Mar 23, 2006, 7:05 AM
Post #1 of 8
Indian entrepreneurs turn a dog's dinner into big business
Dog Lunch Delivery
10 Feb 06
MUMBAI (AFP) - Wasiff Khan's chefs have worked for two hours by the time he arrives at 6.30am. He checks the fresh ingredients, scrutinises the menus and even tastes some of the 500 meals for the day. Nothing is too good for Mumbai's pampered pets.
Khan is the city's Doggie Dabba-wallah -- the lunch carrier. He is in charge of the canine equivalent of Mumbai's famed food delivery service that sees 200,000 meals delivered daily to the city's workers.
He is a man who sleeps with a mobile phone by his bed in case it rings in the middle of the night from owners wanting to tweak the menu for some of the best cared for dogs in India.
At 10 am, he waves off a team of eight men on pizza-delivery style mopeds who fan out across the city, past the slums and the beggars at the traffic junctions, with their loads of customised dog meals for hungry clients.
At up to 80 rupees (1.8 US dollars) for a premium meal (choice of four dishes: vegetarian option available) the amount paid by customers including Bollywood stars and industrialists are more than many citizens can spend on themselves.
Despite the booming Indian economy, the latest United Nations Development report says half of the country's children are undernourished.
Khan, 26, answers as if he has considered the point before. "These are real animal lovers, the animal is part of their family. They are like their children. It's not as if any NGO can give them food," he says. "At least if a human has two hands and two legs they can make themselves bread."
It appears that his two-year-old business is set to grow. He has been approached about franchises in other Indian cities and the pet industry is anticipating a surge in pet ownership in the world's fastest expanding major economy after China.
Apart from Japan, India has the fastest growing level of pet ownership at up to 26 percent a year during the 1990s, according to a four-year market research study.
The country has 12 million dog owners, a figure expected to double by 2008, according to Mr O. P. Singh, chief executive of Venkys Pet, which ordered the research.
His company is pumping 150 million rupees (3.3 million dollars) into a pet food factory at Pune, south of Mumbai, to tap into a growing domestic market of middle-class urbanites fuelling the pet ownership boom.
"It's because of increased wealth and changed social living conditions," he says. "There are more single people and there are parents whose families have gone abroad.
"That means they have more emotional companionship with the pets and also get them for house security."
The fastest growth is in the big cities. Pugs are particularly popular at the moment -- with the going rate of 30,000 rupees (660 dollars) a dog -- owing to a widely-shown series of mobile phone adverts that showed one of the breed devotedly following its young owner.
Kolkata has the highest pet ownership with 0.8 million domesticated dogs followed by Delhi and then Mumbai with half a million, and growing sharply.
The statistic makes Cookkie Khanna extremely happy, as she gives Junior, a six-year-old bulldog, a blow-dry as part of the 650-rupee (14 dollar) 'Doggy Diva' treatment in her Top Dog salon in an upmarket area of south Mumbai.
Junior has already had his oil massage and bath and is standing patiently as his fur is dried, used to the attention. He has a full grooming every week.
If his owner pays extra, she could have his toes painted with the gold and glitter nail polish on display but Junior appears content with a final spray of "rain forest cologne" to complete the pampering session.
-- Adopted strays --
Top Dog is one of two grooming parlours that has sprung up in Mumbai. The 30-year-old Khanna trained in New York -- helping pamper one of Jennifer Lopez's dogs as part of her apprenticeship -- before returning to Mumbai to set up her business.
"I was at the right time," she says. "The whole concept of grooming was non-existent but with exposure from travel and television, people are much more aware."
She says that India is a nation of pet lovers and, with economic growth forecast at above eight per cent, increasingly earning the money to pay for their care.
Largely, but not exclusively, her clients are the "upper middle-class", the sections of society who have made most from the swiftly expanding economy.
Most of her "clients" are brought to the salon with a driver or hired help. They can afford the combat fatigue-style dog vest with matching cap, or the dog pedicures (300 rupees).
She points to Junior, as he wanders past smelling vaguely like a pine tree. "His mum (owner) called me up and said 'I just want him to be really happy'. They do really care," she says.
Her family are also dog fanatics and prepare 50 dog meals every day before delivering them to strays who congregate at the city's seafront racecourse.
But she says the care of pets is seen throughout society with beggars adopting stray dogs, putting a collar around their necks and adopting them.
Sheila Naharwar, honorary secretary of the Bombay Presidence Kennel Club, says weekend camps for owners and their dogs outside of the clogged streets of Mumbai are becoming increasingly popular.
Always quick to see an opportunity for making money, she says that Mumbai businessmen are increasingly becoming breeders and signing up to dog clubs.
They can make up to 200,000 rupees for a pedigree dog. Currently many of the breeds come from southern India or southeast Asia.
But she says the poor have also long kept as pets some of the many strays that sniff around dumped waste for food.
"You see people on the street who have stray dogs with them and whatever little food they have with the animal, giving half of their chapati to them," she says.
The breakdown in dog social classes mirrors the population where India's burgeoning wealth remains largely in the hands of a "middle class". For the street dogs, half a chapati, for the top 500 -- Wasiff's dial-a-meal, but the spice-free dishes do not appeal to everyone.
"Personally I've tasted the food: it's bland," says the young entrepreneur.