The market for dog and cat food is quickly expanding in Costa Rica and favorable opportunities exist for US exporters of pet food.
THIS REPORT CONTAINS ASSESSMENTS OF COMMODITY AND TRADE ISSUES MADE BY
USDA STAFF AND NOT NECESSARILY STATEMENTS OF OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT
GAIN Report Number:
Post: San Jose
Pet Food Market Growth
Market Development Reports
Kelly Stange, Ag. Attaché
Marie Anselm, FAS Intern
The market for dog and cat food is quickly expanding in Costa Rica and favorable
opportunities exist for US exporters of pet food; in particular, puppy and dog food are
experiencing high levels of growth. The value of U.S. exports of dog and cat food to
Costa Rica grew 36.8% between 2009 and 2011 to reach a total of $11.4 million and has
the potential to increase more.
Costa Rica’s relatively high living standards make it home to a growing middle class of
increasingly keen pet owners. Demand for dog and cat food continues to grow as pets
gain popularity. American pet food brands are already fairly well known but opportunities
exist to expand market share. There is currently overall less selection of cat food brands
than dog food. However, wealthier pet owners are beginning to purchase higher-quality
specialty pet foods in greater quantities for dogs and cats alike. This report examines
trends in dog and cat food imports (HS codes: 2309100000, 2309100010, and
2309100090) and consumer purchases.
There is a strong growing demand for pet food in Costa Rica, including for high-quality
imported pet food products. Currently demand exists for American pet food brands,
which are widely accepted and trusted by Costa Rican customers for their quality and
price. Many brands of American dog and cat food have already penetrated the Costa
Rican market with the most popular being Pedigree, Purina, Purina Dog Chow, Purina Cat
Chow, and Purina Puppy Chow. These brands are widely distributed and all socio-
economic classes have some familiarity with them. Among premium or specialty dog and
cat foods, Science Diet and Hills are the most widely distributed American brands,
according to vendors consulted for this report.
Pet food exported by the United States is usually imported either directly by a large
retailer for immediate sale in store, or by licensed importers. In the latter case, it is
common for importers to have exclusive importation rights for a given brand of pet food.
These importers then distribute pet food to other large distributors, directly to
veterinarians, or to pet food stores. The consensus amongst pet food importers and
distributors consulted for this report was that the import process for pet food runs
smoothly after initial product registration; no distributors reported having any difficulty
with dog and cat food registration. Pet food must be registered with the Servico Nacional
de Salud Animal (SENASA) prior to importation. Distributors of pet food noted that
relationships with importers were important, especially when looking to distribute new
products or brands.
In retail outlets it is most common for customers to purchase pet food in large quantities,
such as in 30+ pound bags. Retail centers not specializing in pet care tend to have a
relatively small selection of pet food and stock just a few name brands. Pet stores offer a
myriad of pet food brands, including imported brands from the United States, Mexico,
Argentina, and France. Such a wide selection of pet food is novel for Costa Rican
customers who enjoy the shopping experience of having a variety of brands to choose
When buying directly from a veterinary clinic, most clients simply purchase the brand
recommended to them by the veterinarian. Most veterinarians have a lower selection of
pet food brands, though this is not always the case. Veterinary clinics could represent an
opportunity for American pet food brands to further permeate the market for dog and cat
food in Costa Rica.
Trends in purchasing pet food vary by social class in Costa Rica. In general, the upper and
upper-middle classes are enthusiastic pet owners that constitute the majority of the
market for imported pet food and pet products. However, middle and lower classes,
though a smaller share of the market, also purchase imported pet food brands. Across
classes dogs are the most popular pet, though there are many cat owners as well.
Middle and upper-class pet owners tend to purchase pet food from larger retail stores,
including super markets or specialty pet stores. There is new interest amongst these
clients for specialty diet pet foods, such as with natural and/or high-quality ingredients.
Overall quality and price were repeatedly cited as being important for upper class
consumers of pet food, however, quality is more important than price for this
demographic. Purchasing dog or cat food directly from veterinarians is also common
among wealthier pet owners.
Pet owners of lower socio-economic status tend to not purchase pet food from retail
centers. Instead, these customers usually purchase the majority of their pet food in
small bulk quantities from more informal local markets. In these markets it is not
uncommon to find repackaged imported pet food brands, dependent upon the brand’s
policy on repackaging. In this way many lower-income consumers are still familiar with
some American pet food brands.
