MEXICO CITY – A chef wearing a black smock stands at a stainless steel table picking the white meat off of freshly cooked sardines. Another cook measures out wheat flour for a cake. Dog bone-shaped biscuits bake in the oven.
It's the makings of Lucky Dog all-natural dog food, destined for a Mexican market that is spending more than ever on pets.
Fewer children and longer life expectancy has meant increasing disposable income for Mexico's emerging middle class. People with pets are spending more on food, health care and luxuries for their canine and feline amigos.
Lucky Dog produces between two and two and a half tons of food per month, not counting biscuits, treats and the company’s signature "pupcakes."
"We buy very whole ingredients – almost nothing processed," said Cynthia Kaplan, who founded Lucky Dog in her home kitchen before recently expanding to a new shop. "Our food is all human grade."
The market for pet care in Latin America roughly doubled between 2005 and 2011 to $11.21 billion and is forecast to reach $12.62 billion in 2012, according to Euromonitor. In Mexico, the pet care market is expected to grow to $2.17 billion in 2012, up from $2.1 billion last year and nearly double the 2005 level.
The Euromonitor market analysis attributes the growth to an "increase in the pet population, the improvement in disposable income among Mexican households and the increasing tendency to improve care for pets."
While the market has been growing steadily for at least a decade, there has been a boom in the past two years, said Armando Martinez, manager of Pet Central, a pet day care, spa and boutique that opened two months ago in Mexico City's trendy Condesa neighborhood.
Pet Central is attending to a "population with the highest economic and educational level," said Martinez, who is a professional dog handler and also runs a mobile grooming business called Spa-Pet.
Numerous shops focused on pet care have sprouted in the city to meet growing demand.
The prevailing belief years ago, including among upper income Mexicans, was that dogs didn't need special attention, he said. "But the culture has changed."
Lucky Dog delivers most often to Mexico City's most well-to-do neighborhoods – Polanco, Pedregal, San Angel, Napoles, Roma, Condesa. Beyond these and other upscale areas like them, stray dogs still patrol the streets and fierce, hungry-looking canines commonly guard rooftops.
But income and education aren't the only factors stoking demand. Kaplan, who is originally from the U.S., describes her clientele as "people who really love their dogs."
The company doesn't promote its dog food at veterinary clinics or pet shops but rather at places where people are spending more on self care and small luxuries for themselves: yoga studios, organic markets, and restaurants.
In Polanco, an upscale spot for burgers and gin cocktails offers a "little friends" menu that features Lucky Dog's "Brujas Beef’N Chicken Puppy Brew" and "Max & Canelo’s Beef and Veggie Casserole." These cost 30 pesos apiece, or about $2.30.
Pet Central has its own "pet restaurant" with a menu that advertises "holistic ingredients" in products with names like "canburger" and "canuggets."
Meanwhile, at the Pet Central spa, owners can pamper their canine compadres with aromatherapy and massage, Martinez said. The idea being "that, above all, their pet feels tended to."
Photo: Flickr/Crystal Rolfe