Housebound Koreans splash out on Fido and friends
“I recently bought a 40,000-won ($36.2) red ginseng vitamin for my baby.”
As much as that might sound like the words of a caring mother, it's actually 24-year-old Kim Ji-min talking about her 10-month-old Pompitz — a Spitz, Pomeranian mix.
While many businesses have been devastated by the prolonged coronavirus pandemic, one area that has seen an unexpected boom is Korea's pet industry.
As Koreans are forced to stay home due to tightened social distancing guidelines, they are likely to spend more time with their pets. This increase in personal pet time has even created a new word, “petfam,” describing people who regard their pets as family.
And people who regard their pets as family are willing to spend large sums of money on them.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, some 26.4 percent of all households in Korea owned one or more pets as of the end of 2019. That also means some 15 million people have a pet at home.
“I regularly spend about 150,000 won a month on my dog,” Kim said. “My dog has been eating a total of four nutritional supplements, but I’m thinking about adding Omega 3 as well.”
“Trust me, my dog’s food is more expensive than rice.”
According to e-commerce operator Market Kurly, sales of pet-related products in 2020 shot up 136 percent compared to a year earlier. The number of products also rose by 90 percent.
One of the most popular products was antibiotic snacks that do not contain any artificial pigments or synthetic sweeteners.
Domestically-made duck jerky was especially popular — with sales last year jumping 176 percent on year.
Sales of non-food pet products also rose 707 percent last year compared to 2019. Sales of toys that help relieve stress rose 49 percent, while toilet products increased by 25 percent. Hygiene goods like shampoo and toothpaste also rose 15 percent.
Companies, regardless of their sector, are scrambling to strengthen their pet-related product range as part of efforts to attract more customers.
Retail is one of the most enthusiastic sectors.
Emart in late 2019 launched a membership program called “Daengnyang Club” targeting pet owners. Members of the program are offered discounts in all Molly’s Pet Shop branches across the country. Daeng is slang for dog, and nyang for cat in Korean.
The number of registered customers to the membership program has exceeded 40,000 as of the end of December, according to Emart.
Emart has also designated the first 10 days of every month as Molly’s Week, and offers up to 30-percent discounts to customers who buy pet food and products in Molly’s Pet Shops.
Department stores are also hoping to cash in by offering customers various products and activities that they can enjoy with pets.
In November, Hyundai Department Store opened its fourth premium outlet called Space1 in Namyangju, Gyeonggi.
The department store has a 1,322-square-meter (14,230 square foot) pet park called “Heendy House” on its roof. Heendy is the name of the department store’s logo, which is a white dog.
Heendy House is the largest pet park connected to a retailer in Korea, according to the department store. The park offers customers a photo zone and tables where they can eat alongside their pets.
On its first floor, the department store has Coco Square, a pet care shop. As well as selling various pet care products, Coco Square also offers facilities such as pet-only kindergarten, swimming pools, spa and hotels. In the kindergarten, veterinarians and pet managers offer treatment and services for pets so that they can get some fitness training and learn how to manage their stress.
“The pet industry is booming recently as the number of people who own pets has reached 15 million,” a spokesperson for Hyundai Department Store said. “Following that trend, we introduced the largest pet park in order to offer customers a new shopping experience.”
Kwak Seo-yeong, a 25-year-old university student who spends some 340,000 won a month on her four-year-old Bichon Frise, says visiting dog parks is a good alternative in the Covid-19 era.
“As a dog owner is also allowed to enter the dog park with their dog, it is safer than the dog kindergarten in terms of preventing accidents,” Kwak said. “My dog can freely run and play in the park. As I only have one dog, visiting a dog park really helps her to learn how to be social.”
The reason why companies are so enthusiastic about the pet market is because of its potential for growth.
According to the Korea Rural Economic Institute, the pet-related market, which was worth about 1.9 trillion won in 2015, sharply rose to 3.4 trillion won in 2020. The institute expects it to exceed 6 trillion won by 2027.
Financial companies are also catching on.
NH Nonghyup Card has been trying to attract customers with its PETvley card. People who own the card are offered discounts when they purchase pet-related products and visit vets.
Not only NH Nonghyup Card, but other card companies such as Woori Card and KB Kookmin Card have been trying hard to strengthen their card products for pet owners.
“I recently made a credit card from Woori Card that has many benefits when buying products for my dog,” Kim said. “I think it’s very useful especially after the coronavirus outbreak as I often buy new food and snacks for my dog and take him to the hospital regularly.”
Thanks to the increasing number of pet lovers, the number of related jobs has also been growing.
Based on data by Alba Cheonguk, a part-time job portal, the number of job postings related to pet care — veterinary nurses, animal health technicians, managers for pet hotels and pet shops and pet sitters — was about seven in 2019 but shot up to 1,332 last year.
BY CHEA SARAH [email@example.com]