The European market for pet products
by Frederick O. Marshth
The idea that 'trade is better than aid' in achieving long-term
and sustainable development is widely accepted. One of the big disappointments
of the past three decades has been the declining sham of world trade accounted
for by developing countries outside Asia. Today, with liberal economics in the
ascendant and trade barriers coming down, the issue is even more pressing. Many
studies have been undertaken as to why so many developing countries have become
marginalised in the global system of commerce, and what might be done to reverse
this trend. Problems include identifying market opportunities (and the related
issue of acquiring the necessary information! obtaining finance, acquiring
entrepreneurial skills, having access to a skilled labour force and ensuring
product quality. This article deals with the first of these-spotting export
opportunities and finding out more about them. The focus is on the European
market for pet accessories-just one example of a huge number of 'niche' markets
in the developed world which developing country entrepreneurs might find worthy
of investigation. And for those who think that the term 'niche market 'equals '
too small to be of interest' the author, who is a consultantin the field of pet
products, provides some striking statistics. Pet products are surprisingly 'big'
business' and the sector offers a range of business opportunities covering raw
materials, semi-processed materials and finished products.
Not many people realise that 49% of the 132 million households
in the EU (the figure prior to the latest enlargement) keep at least one pet.
The pet population, excluding fish, totals 136m and includes 35m dogs, 35m cats
and 45m cage birds. There are around 20m 'other small animals', a term which
encompasses everything from guinea pigs and hamsters to spiders and exotic
snakes. Lastly, there are ornamental fish which are kept in aquaria, bowls and
garden ponds. These are to be found in at least 9.5 million European households
and although it is difficult to arrive at an accurate estimate of the total
number of fish kept as pets, the figure is thought to be around 141m.
The amount of money spent by European owners on their pets is
well in excess of ECU 9 billion a year. Most of this goes towards food or health
care products but 18% of the total (ECU 1.6bn) is spent on pet accessories. In
real terms, this market is forecast to grow by more than 3% per year. This
article will focus only on accessories for pets, since many of these can be and
are sourced in developing countries.
One should be aware that the EU represents around one third of
the total world market for pet products. The North American market is roughly
the same size while the remaining third is accounted for by countries in the
rest of the world, notably Australia, Japan, South America, South Africa, the
Middle East and, increasingly, Russia and Eastern Europe.
The range of products defined as pet accessories is very wide-in
excess of 5000 individual articles. Pet accessory manufacturers are, therefore,
operating in a highly fragmented market and it is not surprising to find that
there are many thousands of enterprises involved. The majority of these are
quite small-often 'cottage industries'.
Dogs and cats
Collars available in a large range of materials, and in many
colour combinations, fall under this heading. For dogs, there are also leads
made of leather, chain, rope, nylon or a combination of these materials. Other
canine products include car harnesses, muzzles, training equipment, 'chews'
(made of knotted rope or buffalo hide) and scoops (for clearing up dog mess!),
kennels and wicker baskets. There is even a 'fashion' market for dog coats. Many
of these articles could be produced in ACP countries.
For cats, the largest single item is cat litter, around 1
million tonnes of which is sold in Europe every year. The raw materials are
either minerals such as attapulgite, sepiolite, gypsum and bentonite or
vegetable-based materials such as maize by-products or wood shavings. Other cat
accessories include cat beds, litter trays and cat scratchers or scratching
There are also more than one hundred different articles marketed
under the heading of grooming accessories- brushes, combs, clippers, grooming
tables etc. Again, many of these could offer production opportunities for ACP
Birds and ornamental poultry
In addition to bird cages and aviaries, made from a variety of
materials, and available in many different shapes and sizes, there are also
fittings such as perches, swings and ladders, usually made of wood. Other
accessories include toys, mirrors and feeding and drinking bowls. Further market
opportunities exist in the field of accessories for racing doves and pigeons of
which there are several million. Pigeon fanciers, who keep the birds for racing,
view their activity as a sport and accordingly, these are not usually included
under the heading of pets.
In environmentally-conscious Europe, there is considerable
interest in wild birds and many people buy nesting boxes and feeding tables for
their gardens. Most are made of wood but other materials, including coconut
by-products are also used. Another popular accessory in this category is bird
Other small animals and fish
Accessories for the former include cages and 'homes', exercise
and play wheels, tunnels, drinking bottles for rodents and bedding material or
litter. In the more specialised market for reptile accessories, terrariums and
vivariums will usually contain sand and ground bark from particular trees as
well as a range of other natural products used in crafted woodscapes and
For fish, the market, other than tanks and bowls, ranges from
very 'hightech' electrical equipment to basic materials such as gravel, sand,
rock and tree roots. The latter are natural products which only require
collecting, washing, sorting or grading. Aquarium gravel, for example, is
available in many different colours, sizes and grades and the size of the
European market for this product is somewhere in the region of 35 000 tonnes a
year. Annual sales of marine salt for aquariums exceeds 1500t. A number of firms
specialise in the production of crafted replicas of natural fossil. Aquarium
plants are another specialised accessory. These are grown on farms in many
countries. Singapore exports plants to the value of ECU 8.5 million each year.
There is a related niche market for artificial aquarium plants while ornaments,
including statuary for ponds (whether or not they contain fish), should not be
Finally there are a number of accessories that are adaptable for
different pets-toys, beds, feeding and drinking bowls and carriers made out of
wicker, wood, metal and plastic.
Diverse product range
Manufacturers in ACP countries should be aware that the pet
accessories market covers a diverse range of articles from simple raw materials
such as rough rock for aquariums, through semi-processed articles to the
finished product such as collars and leads. In short, there is a market for
everything in this trade with market niches available in the low, medium and
high price ranges.
In Europe, the distribution chain for pet accessories includes a
specialist retail sector (pet shops, garden centres, seed merchants etc) as well
as the general grocery sector whose outlets in some countries have a significant
share of the accessory market. Specialist mail order businesses provide yet
another distribution channel. One German firm, for example, publishes a 200 page
mail order catalogue containing articles only for dogs. Almost every country has
a pet trade press which published monthly magazines read by people working in
the trade. In most countries, there is a national pet trade association which
brings together manufacturers, distributors and retailers. Some of these also
organise trade fairs. Trade fairs and exhibitions specialising in pet products
including accessories are held in most European countries. The largest and most
important of these is 'Interzoo' which is held biannually in Germany. Almost 600
firms from all over the world exhibit at this event, which attracts more than
18000 trade visitors.
Currently, most of the pet accessories from developing countries
marketed in Europe come from Asia. This raises several questions.. Why only from
this region? Is it because their producers and exporters are more innovative?
After all, many of the raw materials are available in ACP countries. There are
clearly manufacturing opportunities here for the ACPs -as long as exporters
provide the right product in the right place, at the right time and at the right
price. Could it be that nobody, as yet, has recognised the potential of the
sector. Many ACPs have the requisite raw materials and labour force. If the
necessary finance, management initiative and market information could be added
to this, there is no reason why entrepreneurial firms in ACP countries should
not succeed in carving out profitable niches in this growing market.