NAGOYA — Premium ice cream made of soy milk and honey, duck and rabbit meats imported from Europe, and vitamin-rich supplements — items seemingly fit for a health-conscious gourmet.
But all are recently launched foods for pets in Japan and are aimed at cashing in on a growing trend among pet owners of paying greater attention to the health condition and "personal taste" of their furry friends.
Inaba-Petfood Co, based in Yui, Shizuoka Prefecture, is selling the Regalo brand soy milk-based ice creams for dogs in the Tokyo metropolitan area.
The products, sold in 200-milliliter cups, contain dietary fibers, vitamins and calcium for maintaining canine health as well as ingredients taken from green tea which the company claims work to reduce the odors of a pet's output.
"Dogs like to eat something cold and sweet," said a company official in explaining why it developed the product.
The ice cream is currently available in two flavors — plain and cheese.
Inaba-Petfood is planning to expand its dessert lineup by adding items including puddings and bavarois or Bavarian cream.
In Nagoya, supplements imported from the United States are selling well at the NatureVet Club pet sundry goods store.
The store sells some 20 types of canine and feline supplements, including vitamins and special ingredients designed to strengthen the joints of aged dogs.
Sales of the products have jumped some 20-fold since their launch two years ago, the store said.
Beef used to be regarded as synonymous for high-quality pet food, but now companies are also using other types of imported meats as premium foods.
NatureVet, for example, is selling products initially produced for dogs used in hunting by the British royal family.
Made from duck and rabbit meats, the products are priced at roughly 20-times that of the cheapest domestic pet foods.
According to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, the size of the nation's pet-food market was estimated at 233.79 billion yen in fiscal 2001, up from 160.75 billion yen in fiscal 1992.
A household spending survey by the Public Management, Home Affairs, Posts and Telecommunications Ministry has been seeing continued rises in expenditures on pet foods in recent years, despite the nation's deepening deflation.
But industry officials are not optimistic about the prospects of the market, saying the launches of the series of high-quality or health-conscious products might have already brought it to a saturation point.
Toshihiro Uchida, an economist at UFJ Institute, said market competition has been intensifying due to an increase in cheaper products imported from Asian countries.
"A number of pet-food makers and companies doing pet-related businesses are likely to collapse," he said. (Kyodo News)
Japan Today, January 31, 2003