Barking Up The Right Tree - Business Media MAGS

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Barking Up The Right Tree

The humanisation of pets has thrown the pet business a tasty bone, writes Nia Magoulianiti-McGregor.

The pet economy is booming, says Faeeza Khan from trends analysis company Flux Trends. “A major trend is the humanisation of pets,” she says. For example, over $72-billion was spent on pets in the United States in 2018.

In South Africa, pet care products performed well in 2020 as relationships with pets improved during lockdowns, according to Euromonitor International’s 2021 report.

Pet accessories is a growing market 

Morne Claassen, sales and marketing manager of Wagworld – dog bed and accessories manufacturer – agrees. “Seeing your furry friend as part of the family instead of a guard dog has resulted in a multimillion-rand industry.”

Wagworld was formed in 2007 after counsellor Chrissi Dickinson was given Lulu-Belle – a Pekingese puppy. According to Claassen: “Chrissi started designing some fun dog beds and a local CMT factory made them.”

As the business grew, Wagworld moved into a Salt River factory and now, 14 years later, supplies leading vet and pet stores.

“Today we have a 2 000 square metre factory and warehouse with a permanent staff complement of 35. Beds have names like Cosy Cup and Plush Cupcakes, and the range includes hammocks and ‘blankies’. There’s even a ‘nookie bag’ for burrowing dogs in soft microfleece.

“Our beds offer quality, durability and excellent support and insulation against cold due to the recycled filling we use,” explains Claassen.

Venessa Hsu, founder of Dog’s Life, says her “uniquely designed products” including bedding, toys and clothing, were founded after a trip to California in 2006. “I thought South African dogs deserved nice things too.”

Her UCT colleague and now-husband, Chenyu Su, and business partner, Shayne Howard, were her backers. “They had about R40 000 to invest, but insisted I find customers first.” She did. They budgeted by working from a bachelors’ apartment.

As the company grew, Hsu designed dog clothing, including winter shawls and tank tops, and toys called Dogs vs Aliens Gastropods. “I’d get an idea then make it better and cheaper. Our rubber balls, for example, made from biodegradable material, are about a quarter of the price of imports. Nothing we make has sharp edges. Designer dog bowls are next.”

The pandemic boosted business further, she adds, as there were more dog adoptions.

Dog’s Life has come a long way from that bachelors’ flat: Hsu now has offices in Johannesburg and Cape Town to service some 1 000 outlets around the country.

Pet nutrition is a serious business 

The SA pet food market has about 200 brands, with Mordor Intelligences Africa Pet Food Nutraceuticals Market survey (2021) showing that South Africans take pet nutrition seriously, associating it with proteins, vitamins and minerals, fats and carbohydrates.

More recently, Afrique Pet Food, which was formed as a joint venture between AFGRI Animal Feeds and QSA Holdings, completed the acquisition of the Martin & Martin dry pet food manufacturing facility in Isando. This included two of Martin & Martin’s dry pet food brands – Epol dry cat and dog food as well as Vitagen dry dog food. JOCK Dog Food is the company’s existing scientifically formulated dog food.

“The market in South Africa is definitely growing,” says brand manager Louise Viviers. “To support the local value chain, Afrique strives to source the majority of its energy and protein sources locally. All products are locally produced and formulated to support the South African economy.”

She says consumers expect to see ingredients listed – “especially the protein content” – to ensure a balanced diet for their pet. Digestibility and preference palatability trials are undertaken to ensure pet health. “Full traceability across the value chain is available,” explains Viviers.

As Khan points out, increasingly people will live in cities: “Tremendous business opportunities exist in this sector. The adoption of birds, fish and rodents has been on the decline, in favour of cats and smaller dogs that are more suited to urban living.”

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