinese Digital E-Commerce platforms, reach out to us for customized advice.
We are a Shanghai-based agency focused on digital marketing and e-commerce solutions. We offer tailor-made strategies depending on your company’s goals and budget. Don’t hesitate to leave us a comment or contact us to discuss your options in the Chinese pet food market.