Has Petco Followed Through on Its Pet Food Claims?

Petco is indeed "setting a bold new standard for nutrition," according to the National Advertising Division (NAD), which investigates advertising claims. The NAD, a division of the BBB National Programs’ self-regulatory and dispute resolution programs, also supports Petco’s claim that it "will continue to evaluate and evolve [its] standards and assortment to take pet nutrition to new levels."

Petco began touting this stance as part of a campaign it launched in November 2018 in which it promised to no longer sell food and treats containing artificial colors, flavors and preservatives for dogs and cats.

"Some may question whether this makes good business sense, but putting pets’ health first has always been the right thing to do for Petco," Ron Coughlin, CEO of San Diego-based Petco, said when the campaign launched. "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."

The campaign caught NAD’s watchful eye, and after review, the group reported its findings.

"Petco launched a costly but laudable initiative with a difficult goal: to stop selling dog and cat foods and treats with artificial ingredients at Petco and address the concerns and preferences of pet owners about artificial ingredients," NAD officials said in a statement released late April. "In rolling out its initiative, Petco has collaborated with its vendors and partners to define a standard, refine it and reformulate products without artificial colors, flavors and preservatives. As part of its advertising campaign for its initiatives, Petco educates consumers about the new standard and directs them to its consistently updated website where Petco explains what ingredients have been removed and why."

While Petco is "setting a bold new standard for nutrition," NAD took issue with "no more artificials" claims, recommending that Petco modify and even discontinue certain statements.

"Artificial versus natural ingredients claims are red meat for NAD; they’re generally tough on these claims, and in a limited sense this case proved no exception," according to an article by BakerHostetler, a law firm based in New York.

NAD also recommended that Petco modify certain hyperlinks to its "Better Nutrition" page, discontinue its characterization of artificial ingredients (i.e. as contained in other pet foods or carried by its competitors) as "nasties" or "bad stuff" and related imagery as to such pet foods in its video advertisement, and discontinue claims that as a result of its initiative to remove artificial ingredients from its store shelves, Petco provides "better nutrition."

NAD released a list of Petco’s expressed claims along with what NAD says it implies:

Expressed claims include:

  • "No more nasties."
  • "No more artificials* in any dog food or treats (*learn more at Petco.com/betternutrition)."
  • "We’re turning our back on artificial ingredients. All dog and cat food and treats will be artificial free* (*learn more on our Better Nutrition page)."
  • "Bye bye bad stuff—all dog and cat food artificial free on May 1."
  • "We’ve gone artificial-free* and so can you! (*Learn more about what’s leaving here)."
  • "Artificial ingredients are out."
  • "Turning our back on artificial food. When you love your pets, you do what’s right for them. Which is why we’re setting a bold new standard for nutrition."

 Implied claims include:

  • Petco only sells pet food with all-natural ingredients.
  • Pet food sold at Petco is healthier than pet food with artificial ingredients that is not sold at Petco.
  • Pet food with artificial ingredients is unhealthy for pets.

While Petco took issue with certain findings regarding the implied claims, it has agreed to comply with NAD’s recommendations, officials said.

"Such big claims as Petco’s ‘bold new standards’ take a lot of flak from regulators and watchdog groups, but Petco demonstrated how such claims can be successfully made—and defended—despite NAD’s generally tough scrutiny of these types of claims in advertisements," according to the BakerHostetler article.