Premium Pet Food Is a Fast-Growing Market

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In the past, dogs would have to beg at the table for a taste of fine dining. Those days are long gone.

Every year, more pets are seeing their kibble replaced with premium pet food, which includes freeze-dried and fresh options. In the past ten years, the premium pet food market has grown at twice the rate of the regular pet food market. And nearly 50% of dog owners have decided to spend on premium food options for their pooch.

Sure, pet owners may have to dole out more money to purchase gourmet entrees for their pets, but in today's pet landscape, that is mattering less and less. People are accepting pets as members of the family, and consequently, have raised the standards for their loyal companions.

"Pet parents want their animals to eat something as good as they're eating," says Phillip Cooper, president of the consulting firm Pet Industry Expert. "It's the alternative to table scraps."

One company providing gourmet pet options is FreshPet . Though the company's stock has had a rough go over the past year -- down about 38% since July 8, 2015 -- FreshPet remains a popular name among pet owners. The company manufactures refrigerated food and treats for pets and uses fresh meats and vegetables as ingredients. And FreshPet's taste test video is to be believed, the company's pet food is good enough for human beings to eat as well.

MainStreet's Ross Kenneth Urken and I recently decided to see whether or not FreshPet's dog food could really hold a candle to human food. With the help of TheStreet's video team, we set up our own taste test at my house, comparing FreshPet's turkey dog food--with spinach, cranberries and blueberries all included in the recipe--to regular turkey cold cuts. Ross did a blind taste test, but I kept my eyes open so that we wouldn't both be groping around the table for our food like a couple of fools.

The turkey intended for people was nothing exciting-- a little vanilla, as Ross pointed out. Things got a little more interesting once we dug into our FreshPet sandwiches. The texture was certainly a bit off-putting, granular and a bit wet. However, the flavors were excellent. The fruit added some pungency to the taste, and the spinach was a nice addition as well. Because of the texture, Ross was able to differentiate the two different products pretty quickly, but we both agreed that the FreshPet made for the superior sandwich.

However, Ross and I realized our opinions on FreshPet were truly insignificant compared to somebody with a more canine sensibility. That would be my dog Slippy, who was staring at me with puppy dog eyes throughout the entire video. We decided to let Slippy have his own taste test: would he go for the human food, which he has a history of begging for, or the FreshPet dog food?

In his taste-testing chair, Slippy had a bite of the turkey and then a bite of the FreshPet. Everyone in the room held his breath: which plate would he settle on eating? Slippy made up his mind quickly, inhaling the plate of FreshPet. Of course, he then did the same for the turkey, but the chronology spoke for itself. The FreshPet was a quality product, Slippy agreed, and he would continue to beg for morsels until we left the house.

Unfortunately, investors have not been as crazy about FreshPet as Slippy was. The company's stock is hovering around the $10 mark, compared to almost $17 at the same time last year.The company reported an earnings-per-shareloss of $0.05 last quarter. However, don't hang up the leash on FreshPet just yet. The equity research firm Wedbush gives FreshPet an "Outperform" rating, pointing out that the company has "ample runway to grow into innovative areas" such as dry shelf-stable dog food. If PetFresh can figure out how to capture the taste of its fresh food in kibble, then this stock might just bounce.

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