Walmart U.S. launches its own high-end dog food

(Reuters) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc WMT.N on Tuesday announced its own "ultra premium" dog food, putting the largest discount chain into more direct competition with specialty chains such as PetSmart Inc PETM.O and Petco PETC.UL.

Products are displayed outside a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market store in Bentonville, Arkansas, May 31, 2012. REUTERS/Jacob Slaton

The new brand, Pure Balance, is making its debut as the ultra-premium part of the dry dog food business grows at a faster rate that the value category, Wal-Mart said.

Pure Balance, to be sold at Walmart stores in the United States, is an expansion on Wal-Mart’s Ol’ Roy brand, which was named after one of founder Sam Walton’s hunting dogs.

U.S. spending on pet food is expected to rise roughly 3 percent to $20.46 billion in 2012, according to the American Pet Products Association. Overall spending on pets is expected to increase about 3.7 percent to $52.87 billion this year, the group said.

The industry has seen rapid growth in recent years. A decade ago, Americans spent just $29.5 billion on their pets.

Walmart stores already sell some higher-end dog food such as Nestle SA's NESN.VX Purina ONE and Procter & Gamble Co's PG.N Iams. Some other premium brands, such as Colgate-Palmolive Co's CL.N Hill's Science Diet, are sold at specialty chains such as PetSmart and Petco or through veterinarians.

Walmart is already a big dog food outlet, selling enough each year to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool 2,050 times, it said.

A 30-pound bag of Pure Balance will be priced at $31.88 for the chicken and brown rice variety and $39.88 for the lamb and brown rice flavor. Smaller 5-pound and 15-pound bags will also be sold.

Pet food prices vary widely depending on the type of food, package size and store location.

On Tuesday, a 29-pound bag of Iams ProActive Health Lamb & Rice dog food was priced at $29.98 on Walmart’s website. A 21-pound bag of Hill’s Science Diet Ideal Balance Grain Free Chicken & Potato Dinner food for adult dogs was selling for $44.99 on PetSmart’s site.

Pure Balance features no chicken by-products, no soy, wheat or corn additives, no artificial colors and no preservatives, Wal-Mart said. The products will start appearing on the shelves of more than 2,900 Walmart stores over the next few weeks.

Reporting by Jessica Wohl in Chicago; Editing by Richard Chang