Pet ownership in SA rose during the pandemic, and it’s fuelling the R7.1 billion pet goods sector

Business Insider SA
Man working at home with his domestic cat
  • Many people became new pet owners since the pandemic.
  • SA's pet industry is worth R7.1 billion, and is expected to grow 2.5% between 2021 and 2026.
  • As people return to the office, demand for calming and anxiety-related products is growing, especially for dogs.
  • Some retailers have noted the boom and are competing for some market share in the pet economy.
  • Woolworths has been focusing more on leisure, while Checkers began rolling out standalone pet stores.
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Pet ownership in South Africa has risen as the pandemic kept people home and alone.

The increased pet ownership has, in turn, helped drive up the sale of goods in the pet care market, an industry worth R7.1 billion in South Africa. Over the next five years, the pet care market is expected to grow by at least 2.5%, according to data by Euromonitor International.

According to Anje du Plessis, a senior analyst for market research provider Euromonitor International, owner-pet relationships also improved during the pandemic.

"Because consumers were spending so much time at home, they paid more attention to their pets… For many consumers, their pet was their only companion during hard lockdowns," Du Plessis told Business Insider South Africa.

The boom experienced over the past two years was primarily driven by pet owners spending specifically on pet snacks and treats and pet healthcare, she said.

Dog food remains the biggest category in the pet care market, with brands such as Bobtail and Montego leading the industry for dogs and Whiskas and Pampers for cats.

Previously in South Africa, dogs had primarily been kept for safety reasons or as guard dogs, but owners have started perceiving them as "heart dogs" in recent years.

While large-breed dogs dominate the dog population in South Africa, smaller dogs of up to 9kg and medium-sized ones (between 9kg and 23kg) have seen more robust growth in 2020 and 2021.

"These figures indicate that owners in South Africa are choosing smaller pets, as they need less space and can easily live in apartments," says Du Plessis.

In some cases, people short on money mixed cheaper economy dry and wet dog food to make it tastier for their pets. But dog treats also got a boost, as owners spoiled their animals.

"Long working hours mean that when owners arrive home, they want to compensate for their long absence by giving their dogs extra special treatment. Increasing humanisation means that owners want to reward their dogs by giving them treats like they would to children," she said.

In a bid to take advantage of the pet market boom, major retailers are competing more aggressively for a piece of the pie. Most notably, last year, Checkers boldly ventured into the pet space when it began rolling out its dedicated pet store, Petshop Science. In 2020, it introduced an insurance offering for pets.

Woolworths has also been bolstering its pet goods offering over the years. During the pandemic, the retailer increased its focus on leisure, treating, and playtime-related products.

"Working from home has given our customers the opportunity to spend more time with their pets… Therefore, we have ensured we have a wide range of delicious, healthy, and safe treats, toys, and accessories for cats and dogs," Woolworths told Business Insider South Africa.

"We ensure our pet offer aligns with the trusted and loved Woolworths brand, with a big focus on pet wellbeing," the company said.

Its Fresh Pet range offers convenient, healthy food made with human-grade ingredients, including products like long life and frozen prepared meals, treats, and baking kits where pet owner customers can bake their pets' biscuits at home.

As people return to working from offices, demand for calming products is growing, says Du Plessis.

"As pet owners are returning to work, separation anxiety, especially in dogs, has increased. This boosts the demand for calming products positioned to reduce anxiety and ease the transition back to the new normal," Du Plessis said.

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