What is your dog eating? Petco will show you with in-store kitchens

Cook Daniel Gay cuts carrots at JustFoodForDogs in Del Mar.
(K.C. Alfred / San Diego Union-Tribune)

Petco shoppers soon can opt to see exactly what goes into their pet’s meals thanks to a new deal the retailer has inked with JustFoodForDogs, a Southern California purveyor of human-quality pet food.

The partnership, announced earlier this week, will see San Diego-based Petco construct JustFoodForDogs-branded exhibition kitchens and pantries in hundreds of its stores. That means customers will be able to walk into select Petco stores and watch JustFoodForDogs staffers prepare the brand’s signature meals, made entirely from USDA-grade meats and local produce, and walk out with freshly made food for Fido.

“The customer has complete visibility into the process. They can see the raw ingredients, see the chef cooking the ingredients and buy the food that has just been made fresh in that store,” said Rebecca Frechette, Petco’s executive vice president and chief merchandising officer. “Customers can smell [the food], and, if they want, even taste it.”

The idea is to pull back the curtain on the dog- and cat-food-making process, and, perhaps more important, bring in discerning millennial buyers to Petco’s physical stores. The group, known to treat their pets like family members, often patronizes independent pet stores, where they pay a premium for raw, grain-free or organic brands.


“It’s pretty radical,” JustFoodForDogs founder Shawn Buckley said of his company’s partnership with Petco. “It’s one thing to put a Starbucks inside of a Ralphs, but this is crazier.”

Founded in 2010 and backed by venture capital firm L Catterton, JustFoodForDogs is based in Los Alamitos and operates 12 Southern California open-kitchen stores that produce a few thousand pounds of pet food per day. The start-up’s first San Diego kitchen opened in September.

The company’s food is more expensive than off-the-shelf kibble but cheaper than buying many raw brands, Buckley said. A 7-ounce serving of JustFoodForDogs’ chicken and rice meal costs $3.95, while a 72-ounce supply costs $24.95.

The kitchens at Petco will be near-replicas of JustFoodForDogs stores and will be staffed by JustFoodForDogs employees, who are trained to provide in-store consultations to curious pet owners. The first in-Petco kitchen should debut before year’s end, though similarly branded pantries, stocked with food made nearby, will arrive within a few months.


“It’s a smart move,” San Diego State University marketing lecturer Miro Copic said of Petco’s decision to build the stores-within-stores. “It gives Petco a point of difference for higher-spending consumers.”

Petco, he said, is wisely creating a better experience that will bring in curious customers with enough disposable income to spend on more than dog food.

Americans spent more than $29 billion on pet food last year, according to the American Pet Products Assn., though just 5% of dog owners purchase human-quality food most often.

“Interest in high-end, premium pet food and treats continues to be a key driver for increased spending in the pet food category,” the APPA, a trade association for pet product manufacturers, found in its annual pet industry report.

The fresh-food kitchens, then, could help Petco get a leg up on its biggest rival, PetSmart, which is the nation’s leading retailer of pet supplies and the owner of the popular e-commerce pet food site

But Copic warns that Petco needs to do more than freshen up its food selection.

“If I’m Petco … I’m rethinking my product selection,” he said. “If [Petco] is just adding the kitchens by themselves, then the company is missing a big opportunity … to elevate its image and bring in consumers who are willing to spend more per purchase.”

Petco and JustFoodForDogs aren’t disclosing the financial terms of their partnership. JustFoodForDogs’ Buckley said the companies have a long-term, exclusive agreement, and costs are being absorbed by both partners.


Van Grove writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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