The Spread of "Humanization" Treating Pets as Family Members
There is a rising tendency towards “humanization” (pet owners treating pets as family members) around the world. A growing number of companies provide goods and services such as beer for dogs, counseling for cats, pet wedding ceremonies, and “social petworking”. Against that background, “Interpet”, the Japan’s biggest international trade show for the pet industry, took place this year for the eighth time. The 2018 event had 502 exhibitor companies and drew 42,066 visitors over the four days. It was also visited by 16,455 pets, and attracted a high level of attention. Of the exhibitors companies, 16% were from overseas, and products from Asia, Europe, and America were in the spotlight.
We visited the booth of SNIF-SNAX, an American exhibitor. Ms. Marja Estrada Operation Manager of SNIF-SNAX boasts their pet foods at the same quality standard as foods for human consumption.
Q. Tell us about your company.
The MacKnight Food Group has been in the human food market selling Smoked Salmon for over 30 years, and Snif-Snax pet treats are produced in our factories under Human Food Quality Control and Standard Processing Rules stated by the USDA and the FDA. Our Salmon Treats contain Omega 3, 6 and 9 Fatty Acids, which are very important for dogs' nutrition as it promotes a healthy skin and coat.
Q. Tell us about your pet products.
For example, the USA is very conscious about the quality of human food. If you can manufacture food for your pets, those high end quality controls, that means you are giving your pet exactly the same food that you will give to your child. It’s humanization of the pet food industry into the human industry.
We have been working so hard to make Snif Snax, humanized for pets. For example, we have this product that people call “sushi rolls”. They are actually salmon skin. We hand roll them. For the human company, we also have salmon skins like this. Even from the packaging, they want to look like something that human will buy at the store. They’re trying to do chicken breast, like what we normally eat with salad. We also have chicken breast as product, that you can feed to the pet. Humanization is a huge trend in the market right now.
Interview with HISASHI ISHIYAMA
CHAIRMAN OF PET FOOD ASSOCIATION
CHAIRMAN, JAPAN PET FOOD ASSOCIATION
VICE CHAIRMAN, PET FOOD FAIR TRADE ASSOCIATION
VICE PRESIDENT, MARS JAPAN
Q: Please tell us about the relationships between pets and their owners in Japan.
There are big differences between Japan and the West. In the West, animals are under human control, but that’s not how it is in Japan. Historically, dogs were bred and improved as working animals, but there have been almost no cases of dogs being used to perform tasks in Japan. When dog DNA is analyzed, Shiba and Akita dog breeds are said to be the closest to wolves.
Also, in the West, there is the established idea that keeping a dog is good for one’s health. In 2013, the American Heart Association officially announced that people who keep dogs are less prone to heart attacks, and recover more quickly even if they do have one. That idea doesn’t seem to have taken root in Japan.
Q: What is the pet food situation like in Japan?
The pet food situations in Japan and the West are very different. In Japan, dogs are small, so snacks can serve as main meals, but they can’t do that for larger dogs overseas, because the volume of food required is different. Japanese dogs are always indoors, with the air conditioning on, so they need less energy than dogs overseas. That’s why snacks for dogs are close to being balanced foods, like main meals. The idea of organic pet food hasn’t really caught on in Japan either. I think the current situation is that foods that are not an established category in the human world do not spread to the animal world.
Q: What about the “ideal relationship between pets and humans” that Chairman Ishiyama of the Japan Pet Food Association thought of?
That’s a tough one. Some things are rooted in a country’s culture, so Western ideas are not of reference, and I don’t think I can answer. As I mentioned before, the ways dogs are kept differ greatly between Japan and the West. For example, Japan is the only developed country that doesn’t recognize euthanasia of dogs and cats. I think the question of what’s the right way is a very difficult one. Japan is unusual in the whole world as a country where the number of dogs is falling. One reason is that the number of breeders has been sharply reduced by the Japanese Cruelty to Animals Act. I think it’s very important to fix the Cruelty to Animals Act, and build a society in which animal welfare is properly established.