February 19/New York/USA Today-- Big Heart Pet Brands, previously known as Del Monte Foods Pet Products, announced its launch as the nation's largest stand-alone pet food and snacks company. The creation of the new brand follows the company's $1.67 billion sale of its consumer products division to Del Monte Pacific Limited.

The instantly recognizable pet food names are iconic household brands that include Milk-Bone, Meow Mix, Natural Balance, Kibbles 'n Bits, 9 Lives, Milo's Kitchen and Gravy Train.

While many of America's house pets may be cute and cuddly, the dog fight for their share of stomach is relentless. The $21 billion pet products category is widely viewed as a growth industry -- particularly premium brands -- as consumers continue to lavish expensive foods, snacks and gifts upon their dogs and cats.

Big Heart Pet Brands will be "singularly focused on capturing growth opportunities" in the pet products category, said Dave West, CEO of Big Heart Pet Brands, in a statement. West, who joined Del Monte Foods in 2011, was formerly CEO at The Hershey Company.

While declining to be specific, James M. Kilts, chairman of the board of Big Heart, said the brand will continue to expand into new arenas. "The pet products market is ripe for the fresh perspective and focus that Big Heart Pet Brands will bring to it," he said in a statement.

Although conventional pet food sales have been mostly flat, the premium brands were on a tear last year, according to Package Facts. "As mass-market pet food sales stagnate, the action is in premium and super premium foods, where growth has reached double digits in some segments." says David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts.