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Pets are having the time of their lives and most of it is due to the pandemic.

A covid-induced surge in pet ownership and growing consumer awareness has spurred demand for pet products across India, ranging from pet treats and packaged goods to branded toys and accessories, companies and retailers said.

India is not an exception. Pet ownership has risen worldwide as the covid outbreak forced people to stay indoors for extended periods. This led many to seek solace in pets to cope with loneliness and anxiety issues.

India has an estimated pet population of 28–29 million, according to industry estimates, with dogs making up the bulk of pet ownership. Cats, on the other hand, have seen a more recent uptick in adoption and ownership, largely because they are considered more independent than dogs and have low maintenance.

“We’ve doubled our business between 2019 and 2021," said Ganesh Ramani, managing director, Mars Petcare India, a global manufacturer of pet products, attributing the growth to increased pet ownership.

“As the pet population increased, the demand for pet products also rose," said Mohit Lalvani, founder and managing director, Captain Zack, a seller of pet care products such as treats, shampoos and accessories.

Meanwhile, rising pet ownership has led to the growth of the pet-care ecosystem comprising retail chains, pet nutrition and grooming brands, and services such as pet spas.

Investors are also sharpening their focus on companies dealing with pet products.

Recently, Heads up for Tails (HUFT), a premium pet care company, raised $37 million in a Series A funding round led by Verlinvest and Sequoia Capital India. The company, which began operations in 2008, runs more than 40 stores across India to sell its private-label products and other brands. It plans to add eight stores this year.

The funding round also saw participation from Amitell Capital and existing investor W&C PetTech. HUFT will deploy the capital to accelerate expansion to newer markets, introduce a new range of pet food products while expanding its portfolio of global brands such as Pet head, Isle of Dog and Wild Earth. In addition, it just hired Netflix India’s former marketing head Swati Mohan as the chief business officer.

Rashi Narang, founder, HUFT, said India’s pet market is still nascent but growing. “Besides the sale of products and services, there has been a huge amount of focus on content, community and education, which has driven consumer awareness and pull towards the category," she said.

Narang said, however, that it took years to source vendors for HUFT’s private label, and investor interest also took time to build. Today, the chain’s private label accounts for 40% of its business.

Food products make up half of India’s total pet care industry, estimated at up to 8,000 crore annually.

Urban and affluent millennials and Gen Zers, or those born between the late 1990s and the early 2010s, form a significant consumer base. Still, less than 10% of pet owners buy packaged foods and treats. The rest rely on home-cooked meals, said Ramani of Mars, one of the world’s largest pet food manufacturers with brands such as Pedigree, Royal Canin and Whiskas. With people cooped indoors for longer hours, they spent more time with pets, indulging them with treats, and buying more packaged foods, Ramani said.

Last year, it launched premium dog food brand Iams. It also sells Sheba cat food in the upper end of the segment.

Cosmos Films Ltd, a maker of speciality films for packaging, lamination and labelling, also forayed into the growing market with the launch of its pet care retail chain Zigly. Its recently opened experience centre in Delhi offers products such as nutritional supplements and hygiene products, treats and toys, and services such as grooming.

“Demand for expert services and quality products is growing. Zigly will also prove to be an effective platform for people who wish to be trained for all pet-related activities," said Pankaj Poddar, chief executive of Cosmo Films.

Lalvani of Captain Zack said there has been an evolution in the retail ecosystem in the past three years, with the start of several specialized retail franchises. “The DINK population (young couples with no kids) is the highest in India. They are aware and educated on what to use for the best of their pets. This has helped in a remarkable rise of multi-brand retail outlets," he said.

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