Petco bans pet food and treats with artificial ingredients

November 13, 2018
Katie James, dvm360 Associate Content Specialist
Katie James, dvm360 Associate Content Specialist

Katie James is an Associate Content Specialist for UBM Animal Care. She produces and edits content for dvm360.com and its associated print publications, dvm360 magazine, Vetted and Firstline. She has a passion for creating highly-engaging content through the use of new technology and storytelling platforms. In 2018, she was named a Folio: Rising Star Award Honoree, an award given to individuals who are making their mark and disrupting the status quo of magazine media, even in the early stages of their careers. She was also named an American Society of Business Publication Editors Young Leader Scholar in 2015. Katie grew up in the Kansas City area and graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in journalism. Outside of the office her sidekick is an energetic Australian cattle dog mix named Blitz.

Retail chain aims to remove products containing artificial colors, flavors and preservatives for dogs and cats by May 2019.

Image courtesy of Petco.

In a move driven by ever-changing pet owner desires, Petco has announced it will stop selling food or treats that contain artificial colors, flavors and preservatives for dogs and cats by May 2019, according to a company release. In January, the company will begin removing the food and treats with these ingredients from its shelves and e-commerce site, with a goal of removing all of them by May. The list of more than 40 ingredients the company says it's eliminating from its stores includes FD&C Red No. 3, butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), glycerol tributyrate and benzaldehyde, among others.  

Citing research conducted by Edelman Intelligence in October that surveyed 1,300 pet owners, Petco states that this change reflects one of the top concerns pet owners have-nutrition. The research found that 87 percent of pet owners said that feeding their pet food made without artificial ingredients is important to their pet's health and well-being. Almost all pet owners (95 percent) who responded in the survey said that they believed their pets' diet and nutrition is essential to their pets' overall health and wellness, but 56 percent said finding healthy products for their pets is confusing, while 47 percent responded that finding healthy products is difficult. 

Petco is basing its definition of these artificial ingredients on Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) and FDA guidelines. These ingredients are defined by Petco as follows:  

> Color from artificial sources: any dye, pigment, or other substance that can impart color to a food that is not derived from a natural source  

> Artificial flavor: any substance, the function of which is to impart flavor, which is not derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products  

> Artificial preservative: any chemical substance added to or sprayed on the outside of food to retard spoilage, deterioration, discoloration or contamination by bacteria and other disease organisms; does not include preservatives that are derivatives of natural compounds.

"Some may question whether this makes good business sense, but putting pets' health first has always been the right thing to do for Petco," says Petco CEO, Ron Coughlin in the release. "This is both a major step forward for pets and a natural next step on our journey to become a complete partner in total pet wellness. We hope the rest of the pet industry will join us on this path to better health for the pets we love." 

According to Nick Konat, the co-chief merchandizing officer for Petco, the retail chain is working with pet food companies to pursue ingredient changes to meet the new standards. "In cases where an existing brand is unable to update some or all of their products to meet our criteria by May of 2019, we will not carry either specific products or the brand entirely-and we'll help pet parents affected by such a change to safely transition to a new food or brand that we believe is healthier for their pet," he says in the release. 

The company plans to use this initiative as a first step in “becoming the most trusted source for pet wellness,” the release states. In 2019 it will also launch the Petco Pet Wellness Institute, a coalition of experts in "pet health and wellness." These experts, who will include veterinarians, nutritionists, pet psychologists, academic researchers and other credentialed leaders, will help Petco offer better information, education and services on a wide variety of topics, not only nutrition. According to the release, part of the mandate for the institute will be funding evidence-based research in key pet health areas. 

dvm360 contacted several major pet food brands-Blue Buffalo, Hill's, Mars Petcare, Purina and Royal Canin-for a statement on how the change will affect their products. As of press time, only Hill's and Royal Canin had not responded. 

“Blue Buffalo does not use artificial colors, flavors or preservatives in any BLUE foods or treats for dogs and cats," says Bryan Brown, marketing and PR consultant for Blue Buffalo Company. “This announcement does not affect any Blue Buffalo products. Blue Buffalo products already meet, or exceed, the new Petco nutritional strategy.”

According to Wendy Vlieks, director, corporate public relations for Nestlé Purina PetCare Company, “Purina has been working with Petco to understand this development, however it is too soon to know the specific impact. We are confident Purina will continue to provide Petco quality pet food products for our valued consumers."

"At Mars Petcare, the first priority of all of our diets is to satisfy the nutritional needs of the pet. We then strive to ensure that our portfolio meets a broad spectrum of consumer preferences and price points," says Lisa Campbell, the company's director of external affairs. "We are aware of Petco's decision to focus their assortment on products without artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives, and Mars Petcare will partner with them to provide a range of products to achieve their objectives."

dvm360 also reached out to a board-certified veterinary nutritionist, who shared some reservations about the scientific basis for the change: "I think this is a purely marketing move not backed by science or nutritional needs and is going to make pet owners have misplaced worry and fear about the safety and quality of their foods. I'm more concerned about pet food marketing companies selling diets that lack basic safety and adequate nutritional standards than I am about any of the compounds of Petco's 'banned' list."

Petco's release notes that though this change will affect certain brands and hopes to motivate companies to change ingredients, it already carries a range of high-quality foods that already meet or exceed the new standards. It also recommends pet owners who are seeking help with selecting a food for their pet to find information available in-store and consult with Petco's knowledgeable employees. 

The announcement has been met with mixed reviews from pet owners on Petco's Twitter account, with the concerned pet owners looking for a specific list of brands Petco will no longer carry, and cheers coming from pet owners happy with this change.

For more information about the new nutrition standards, go to Petco.com/betternutrition.