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The Pet Bet

Well-being of pets is serious business. And the action is just hotting up

Delhi-based media professional Arushi Sharma is a proud parent of three-year-old black labrador Alex. Weekends mean trips to cafes, pool parties, parlours and parks where he plays with friends. Alex goes to spas and fun games every now and then. On weekdays, Alex stays with Sharma's parents in Meerut. "He thoroughly enjoys all the pampering. Meerut is an emerging town and does not have good facilities for a dog like him. So I bring him to Delhi on weekends and we hang out at Puppychino or Heads Up For Tails (HUFT) outlets," says 28-year-old Sharma. "Alex is my world and I want him to have the best of food, shelter, safety and entertainment - not to mention love."

Sharma is among the many new generation of pet owners - or pet parents - who treat their pets as their children, and spare no expense in their care. "Pet care is an evolved category now, mirroring the baby care category," says Mohit Arora, Director-Marketing, Mars Pet Nutrition India, which owns pet food brands like Pedigree and Royal Canin. "Pet parents are concerned about maintaining the hygiene and health of their pets. So, right from vaccinations to grooming and food and nutrition to entertainment, everything is very important for pet parents," he says.

India is witnessing a pet care boom. Urban centres are abuzz with pet dedicated retail outlets, for grooming, holiday boarding. There are even luxury pet hotels. For instance, Gurgaon-based Critterati, started in late 2017, is a dedicated luxury pet hotel that boasts of royal suites and family suites for overnight stays, and also offers day boarding, spa services, pet boutique and many other dedicated services. Bengaluru-based Petcart-nest is a pet resort that opened last year. Spread over two acres, it features 70 small bamboo 'huts' for pets. Pet care chains such as HUFT and Tail Lovers Company and dedicated pet cafes such as the Delhi-based Puppychino, Cat Cafe in Mumbai or Twisty Tails in Chennai are doing brisk business.

Fast-growing Market

Rapid urbanisation, coupled with rising disposable incomes and shift to nuclear families, are driving more people to get pets. Also catching up is the trend of humanisation of pets. "For example, years ago, a dog used to be treated as a guardian and stood outside the house. That is changing, especially in cities: the dog is now a companion animal and a member of the household. Many younger couples are increasingly adopting a pet (read dogs and cats)," says Amol Sharma, Founder of PetSutra, a Gurgaon-based start-up that sells pet products online. "The trend is encouraging higher spending on pet care and giving rise to opportunities to commercialise pet products and services," he says.

Amol Sharma Founder, PetSutra

Quality chain of pet stores was unheard of a few years back, says Binoy Sahee, Fair Director, India International Pet Trade Fair (IIPTF), an annual B2B pet exhibition-cum-trade show organised by Creature Companion, a pet care magazine. The August 2019 event was its 11th edition in India, and featured 100-plus exhibitors, compared to 32 in the first expo. "Pet owners are now more aware of their pets' welfare and needs. They are looking for nutrition, and not just any food. Pet grooming is taken seriously," he says.

The Indian market may be growing but is just a fraction of the global pet care market, which touched $125 billion in 2018, according to Euromonitor International. A very large chunk of this, 73 per cent, or over $91 billion, will come from just pet food. Compared to the global size, the Indian market size is just about $800 million-plus, according to the IIPTF. The global pet care industry is growing at about 5 per cent a year, and is projected to reach $202 billion by the end of 2025, according to Euromonitor.

Bon Appetit

In India, too, the pet food category is in a yummy phase of growth. "In developed markets such as Europe and the US, pets - especially cats and dogs - meet more than 85 per cent of the calorific value of food consumption through packaged food. In India, it is just 5.5 per cent," says Sharma. But pet ownership is steadily increasing: industry estimates show there are around 19 million pets in India (around 80 per cent of these are dogs, followed by cats and then smaller animals like fish and birds), and on an average, 6,00,000 pets are adopted every year. This has attracted many multinational pet industry players to India.

Mars International, which sells dog food brands Pedigree and Royal Canin in India, entered the market here in 2000, and has more than 50 per cent market share in the pet food category. "Retail revenues from pet food are around Rs 1,700 crore and growing at a healthy rate of 15 per cent CAGR for the last three years. However, our Indian business is less than 1 per cent of our global sales," says Arora. The company faces competition from brands such as Drools, owned by the Indian Broiler Group, and multinationals like Farmina, Orijen, etc. Last year, Nestle also forayed into the pet food segment in India by setting up a wholly-owned subsidiary, Purina Petcare India.

Gaurav Kwatra, Director, Purina Petcare India

"Pet owners no longer depend solely on home-cooked food for their pets. This means increased headroom for pet food manufacturers to grow in India," says Gaurav Kwatra, Director, Purina Petcare India. "Our dog food brands - Super Coat and Pro Plan - have been well-received in the Indian market. We recently introduced cat food, too in this market," he says.

As a vast majority of pets in India are dogs, it is understandable that the pet nutrition market is predominantly a dog food market - more than 80 per cent. However, the cat food segment is growing fast, in fact, surpassing the growth rate of dog food. "There has been a huge increase in cat ownership in the last three years. Cat food accounts for around 25 per cent of pet food revenue for Drools," says Fahim Sultan, Director, IB Group, adding that its annual turnover is Rs 200 crore.

