Pet products to Japan

(Last updated: 29 Aug 2014)

Trends and opportunities

The market

The pet industry in Japan is mature and relatively stable, with more Japanese people choosing to keep pets at home. The Japanese lavish attention on their pets, generally buying better quality products. They pay particular attention to pet nutrition, health and comfort. Over 50 per cent of pet owners pay regard to nutrition and food safety and check ingredients and country of origin on the package when choosing pet food.

In 2012, the Japanese pet industry (i.e. food, healthcare products, and accessories) was valued at A$4 billion, representing growth of 0.6 per cent over 2011. Japanese pet industry sales were made up of:

  • A$667 million of pet care products, an increase of 1.1 per cent over 2011 and in line with an increase in the number of indoor pets
  • A$2933 million of value of pet food, a slight increase of 0.6 per cent over 2011
  • A$412 million in 2012 of pet accessory products, almost no change to the previous year.

(Source: Fuji Keizai, 2013 Pet Kanren Sijyo Marketing Soran)

There has been a steady decrease in the volume of pet food sales, due to a strong tendency for small breeds (which consume less than larger breeds) and ageing pets. However, the actual value of dog food sales has slightly increased, due to the increase in demand for high quality premium foods. In contrast, sales of large packaged pet food decreased. Although the market for premium pet food has been growing, fresh food is still very much a niche category in Japan.

Specialised food and supplements for dogs remained at the same level of growth as for cat food. Premium, higher-priced products supported market growth in the snack and diet therapy category.

Opportunities

Food

In contrast to the expanded demand for budget products that we are seeing in other sectors of the Japanese market, there has been an increase in sales in the high value-add pet food category such as:

  • premium food and treats
  • age-specific products.

This phenomenon is due to the fact that the number of pet owners who treat their pets as family has increased, and their attention to pet health is now higher than ever before. The premium food market achieved sales of A$583 million, an 0.7 per cent increase over 2011.

Opportunities for Australian companies exist in:

  • cat food
  • premium pet food
  • snacks
  • specialised food/supplements (special therapy food).

Pet care products

Due to the rise in the number of indoor pets, the importance of animal training has grown. Therefore, the size of the market for house training tools and teaching methods to divert pets from certain behaviours, is steadily expanding. In addition, concern over dental and ear hygiene has also increased due to pets living inside with their owners. Sales of dental and ear cleaning products have increased accordingly.

Opportunities for Australian companies exist in:

  • toilet sheets
  • diapers
  • wet tissues
  • fresheners/deodorants
  • dental care products.

Pet accessory products

The size of the market for collars, harnesses, leashes, houses, and carriers has shrunk over the last three years.

The product line-up of high functional toys such as those for intelligence training has broadened to include imported products from abroad. Those products have higher price settings than more basic toys (eg. stuffed toys), contributing to the value of sales.

Pet clothes have become diversified in design over the last few years. As a result, pet owners can choose clothes for their pets that are in tune with their own tastes. These high-priced, functional products have stopped the price of pet clothes from further decline and have become one element of market expansion.

Opportunities for Australian companies exist in:

  • beds
  • mats
  • toys
  • clothes.

Competitive environment

In 2012, the total volume of pet products imported by Japan decreased by 7.9 per cent to 300,779 tonnes from the previous year. In that same period, the total value decreased by 2.1 per cent, to A$662 million.
(Source: Japanese Customs)

Although cheaper products are still selling well in Japan, the statistics demonstrate that the market tends to emphasise quality over price. Wording on products, such as ‘healthy’, ‘natural’, ‘premium’, and ‘balanced’ have become very common, as end users prefer quality products.

Australia was the third largest supplier of pet products after Thailand and the USA in 2012. Australia’s share was 13.3 per cent (39 896 tonnes) based on total volume and 10.2 per cent (A$67 million) in terms of export value. The strong Australian dollar against Japanese yen was the main cause for the drop from 2011 in volume and value exported.
(Source: Japanese Customs)

Tariffs, regulations and customs

Tariffs are controlled by the Ministry of Finance in Japan. A few examples are listed below. The tariffs on imported pet products vary due to the ingredients, materials or use (medical or not).

  • Food – free (general)
  • Dog food (biscuits and treats) – 60 yen/kg (general)
  • Dog leads – 6.6 per cent (general).

Supplements and medical products are distinguished by their ingredients and effectiveness, and customs will determine how they will be classified. The individual tariff rates can be found on the Japanese Ministry of Finance website.

You must comply with the Ministry of the Environment’s ‘Ensuring of Safety of Pet Animals Feed Act’ – the details of which should be discussed with your importer.

Marketing your products and services

Before entering the Japanese pet industry, companies must gain a thorough understanding of issues such as pricing, packaging, and distribution options.

Local partnering is the key to market entry. Australian companies should find and appoint local agents, importers, or partners. Due to high start-up and maintenance costs, establishing your own channels (stores and sales personnel) is not recommended. Instead, test your market success first with local representation.

There is an emerging trend towards joint ventures with a Japanese manufacturer to develop and manufacture products in Australia. Representatives can be engaged to target two options for market entry:

  1. Conclude sales contracts with import agencies and wholesalers, and market products through their sales routes
  2. Conclude sales and partnership contracts with Japanese manufacturers, and market products through their sales channels.

Japan's pet industry is characterised by strong competition between domestic and foreign brands. To be able to compete, a brand and its product must be unique - with clear distinguishing features. These factors could be functional or marketing characteristics, such as a package design and/or brand logo.

To market your product effectively, consider:

  • Pet food – prepare a list of ingredients and a process flow chart as they are considered necessary information for Japanese importers to evaluate whether they are allowed to import the products or not. The majority of pets in Japan are small; therefore the package size/product size will be requested to be small. Be prepared to be flexible in adjusting your product based on the request of the customer.
  • Pet supplements/medicine/pet care products – prepare the documentation requested by the government and the customer. Japan’s customs offices or the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) will advise the importer only of the detailed guidelines. These regulations will differ from one product to another. Therefore, you will need to find an importer with whom you feel comfortable working with. Without this documentation, the customer cannot decide whether they are able to accept the products or not. Your importer will be able to provide detailed advice on Japanese customs or MAFF. Please note that no product registration can be done from Australia, and the application must be carried out by the importer in Japan.
  • If you need assistance to find an importer, it is recommended that you work with and be guided by your local Austrade representative to ensure a customised market entry strategy is implemented, and that products meet the specific needs of the Japanese consumer.
  • Monitoring the Japanese pet industry in order to detect changes and growing trends that may affect your marketing strategies.
  • Developing relationships with local partners and/or distributors to facilitate ease of entry into Japan.

Links and industry contacts

Pet-related resources

Food and Agricultural Materials Inspection Centre
Japan Pet Food Association
Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Please note: this list of websites and resources is not definitive. Inclusion in this list does not imply endorsement by Austrade. The information provided is a guide only.

Contact details

The Australian Trade and Investment Commission – Austrade – contributes to Australia's economic prosperity by helping Australian businesses, education institutions, tourism operators, governments and citizens as they:

  • develop international markets
  • win productive foreign direct investment
  • promote international education
  • strengthen Australia's tourism industry
  • seek consular and passport services.

Austrade provides information and advice that can help you reduce the time, cost and risk of exporting. We also administer the Export Market Development Grant Scheme and offer a range of services to Australian exporters in growth and emerging markets.