Demand for healthy, natural food is extending from humans to their pets.
Petco announced Tuesday it will stop selling dog and cat food and treats with artificial colors, flavors and preservatives, both online and at its nearly 1,500 stores in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.
“We are making sure we are always taking the nutritional high ground,” Petco CEO Ron Coughlin told The Associated Press.
Petco’s move, the first of its kind among major pet stores, comes at a time when sales of natural pet foods are steadily rising.
Natural pet products still account for a small portion of the U.S. market share but growth has more than doubled to 6.5 percent between 2013 and 2017, according to Nielsen, a data company. Nielsen said sales of pet food free of genetically modified ingredients jumped 29 percent last year. Sales of pet food without artificial preservatives and colors grew 4 percent.
Americans spent $69.5 billion on their pets last year, up 4 percent from the year before, according to the American Pet Products Association.
Pet food has long mimicked human food, says John Owen, a senior food analyst for market researcher Mintel. In 1959, for example, Gravy Train dog food was introduced so dogs could enjoy gravy too.
As human tastes have grown more sophisticated, so have their demands for their pets, Owen said.
For dogs, there are bags of organic, vegetarian and grain-free food. Some brands claim to mimic ancestral diets, with kibbles made from venison or wild boar. Cans of cat food feature tilapia, rabbit and pumpkin.
Sensing the growing trend, two big food companies — J.M. Smucker Co. and General Mills — spent billions to acquire the natural pet food brands Nutrish and Blue Buffalo earlier this year.