As any of the weekly gossip mags show, no self-respecting C-list celeb can be seen without a small dog, as pets have become fashion accessories.
The growing humanisation of pets has created expansion in the market for pet food and petcare products, where product development trends closely mimic those found among items for humans. Owners' desire to indulge their pets also means the scope for treats, gifts and services such as grooming continues to widen.
Pet food mirrors the trends seen in groceries as a whole - convenience, improved packaging, natural ingredients and a shift to premium products are noticeable. In health terms, pets are suffering from similar complaints to their owners, such as obesity and age-related problems.
With 27m pets and 11.2m pet-owning households, this is a big market. Spending on pet food and petcare rose 14% between 2003 and 2007, and Mintel predicts that the market will reach a value of almost £3bn in 2008.
This growth is mostly due to the ever-widening array of products on offer, which gives consumers a choice of items at different price points. As owners have become more willing to spend on their animals, many have shifted from buying essential pet-food items to more indulgent ones.
Pet food is the biggest category in this market, and thanks to the rise in premium products it has grown in value, though it is uncertain whether this will continue in the downturn.
Pet healthcare has risen 26% to £215m between 2003 and 2008, and spend on pet accessories rose to reach £269m this year.
Within the market supermarkets have also muscled in on specialist retailers' traditional territory with a focus on pet food, as it accounts for most of the market's value. While their product listings are not as comprehensive as those found in specialist stores, supermarkets now offer most everyday items required by owners.
Pet retailers' strength is that they offer more specialist foods and more peripheral products such as baskets, cages, clothes and feeding accessories.
Among the specialists, Pets at Home has national coverage and positions itself on competitive pricing and a range of more than 5000 products. Pets Corner and Wynnstay-owned Just for Pets are among those competing at a regional level. The latter bought Wilsons Pet Centres in January. Pets Corner has concentrated on smaller high-street and Express stores.
Garden centres, too, often have pet-care sections, and it is common for them to join forces with pet retailers to target a combined audience.
As in other sectors, online sales are on the rise and allow smaller specialists to reach a wider consumer base.
According to BMRB, consumers tend to show high brand loyalty both to stores and products.
In terms of pet types, dog owner-ship is on the rise, while the number of cats is declining so that cat and dog ownership is now roughly equal.
While not everyone can accommodate the lifestyle changes required to own a pet, the emergence of services such as dog-walking and dog-sitting has made canine ownership an option for more people.
Children in a household are in-variably the catalyst for acquiring an animal, but future demographics suggest that the number of families will not rise, and the sector may suffer as a result of this.
Mintel predicts that by 2013 the market will be worth £3.4bn - a rise of 14% since 2008. With inflation taken into account, this equates to 2% growth in real terms.
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