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By: Thomas Writer

It is well documented that Australians love their pets and that the bond between owner and pet is only growing stronger. The number of “pet-friendly” businesses such as cafés, hotels and even airlines is on the up, all catering to the ever-increasing willingness of consumers to humanise and indulge their pets. Australians spent A$3.5 million on their pets’ food, treats, litter, healthcare, dietary supplements, toys, homes and other accessories, which translates into A$146 spent per pet, up 19% from five years ago. A total of 39% of Australian households owned a dog in 2014, with 29% owning a cat.

While there has always been potential for foodservice operators to incorporate a pet-friendly theme at their outlets, with dog drinks served at dog cafés like Sydney’s Café Bones or websites such as doggydining.com.au helping dog owners find eateries that are pet-friendly for example, there is certainly ample opportunity for enterprising foodservice ventures keen to get their paws on the pet-loving market.

Australia’s first cat café opened its doors in July 2014 in Melbourne. The two-storey heritage building offers visitors the chance to get acquainted with the 13 resident cats, all of which have come from local rescue centres. The café area is situated on the ground floor and the cats roam upstairs on the first floor, through rooms full of cat scratching frames, toys, tunnels and hidey-holes. The pet accessories market, which includes pet toys, is a valuable market, which was worth A$80.8 million in 2014. It is certainly one area of the Australian pet care market that is experiencing rapid growth as consumers seek to provide their animal companions with the latest and greatest toys and trinkets, playing further into the humanisation aspect of pet care. In value terms it experienced 22% year-on-year value growth in 2014, and 18% compound annual value growth between 2010 and 2014.

Cat Cafés are a worldwide phenomenon, the first opening in Taiwan in 1998. Their global popularity highlights consumers’ affinity with pets, while enabling people to enjoy the health benefits associated with pet ownership, such as helping to lower blood pressure and lessen anxiety, as well as boosting immunity. The cafés provide a place where animal lovers can relax, socialise and be comfortable in a quiet environment that reflects their interests.

The cats in the Melbourne café are not available for adoption; however, the café will advertise local rescue and adoption centres where potential pet parents can find their perfect feline friend. Many Australian and New Zealand pet superstores and pet shops have strong affiliations with local rescue centres and some actively operate adoption programmes within stores themselves.

Another local project with a global – even extra-terrestrial – inspiration is Sydney’s Catmosphere Cat Café. Slated to open in Sydney’s CBD in July 2015, the crowdfunded project features an outer-space theme alongside its feline draw cards. Initially established in Thailand, Catmosphere Cat Café boasts of being the world’s first space cat café franchise.

Tapping into a robust growth area within consumer foodservice, pet-themed developments are also evident in 100% home delivery/takeaway, with the introduction of doggy bags from third party online booking system Delivery Hero in October 2014. The home delivery/takeaway category has seen 24% value growth over the past five years as consumers are increasingly entertaining less expensively at home, rather than going to a restaurant. The Delivery Hero Doggy Bag concept makes eating-in even more convenient for its Sydney customers, with 10 restaurants offering online takeaway dishes for cats and dogs, priced between A$5 and A$9 for a 440ml or 700ml container, and featuring meals containing proteins, carbohydrates and vegetables with minimum seasoning, such as chicken kebab with grilled tomatoes and rice or penne in a sauce of chicken, zucchini, carrots and pumpkin.

While premiumisation and humanisation are key trends in pet food in both Australia and internationally, the introduction of such concepts to consumer foodservice is a telling indication of the strengthening emotional bond between pet and owner in Australia. This connection between owner and pet will drive the strong forecast absolute growth for the premium dog and cat food category through to 2019, in addition to the 13% and 10% forecast value growth for the dog and cat treats categories, respectively, through to 2019.

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