Pampered pooches

China's affluence opens new market in pet products

Posted: Sunday, December 26, 2004


  Poodle dyed with multiple colors on display at a pet show in Shanghai, China, Friday, Aug. 27, 2004. Around 250 manufacturers showed the latest in pet care at the four-day fair. AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko

Poodle dyed with multiple colors on display at a pet show in Shanghai, China, Friday, Aug. 27, 2004. Around 250 manufacturers showed the latest in pet care at the four-day fair.

AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko

SHANGHAI, China — For the schnauzer that has everything, how about a sequin-studded raincoat? Would your Pekinese like some "chicken chip cookies?" Or earrings for your poodle?

China loves its dogs, and with incomes rising, owners are spending up to $1,900 to buy breeds such as Pomeranians and pampering them with gourmet food, designer clothes and premium toys.

"They even have backpacks, like baby ones, so you can carry the dog around!" said Li Shuifang, proud owner of a Pomeranian. "I thought about getting one, but I figured my husband would say I was silly."

The world's major pet product suppliers are targeting China, betting on pet enthusiasm to drive big sales.

"China is very much an emerging market," said Mike Cusack, a director at Rudducks, an Australian maker of specialized pet shampoos, vitamins and other products.

Cusack, who was in Shanghai for a pet goods exhibition, happily pointed out products he thinks might be big hits in China: doggy breath freshener, sun screen and cat laxatives.

Dogs and other pets are especially popular with older Chinese empty-nesters in a society where life revolves around family but strict birth-control rules limit most couples to just one child.

Owners lavish attention on their pets, splashing out on custom-knit sweaters, booties and other comforts for them.

Still, keeping pets is not officially encouraged in China. Until the 1990s, the practice was banned as bourgeois.

Owners face registration fees of up to hundreds of dollars per year and strict limits on what animals they can keep and when and where they are allowed to walk them.

Authorities still round up unregistered pets and destroy them. With rabies common in China, many consider pets a public health hazard.

But some restrictions are gradually being eased. According to state media reports, one in 10 Beijing families keeps a pet — despite prices that can run as high as $1,800 for a snow-white Pomeranian puppy.

Speaking above the din of barking dogs in Shanghai's ornate exhibition center, many foreign exhibitors at the annual pet goods show said they were attending for the first time.

As sales growth slows in Japan and the United States, China offers producers new opportunities — both to sell and to manufacturer their wares.

"Demand is exploding, and we have the technology," said Charles Ferreira, president of Rush Direct Inc., a Brazilian dog and cat food maker that recently began expanding into markets in North America and Europe, as well as Asia.

"The raw materials are cheaper here and if the market is good, it makes sense to shift production here," said Ferreira. "Dogs will eat anything, but cats are very selective."

Ying-mo Hwang, general manager of the South Korean doggy treat maker BowWow Korea, was handing out samples. BowWow advertises its "chicken chip cookies" and salmon cheese rolls as low-fat, low-salt treats.

"We'll see how sales go here, and if they're good, we might look for a partner and invest in a factory," Hwang said.

Chinese makers are also catching on, and offering some of the most lavish accessories.

The Bobo Pet Articles Factory, based in the eastern city of Shaoxing, sells 35 types of shampoo and conditioner for dogs and dozens of types of collars, chains, leashes, harnesses, toys — even embroidered Chinese silk jackets.

But it was Smart Way Pet Supplies Co.'s stand at the Shanghai exhibition that stole the show with its scores of doggy frocks, plush quilted dog beds and sequin-studded collars.

The company in the southern city of Panyu also sells ornate pewter pet coffins and doggy sunglasses.

And how about a pair of dangling pink poodle earrings, meant not just for owners, but for their dogs as well, said the enthusiastic young woman in the booth: "You can having matching earrings and necklaces!"

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