However, one importer did note that lower middle-class customers are beginning to
purchase imported pet food brands in more mainstream retail outlets, though they
comprise a smaller segment of the market. Wal-Mart for example, offers bulk pet food
that can be purchased in small quantities, which is appealing to lower-income pet
owners. Among this demographic price is the largest concern when making purchasing
According to Global Trade Atlas (GTA) data, imports of all dog and cat food to Costa Rica
were worth $18 million in 2011. Between 2009 and 2011 Costa Rican imports of cat and
dog food increased 31.5% by value, making it a rapidly expanding import sector. During
this time U.S. exports of dog and cat food to Costa Rica increased 36.87%. These figures
include both dry food and hermetically sealed dog and cat food.
Dry food comprises the majority of dog and cat food imports with a total value of
approximately $10.7 million. This sector grew 53.7% by value from 2009 to 2011, and in
2011 the U.S. accounted for 78.0% of market share; Mexico and Argentina followed with
13.7% and 3.3% of market share, respectively. These figures confirm that there remains
a strong interest in pet food products from the United States in Costa Rica and that U.S.
exports of cat and dog food continue to enjoy a healthy rate of growth.
However, within the category of hermetically sealed dog and cat food, the U.S. has
recently seen its amount of exports to Costa Rica decline. Total imports of hermetically
sealed dog and cat food to Costa Rica were worth $7.3 million in 2011, and expansion of
28.2% by value from 2009 to 2011. In 2009 the U.S. was the lead exporter of these
products to Costa Rica with 51.2% of market share; by 2011 the United States’ market
share had dropped to 42.2%, making it the second largest exporter in this sector.
Between these same years - 2009 to 2011, Mexico became the leading exporter of this
type of dog and cat food to Costa Rica increasing its value of exports by 91.3% and its
market share 18.3%. This brought Mexico’s total market share of hermetically sealed dog
and cat food imports to 55% in 2011.
The largest competition faced by American dog and cat food brands is from domestic
companies. Pipasa (recently bought by Cargill) manufactures popular dog food line
Ascan, among others, while Central Veterinaria S.A.’s best-selling lines of dog and cat
food (according to vendors) include Pro Pet, Maxi Dog, and Super Perro/Gato. These
domestically produced brands are well-recognized by consumers and have easy
distribution channels throughout the country.
In terms of foreign importers, with a market share in 2011 of 63.3% of all dog and cat
food imports, the United States does not, in general, face any immediate strong
competition. The United States’ total market share of dog and cat food imports by value
increased 2.4% from 2009 to 2011, the largest increase of market share of any country
exporting pet food to Costa Rica. The largest competition in dog and cat food imports
faced by the U.S. is from Mexico, which currently holds 30.7% of market share and has
overtaken the U.S. as the top importer or hermetically sealed dog and cat food as noted
previously. The majority of competition from Mexico is thought to stem from imports of
Purina, of which some lines are manufactured in Mexico.
Argentina and Honduras remain the third and fourth largest exporters of dog and cat food
to Costa Rica with 2% and 1% of total market share, respectively. Argentina is the
source of Royal Canine, a popular dog food brand.
Though their market share remains negligible, new exporters are beginning to enter the
market for dog and cat food in Costa Rica. Thus far most new importers have not gained
much ground in Costa Rica as the quality of their products is thought to be inferior and
not successful with consumers. Still, between 2009 and 2011 the number of countries
exporting dog and cat food to Costa Rica increased from 10 to 17, indicating that the
sector is indeed growing and possibilities still exist for the United States to solidify and
expand its market share.
1. U.S. Embassy, Foreign Agricultural Service
Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS)
Phone: (506) 2519-2285
Fax: (506) 2519-2097
Mr. Steve Huete, Agricultural Counselor
Mrs. Kelly Stange, Agricultural Attaché
Mr. Víctor González, Agricultural Specialist
Mrs. Illeana Ramírez, Ag. Marketing Specialist
1. Servico Nacional de Salud Animal (SENASA)
Phone: (506) 2587-1600
Website(s): http://www.senasa.go.cr/senasa/sitio/ (home)
http://www.senasa.go.cr/senasa/sitio/files/051211080723.pdf (list of current
requirements for the importation of pet food to Costa Rica in Spanish and English)