Apart from multinational brands, there are many Indian companies and start-ups that provide customised diets for puppies and senior dogs; diets for weight-loss; and even delivery services for wet pet food. "We started in 2011 with a customised diet plan for dogs and now we cater to NCR, Mumbai and Pune markets," says Rashee Kuchroo, Founder of Gurgaon-based Doggie Dabbas, which delivers wet food for dogs. The company expanded to dry food a couple of years back and is now clocking a growth rate of 40-50 per cent year on year, says Kuchroo. "Last year (2018/19), we recorded about Rs 2.5 crore in revenue," she adds.

Bengaluru-based Khanal Foods, with the brand Dogsee Chew, claims to use only natural ingredient dog food available. The company has expanded into overseas markets such as Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and South Korea. Started in 2015, the company has recorded more than 100 per cent growth since then.

At Your Service

Apart from food, pet grooming, training and other services are also increasing their footprint in India. While e-commerce companies such as Amazon, Grofers and Flipkart sell pet care products, dedicated portals such as PetSutra, Petworld and PupKart are also doing brisk business. Services such as grooming, day boarding and vacation homes have enough takers and have the potential to grow further. "Mobile grooming vans, for instance, are prevalent in cities. They come home and offer services like cleaning and hair and nail trimming at rates that are better than at pet parlours and spas," says a Chennai-based pet owner.

Pet boarding, sitting and walking are some other segments that are growing. Delhi-based Bhavna Gakhar, who offers day boarding services, says, "I was working with a leading insurance provider for the past five years. Last April, I decided to quit the job and started dog boarding services. I now earn as much as I was earning before, and I have better job satisfaction." Gakhar is confident and is planning an expansion in a few years; she also wants to start a dog farm house. Allied services such as pet sitting and walking are getting formalised and taking the shape of companies such as Bengaluru-based Anvisinc that offers dog walking, pet sitting, dog boarding and pet relocation services.

"On an average, Indian pet parents spend around Rs 4,000 per month on pets. About 75-80 per cent of this goes towards food and treats. The rest is spread across grooming and other services," says Mohit Lalvani, Founder of Captain Zack, which has shampoos and conditioners for dogs.

Rashi Narang, Founder, Heads Up For Tails

Pet care is a largely unorganised space but there is enough competition to warrant marketing initiatives and investments. "A lot of money goes into scaling up the business as competition increases," says Rashi Narang, Founder of HUFT, which she started in 2008 in Delhi, and decided to start scaling up in 2015. Apart from pet food, accessories, apparel and grooming products, the company started offering services such as spas and birthday parties too. They also have educational videos on pet care and training. "We currently have 26 stores across six cities in India. With more than 5,000 customers a month, we are registering 100 per cent growth year-on-year," says Narang. HUFT plans to increase the number of stores to 30 by the end of this year, apart from increasing online sales.

Pet cafes are another part of the growing business. "Started in January 2018, our cafe sees a footfall of about 5,000 a month. We reported a revenue of Rs 3 crore in the first year," says Rekha Dandey, Founder and CEO of Twisty Tails, a Chennai-based pet cafe.

Multi-speciality vet clinics that provide state-of-the-art treatment have mushroomed in Indian metros. "There is a high level of awareness about new medical treatments among pet owners and high demand for them," says Jamshyd K. Cooper, a Mumbai-based veterinarian. "In Mumbai, one can find a pet clinic every one to two kilometres."

Finding Investors

As the market is expanding, pet care companies and start-ups have caught the attention of investors. A couple of years ago, pet care portal made headlines when Ratan Tata invested an undisclosed amount in it. But even before that, it had received seed funding from other investors which included Aloke Bajpai (Founder,, Vikas Saxena (CEO, Nimbuzz), and others. While Dogsee Chew received Rs 2 crore in angel funding, Bengaluru-based pet care start-up TailsLife raised an undisclosed amount in a bridge round from its existing investor. Last year, PetSutra received Rs 95 lakh from angel investors while Captain Zack received $1.5 million in pre-series A funding, to be used for product development and business expansion. Chennai-based Nimble Wireless, which has developed solutions based on Internet of Things to remotely monitor temperature of pets, received $1 million from Prime Venture Partners and other investors.

The highest disclosed amount has been raised by HUFT - $3 million from various high net worth individual investors. "Pet care has now become an attractive sector for investors as the industry is at a nascent stage and there is a lot of scope for expansion. HUFT is using the funds to further improve technology and end-user experience," says Narang of HUFT.

Space For More

There may be many pet related services coming up, but scaling up business can be a tough task. "Pet nutrition and health are relatively new concepts. Without proper awareness, it is difficult to sell high-quality pet food," says Kwatra of Purina. Then there are mindsets to deal with. As humanisation increases, people tend to treat their pets as 'humans' and feed them whatever they are eating, which might be harmful, explains Mumbai-based veterinarian, Cooper. Also, with vegetarianism common in India, many people want vegetarian food for their pets too, a demand that companies are trying to cater to. "Providing vegetarian diet to dogs is a big challenge as it is difficult to get all the proteins required in the right mix. For cats, it is a strict 'no' as certain amino acids won't be there in it (vegetarian diet)," says Cooper.

Be it food, grooming or training, the pet care market, despite being fragmented, is growing, and growing enough to attract further investments from players big and small. "Our global business is keeping a keen eye on how to grow the business in India. In the next three years, we will have big investments to bring in more brands to India, expand distribution, make products more accessible and develop the ecosystem to drive pet adoption," says Nitin Kulkarni, Director of Corporate Affairs, Mars Pet Nutrition India. Smaller businesses also feel there is room to expand. "As the market expands, we also have to expand our business. Value-based innovation is the key and we will invest in that," says Narang of HUFT. Evidently, pets and their parents are 'paw'ering the business.

The writer is a Chennai-based freelance journalist.