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Why Credit Suisse Is Tempering Freshpet Growth Expectations

Last November Freshpet Inc. (NASDAQ: FRPT) came public, raising about $156 million in its initial public offering (IPO). However, since that time the company has fallen below its IPO pricing of $15 per share. One key analyst is still positive on this pet food company. Despite pulling back its estimates, Credit Suisse still sees upside of over 50%.

Credit Suisse has an Outperform rating for Freshpet but lowered its price target to $19 from $23, implying an upside of 52% from current prices. The reasoning behind the lower price target was a slower pace of new store adoptions.

The firm also reduced its fiscal 2015 and 2016 earnings estimates to a net loss of $0.12 per share and $0.14 in earnings per share, respectively. The previous earnings estimates for 2015 and 2016 were a net loss of $0.09 per share and $0.24 in earnings per share.

The brokerage firm lowered its revenue and EBITDA estimates to factor in a more conservative outlook for the pace of new placements of Freshpet refrigerator units into grocery and mass stores. On its recent second-quarter earnings call, management pointed to the lower end of its guidance for 15,100 to 15,600 stores by the end of the year due to execution delays at customers.

While it is certainly possible that the backlog could diminish in 2016 and new placements could reaccelerate, the company simply does not have enough visibility for Credit Suisse to cling to this conviction. Strong same-store sales trends can offset this issue to a large degree, but not entirely.

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Credit Suisse detailed in its report:

A variety of issues caused the slowdowns in execution. According to management’s commentary and our channel checks, management transition among key decision makers at one major chain caused a significant delay. A second customer has delayed the expansion into 200 stores until it figures out how to fund electrical costs. These issues appear to be solvable over time and unrelated to the strong velocity and consumer appeal of the Freshpet brand. But in an environment where grocers face a multitude of operational challenges, we think it will be difficult to maintain a pace of 2,000 new stores per year.

Shares of Freshpet were down 4.3% at $12.30 early Wednesday afternoon. The stock has a consensus analyst price target of $24.67 and a 52-week trading range of $11.70 to $25.92.

By Chris Lange