By Rachel King
May 11, 2019

The pet food industry is booming possibly more than ever before, with direct-to-consumer startups and big box stores alike capitalizing on what could be the hottest trend in the space right now: fresh, human-grade pet food.

Petco is catching on with the opening of a brand new, state-of-the-art pet food kitchen at its flagship store in New York’s Union Square this week. Launching in partnership with JustFoodForDogs, a home-cooked pet food maker based in Irvine, Calif., Petco plans to open more standalone kitchens and pantries selling fresh, human-grade pet food at its stores nationwide over the next four years.

Described by the company to be “the first-ever health and wellness kitchen for dogs,” the 1,350-square-foot space expects to produce 2,000 pounds of food daily, seven days a week.

Petco is opening an in-store pet food kitchen at its flagship store in New York City’s Union Square.

JustFoodForDogs, which already has some of its products in more than 1,000 Petco locations, has an in-house team of veterinarians tasked with drafting custom diets for pets with health challenges, addressing canine and feline health issues such as obesity, digestive disorders, and diabetes, among other ailments. All ingredients for the meals for both dogs and cats are USDA-certified for human consumption.

Among some of the JustFoodForDogs chef-crafted recipes include combinations such as beef and russet potato, chicken and white rice, and turkey and whole wheat macaroni. JustFoodForDogs also makes treats, such as dehydrated chicken breast and beef flank steak, and a signature brand of vitamins and supplements.

Photo: Petco

Petco, which went private more than a decade ago and more recently changed hands under a $4.6 billion takeover deal, has been rethinking its strategy and portfolio significantly lately. Late last year, the company announced it would remove all dog and cat food with artificial ingredients from its shelves, including popular brands like Pedigree and Cat Chow.

The new kitchens and fresh food kiosks are part of the company’s broader strategy to not only remain competitive with other major retailers like Amazon and Chewy—the latter of which was bought by PetSmart in a multibillion-dollar deal two years ago—but also to appeal to millennial dog parents.

“We also know that millennials are the largest pet-owning segment (41%), and they’re connected and health conscious consumers,” a Petco spokesperson tells Fortune, citing a 2018 study about pet owner preferences. “With millennials demanding experience-driven retail concepts and given U.S. sales of fresh pet food jumped 70% to more than $546 million between 2015 and 2018, Petco is keen to provide consumers with services and experiences that can’t be bought online, delivered by mail, or found in mass retail.”

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