In a first-ever move, San Diego-headquartered Petco, which has more than 1,500 Petco and Unleashed by Petco locations in North America, has tapped Los Alamitos, California-based JustFoodForDogs to open hundreds of “stores within stores” with many of them featuring exhibition kitchens so customers can see how the food is made. Petco CEO Brad Weston says that JustFoodForDogs has distinguished itself as a game-changer in the industry by encouraging pet parents to embrace small batch, human-grade food that is “fit for human consumption but nutritionally balanced for pets.”
JustFoodForDogs’ product, which uses only USDA grade meats and produce, is formulated by a team of veterinarians, many of whom hold rare subspecialty degrees (e.g., nutrition, toxicology, dermatology, etc.). They were tasked with creating a brand of food designed to keep pets living longer and healthier lives. It is made fresh daily before its customers at JustFoodForDogs exhibition kitchens throughout Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties.
While some Petco stores will feature these kitchens, others will house smaller pantries and runs that will be supplied with fresh product daily, beginning in New York City and Southern California.
JustFoodForDogs debuted with its high-quality brand of product in 2010. Serial entrepreneur Shawn Buckley founded the company with the idea of developing an alternative to commercial brand dog food commonly found at retail stores. He enlisted a team of veterinarians who created the product then opened locations throughout Southern California. Some of the original team work full-time at JustFoodForDogs and are actively involved in the formulation of the food as well as studying its effects on dogs. They are also involved with conducting scientific research to support those studies.
“We are delighted to partner with Petco, the most prominent retailer of pet products and services in the world,” said Buckley, who added, in another first, JustFoodForDogs’ own nutrition consultants will staff the Petco stores.
“As the inventor of the most radical change in pet food in decades, JustFoodForDogs is on the vanguard of a new trend that is rapidly changing the industry,” Petco Executive Vice President and Chief Merchandising Officer Rebecca Frechette said. “We researched other potential partners in the genre and decided to go with JustFoodForDogs as the company’s unwavering commitment to quality and love of pets mirror Petco’s core beliefs. Also, they have invested considerable resources in research and maintain a staff of vets who work tirelessly to improve the product.”
“What distinguishes Petco from other retailers is they share the same vision and commitment that our company values which is to change the standard in the way we feed our pets by offering the absolute best food available,” JustFoodForDogs CEO Carey Tischler said.
Tischler told Pet Age that the partnership can help JustFoodForDogs reach an even wider audience.
“It is a great day for JustFoodForDogs and our incredible team, but it is an even better day for pets,” Tischler said. “We look forward to advancing our mission of helping pets live healthier lives on an epic scale through this exciting new partnership.”
“A growing number of people regard their four-legged pets as family members and, thus, are taking better care of them than ever,” said veterinarian Oscar Chavez, JustFoodForDogs chief medical officer and a professor of canine clinical nutrition. “I think we’re witnessing a paradigm shift in the pet food business and the partnership between Petco and JustFoodForDogs is representative of that.”
Last year, the $14 billion equity group LCatterton LLC made a considerable investment in JustFoodForDogs to expand its footprint. This lays the groundwork for the company teaming up with Oakland, California-based Pet Food Express (PFE) to build pantries and runs at several of its stores. Sales have been so brisk since the partnership started a year ago that PFE has green-lighted additional pantries and runs in its Northern California stores.
The pet food industry continues to evolve and the deal between Petco and JustFoodForDogs comes on the heels of some major acquisitions. General Mills purchased Blue Buffalo for $8 billion and J.M. Smucker Co. agreed to buy Ainsworth Pet Nutrition, a company backed by Rachael Ray, in a deal valued at $1.9 billion. Both companies are betting that pet food can help reinvigorate sales in a sluggish consumer-product industry.
“We are betting that continually reinventing the category will drive the next wave of growth in the industry,” Frechette said.