"Pet parents are increasingly humanizing their dogs and cats, driving growth of wholesome natural pet food category -- where [BUFF] is the leader, staying true to its meat-heavy, ancestral diet positioning," analysts with Deutsche Bank said in a research note Thursday.
The analysts said that the company's results this quarter were helped by pipeline shipments of new products in wet foods, treats and other segment, which grew 23% for the period. They are predicting 11% sales growth in the second half of the year, with wet food sales still outperforming dry foods slightly.
According to the America Pet Products Association, Americans will spend an estimated $24.01 billion this year on pet food. That's an increase from the $23.05 billion that was spent on pet food in 2015.
On the back of strong sales, the pet food maker with a market cap of $5.27 billion revised its growth outlook upward, raising its target to between mid 20% and 30% in fiscal 2016, from a prior forecast of low-to-mid-20s, based on its upgraded outlook for its regional superstores, farm/feed and e-commerce channels.
But the Deutsche Bank analysts said that the "key question" on investors' mind is the sustainability of growth. The analysts think a "10% sales growth trajectory is achievable in the near term." They believe that specialty retailers and e-commerce sites that sell Blue Buffalo products are well positioned to continue taking market share from other retailers -- and Blue Buffalo's authentic brand will clearly benefit from this trend. The analysts raised their price target to $30 from $28.
Right now, Blue Buffalo feeds only 3% of U.S. pets, 4% in dog and 2% in cat. "There's a lot of scope in that," CEO Kurt Schmidt added during a conference call with analysts Wednesday.
According to Pet Food Industry, there are five companies that sell more pet food than Blue Buffalo, those being: Mars Petcare, Nestle Purina PetCare, Big Heart Pets Brands (which is owned by J.M. Smucker (SJM) ), Hill's Pet Nutrition and Diamond Pet Foods.
"The model is proving expandable -- and only selling to 3% of U.S. pets, the runway for growth remains significant," analysts with Wells Fargo said in a research note Thursday.
The Wells Fargo analyst team also highlighted BUFF's improving margins. "Efficiencies associated with the Heartland facility continue to prove far more impactful than expected; BUFF's 44% gross margin already meets its initial FY18 target," the analysts said, noting that they are positive on BUFF's long-term margin trajectory and see it sustaining annual EPS growth of mid-teens to 20%. The analysts maintained their Outperform rating on the stock.
Real Money technical analyst Bruce Kamich -- whose cat "loves her Blue Buffalo meals" -- is looking for a breakout on Blue Buffalo's chart. On Aug. 4, Kamich said investors had been accumulating shares of BUFF, and that prices are likely to break out on the upside and continue the advance. "A close above $28 should start the move to the upside, while a close below $23 is the risk point until the breakout happens," Kamich noted.
The stock was up nearly 2% on the session Thursday morning, trading at around $26.84.