Creature Companion Magazine got an opportunity to interact with Ganesh Ramani, the Managing Director of MARS Petcare – a leading provider of high quality, science-backed nutrition, and therapeutic health products for pets. He discussed about their ideology and the changing dynamics of pet care industry in India.

MARS Petcare is the global pioneer in pet nutrition and care. Could you please elaborate on the changing dynamics of pet parenting in India?

India is the fastest growing pet care market in the world, with urbanization, rise in nuclear families, and changing perceptions towards pets and pet ownership driving growth. During lockdown and work from home phase, pet parents spent a lot of time with their pets and indulged in many products for their pawed friends. There was an increase in demand for pet products, which was much more than what used to be pre-COVID. Along with this, in last few months, many people, especially the ones who stay alone, have adopted pets and are investing in pet products. MARS Petcare has encouraged pet adoptions through its various brand campaigns and activities. A lot of pet parents from metro cities have moved to their native cities and smaller towns along with their pets or have adopted pets after moving there. This has led to the growth of pet care industry in semi-urban markets and smaller towns, which has been further aided by e-commerce platforms like amazon, big basket etc.

Pedigree has been synonymous to pet food but there are other brands available in India now. Share your thoughts on this.

The main reason for the Pedigree being a household name and increase in pet nutrition and pet care market is that a significant part of our brand building has been educating the retail trade and pet parents about the product and its benefits. Keeping dog love at its core, the brand broadly covered content buckets that included – Health and Nutrition, Topical, Parenting, Celebrating Dogginess, and Experts speak. At present, Pedigree marketing is significantly driven by digital media; however, during pandemic, it moved from being brand focused to supporting causes and assisting new pet parents by providing them with relevant information for being new pet parents. It played an active role in feeding strays and partnering with several NGOs for contributing to the welfare of dogs as part of their initiatives.

Along with Pedigree, MARS Petcare has introduced various other brands:

What are the major challenges that you faced in educating pet parents about packaged pet food? Is this challenge unique to India?

MARS Petcare entered India in early 2000, when pet food awareness was very low among pet parents. A decade ago, majority of pet parents had a pre-set notion for pet food and their own myths for it. We had our work laid out for us – to help the industry and pet parents unlearn and learn new pet nutrition practices. Pets have a significantly different balanced nutrition requirement than humans. Manufactured pet food (MPF) offers this balanced nutrition as against home-cooked food. To begin with, MARS Petcare launched an intensive ‘calorie program’. We used promoters to educate in-store customers about pet nutrition requirement and we followed it up with a coupon for them to make a purchase. We scaled the reach through print and TV advertisements. From there, we took a major leap – we started pushing the reason to believe and buy through our campaigns on five signs of good health, reiterating the benefits of switching to pet food. Then, we expanded to digital media to continue creating awareness about pet nutrition and manufactured pet foods.

There has been a rise in freshly cooked home meal brands in India. How do you see this development?

Dogs have moved from being kept outside the house for security reasons to being part of the family. With the trend of humanization, pet parents believe that their pets should eat what they eat. Adding to this is the fact that nutrition is not a key aspect of veterinary training in India; a lot of people do not understand that what is good for us is not necessarily good for our pets. India does not have mandatory standards for pet food, so there is no way of ensuring quality and nutritional completeness of food being cooked and sold for pets. The nutritional requirement of pets, both dogs and cats, is very different from what is required by humans. However, if these home-cooked meal brands can fulfil the optimum nutritional requirements for pets and match the standards specified by BIS, they would be good for pets.

You recently launched a product line named IAMS in India. Shed some light upon the same.

IAMS is a premium Breed Specific pet food in India. We have recently launched IAMS branded three dog food variants in India. Every food variant is specifically designed for adult breeds, from the German Shepherd (Aged: 1.5+), Golden Retriever (Aged: 1.5+), and Pug (Aged: 10+). The three food variants are available across specialty pet stores and online platforms such as Amazon, Flipkart, and Big Basket.

India has predominantly been a dog market but awareness about cats is also increasing. In this light, do you find change in your sale figures or it is just a perception?

We have seen an increase in cat adoption over the last few years and are expecting to see the graph rise. During the second lockdown, when there was an increase in need for companionship, MARS Petcare and its brand Whiskas launched its #AdoptACat initiative. Cats are low-maintenance pets and can survive staying indoors. Some people have reservations about adopting cats due to negative associations or superstitions, especially, when it comes to caring and nurturing felines. Hence, Whiskas had been working towards trying to create awareness about cats being suitable companions through their campaign #BringHomeCuriousity philosophy. The entire aim of running these campaigns through Whiskas is to educate current and prospective pet parents that cats as pets are cute and curious, and do not resemble to stereotypical unfavourable qualities that they are presumed to have.

There are 4.5 million pet cats in the country. We expect the pet food industry to grow over 20 times as only 5–6 per cent of the market is the manufactured food and the rest is met by home food.

What is the growth forecast for FY 2021–22?

The pet food sector is outperforming others in the FMCG landscape. Pet food sector sales soared by 20% in 2020 and 35–40% in 2021. MARS has been ahead of the curve in adoption of the newer channels like E-commerce and Hyperlocal. More than 15% of the pet food sales are contributed by E-commerce vs. an industry benchmark of 4–7%. The domestic manufactured pet food market is about Rs 3500 crores as of 2021. The adoption of manufactured pet food is growing and has accelerated in 2020. While the market grew at 16% in 2019, in the year 2020, it grew at 20+%. Reasons that led to this growth were mainly people spending more time with their pets as they were stuck at home during lockdown, adopting more pets, feeding stray dogs and cats around the city knowing that they were hungry, donating food to NGOs, and many such factors. In 2020, 85% of the pet food market comprised dog food and the balance was cat food. Dog food saw a growth of 18% in 2020 (overall) – [Euromonitor Report] and has risen to 28–30% as of Q1 of 2021. MARS Petcare retained a strong lead in the pet food and care industry as of 2019 and maintained their position in 2020 and have gained market share in 2021, outpacing the category growth that is expected to be around 35–40%. Overall, dog food market in India projected to rise at 15% current value CAGR in the next 5 years – [Euromonitor Report] and has been escalating to achieve the same with introduction of products such as Pedigree Small Dog and Whiskas Tasty Mix, and diversification of variants based on flavour, age required for, and the breed. Euromonitor report forecasted a rise in the sale of pet products by 2025 to 68% value growth.

How much of your sales come from online and offline channels in terms of volume/ value whichever you are comfortable to divulge?

MARS Petcare has a strong presence in both offline and online channels. We are available in Pet Specialty stores, Supermarkets, and major Grocery/Kirana/Pharmacy stores. We are also ramping up our presence in Tier II and Tier III towns. As part of e-commerce strategies to penetrate the markets, MARS Petcare has expanded their reach by 25% (pin code reach) in the Tier II and III cities over the last year. We cater to almost 70–75% pin codes in India. Smaller towns are growing faster than larger metro and mini metro cities and are now contributing as much as the metros and mini metros. The organization’s engagement with new age e-commerce models, viz. Hyperlocals, has been very encouraging, and we are driving the category growth through platforms such as Dunzo and Swiggy as well. Penetrating through such platforms helps pet parents to get products on the same day or in a few hours’ time.

Additionally, numeric expansion in smaller towns has been yielding great results such that the organization is presently closing on up to 100 outlets selling pet food. MARS Petcare have also significantly engaged with Veterinarians in helping them upskill themselves on clinical practice through seminars/hands-on sessions/guest speakers.

As we earlier said, Pet food industry is the fastest growing FMCG product in India and has been outperforming others in this landscape.

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