This summer's block­buster kids' movie was G-Force the story of secret agent guinea pigs dispatched to thwart a power-crazed billionaire intent on world domination.

The film broke the UK box-office record for a 3D movie, taking £2.44m in its first weekend, and prompted concern from animal charities that children up and down the country would pester their parents for a guinea pig of their own. Just as Hollywood has realised, small animals do indeed equal big business.

According to the Pet Food Manufacturers Association, there are 2.3 million small animals kept as pets in the UK, including one million rabbits and 500,000 guinea pigs. The small animal food market was worth £64m last year, with volume growth of 3% and value growth of 14%.

"Films such as Ratatouille and G-Force can lead to a rise in demand for certain species of small animals, such as rats and guinea pigs," says Alan Walmsley, marketing manager for small petfood supplier Supreme Petfoods. "With household finances under pressure, many people looking for new pets are considering small animals as less costly than cats or dogs."

This could pave the way for more small animal products on supermarket shelves. Currently, only a limited range is stocked by the multiples because of the tiny size of the market, with the majority of purchases made in specialist pet retailers up to 80%, in Supreme Petfoods' case.

"Unlike the cat and dog sector, most food for small animals is still bought from pet retailers," says Walmsley. "The same could have been said of the cat and dogfood sector 20 or 30 years ago. As the small animal sector has traditionally followed the trends in the cat and dog market, I'd expect to see more small animal food sold in grocery outlets in the future."

NPD in the sector this year includes the launch of Nature's Feast premium rabbit, guinea pig and hamster, mouse & gerbil food in February. Manufacturer Cranswick Pet Products says the products cater for more consumers opting for lower-maintenance pets to fit in with their busy lifestyles. It expanded the range in April to incorporate larger pack sizes.

And Brits retain a sense of humour in the recession. Armitage Petcare says sales of its plastic hamster housing, which include a Pink Palace and a Space Command centre, are proving resilient.

Focus On Petcare