The pet market in China is worth more than 200 billion yuan ($29 billion) already and is growing quickly, with the number of pet cats and dogs in the nation now exceeding 100 million.
The market is reportedly the world's second largest after the United States, and Japanese firms are eying potential opportunities to cash in on the boom in demand for pet products.
"I am happy about my life with my dog. We always go to cafes and outings together," Chen Yu Jie, a 29-year-old woman said while walking her dog in Shanghai.
She got her dog in the summer of 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic and says just looking at her canine companion helps relieve the stress of work. Many of her friends also have pets and are willing to look after hers when she is away on business.
According to a report by Bain & Co., an American management consulting company, in recent years the pet market in China has grown at an annual clip of around 20 percent, reaching 210 billion yuan in 2021.
The expansion of the market reflects an improvement in the standard of living resulting from China's economic development and people spending more time at home because of the pandemic. In urban areas, pet ownership is increasing among young couples and single people of the "one-child generation."
Interest in high-grade pet food is also growing as owners are inclined to feed highly nutritional meals to animals they now consider "family members."
Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group reported a 40 percent year-on-year increase in sales of imported pet food in its annual Singles' Day shopping festival on Nov. 11, 2022. Average expenditure on food per pet grew 15 percent per annum for the sixth consecutive year.
A new occupation of "food tasters," or humans who eat pet food to check for quality, has emerged, and a growing number of companies are developing pharmaceutical products for pets in anticipation of their aging.
According to local media, China has some 400,000 companies involved in pet supplies. The market is expected to continue expanding as the rate of households owning pets is still lower than in the United States and Europe.
With this opportunity beckoning, Japanese companies are making inroads into the market.
Unicharm Corp., a top Japanese manufacturer of disposable hygiene and household cleaning products, teamed up with a Chinese pet supplies maker in Jiangsu Province last November. It plans to strengthen local production and sales while aggressively marketing health-oriented pet food and pet toiletries.
"We intend to raise our brand recognition (in China)," said a spokesperson for the Tokyo-based company.
Panasonic Holdings Corp. began selling automatic food and water feeders in China last June.
"We will develop products for pets that can meet a variety of lifestyles such as for people living alone," said a Panasonic official in charge of product development.