creative zone

Why the pet market is set to expand in the Gulf – and lucrative avenues for entrepreneurs

What should we make of the pet ownership boom the Gulf is experiencing? Is it just about those headline-grabbing stories of dog-friendly private jets and ultra-expensive pet pampering services? Or are there real opportunities out there for the discerning entrepreneur?

Around the world, pet ownership increased dramatically during and immediately after the pandemic – and this is something we see locally as well. In the UAE alone, pet ownership has increased by 30% since Covid-19 came into our lives, with its pet care sector currently valued at USD 360m and projections that it could reach USD 2bn by 2025.

When we look more widely, the market for pet care in the entire MENA region was valued at USD 800m in 2022 according to data from Redseer Consulting. This indicates just how far ahead the UAE currently stands, but also highlights the potential the rest of the region holds for the entrepreneur who can understand and navigate the business and cultural nuances involved in these developing pet sectors. As we have already seen in the UAE, it doesn’t take long for pet ownership to take off and the associated goods and services to quickly become in-demand.

So, let’s take a closer look at the pet industry in the GCC, focusing on the UAE and detailing some of the key opportunities.

Why the pet ownership surge?

Two of the key demographic groups are young single people and seniors, although pet ownership is certainly not limited to them. While there are many views on what’s behind the surge, many believe it’s down to loneliness (families not living together), made even more acute by the pandemic, which led to further isolation. Given those circumstances, it makes sense that the need for a companion would increase.

The types of pets people prefer vary considerably. While there is little data available, the cultural diversity of the GCC is reflected in the differing preferences of expatriates and locals – expats often lean towards breeds familiar from their home countries, seeking a sense of familiarity in their new surroundings. Local people, on the other hand, may have a preference for traditional or culturally significant animals. Several local breeds have been around for hundreds of years. These include the spotted Egyptian Mau cat, and the Saluki dog, which was once used for hunting by tribes in the Arabian peninsula and is still a popular breed today.

Some cultural norms are also at play, although it certainly isn’t an exact science. Broadly speaking, while dogs are widely embraced in expat communities, some local cultures traditionally favour cats. In addition, what might be considered an ‘exotic pet’ in the West may not be seen that way in the Gulf.

Understanding these nuances, and at times contradictions, is key for entrepreneurs looking to cater to the diverse pet ownership landscape. Extensive market research is required alongside innovative marketing approaches due to the transient nature of workers coming and going in the region. Because of this movement, entrepreneurs working in the pet industry may struggle to retain ‘customers for life’ and so need to market to new arrivals.

Who are the key industry players?

There are several major retailers across the region – from Pet Arabia in Bahrain, Egy Puppy in Egypt, and Animal World in Oman. In the UAE, there are two key retailers – The Pet Shop Dubai, founded in 2011 and recently acquired by Aliph Capital; and Pet’s Delight, founded in 2005 and a branch of Arab Land Trading LLC. The UAE has three main distributors: the Saint Vincent Group (which distributes Royal Canin in the GCC), Naturally For Pets, and the aforementioned Arab Land Trading LLC.

Pet-centric events are also on the rise, reflecting Dubai’s commitment to promoting responsible pet ownership. Last year, Pet World Arabia Dubai drew in 2,000 trade visitors and 2,500 pet owners. The exhibition is slated to take place again in April of this year.

Meanwhile, the supermarkets Spinneys and Waitrose have both started partnerships with Rory’s Apawthecary in the UAE, introducing a range of organic dog grooming products – from dog shampoo to aromatherapy spray. There are also plans to extend these partnerships to stores in Oman.

There are also a number of other services available, which demonstrate just how quickly pet ownership is growing in the UAE. My Second Home, a resort-style venue for dogs, is currently expanding to meet demand. Meanwhile, BookMyPet.com is a UAE-based platform offering a comprehensive array of pet services. Even cafés are getting in on the action, with Happy Bark Day (based in Dubai’s Business Bay) catering to dogs, cats, and of course their owners.

Entrepreneurial opportunities in the pet market

As we have seen, for the forward-thinking entrepreneur there are a lot of opportunities – both in the developed UAE pet sector and further afield in countries at an earlier point in their pet ownership journey. With that in mind, here are some areas entrepreneurs should consider:

  • Pet products that are locally sensitive: This ensures broader market acceptance, creating pet accessories inspired by local traditions to diet plans and medications that address the unique issues, allergies and intolerances that pets may encounter in high-temperature environments. It also means you target products for the most popular type of pets in the specific GCC country you’re selling in.
  • Healthy options: Increasingly, pet owners are looking for grain-free, gluten-free, and single-protein-source diets for their animals. Filling this need could be a potential avenue for entrepreneurs to explore.
  • Tech-driven pet services: This might include pet monitoring apps, online veterinary consultations, and pet-friendly travel solutions. The region has world-leading mobile phone penetration, plus an expectation of getting things conveniently and on-demand. Entrepreneurs should consider how they might tailor their offering to meet this always-on 24/7 expectation of the market.
  • Educational initiatives: Entrepreneurial ventures focusing on educating pet owners about responsible ownership, nutrition, and healthcare contribute to the welfare of pets and align with the region’s increasing awareness of animal welfare.
  • Specialised pet events: Hosting unique pet events catering to diverse preferences, such as exotic pet exhibitions or breed-specific gatherings, can draw enthusiasts and create business opportunities.

Pets means business

The Gulf’s pet market is growing quickly, and while Dubai may be leading the way, it’s likely the rest of the region will catch up soon. Entrepreneurs attuned to the nuances of cultural preferences, coupled with innovative and tailored offerings, are well-positioned to carve a niche in this expanding market.

There is always an educational component with any aspect of pet ownership, and entrepreneurs must ensure that they’re not only creating products and services which owners want, but incorporating the latest learnings in safe and compassionate pet ownership and passing those on to owners in the products and services they offer.

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