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CHICAGO, March 17 (Reuters) - U.S. meat producer Tyson Foods Inc (TSN.N) said on Tuesday it will take a minority stake in Freshpet, a maker of fresh, refrigerated dog food and treats.
"The $17 billion pet food market, which has become one of the top 10 packaged-goods categories, has seen significant growth in recent years. One of the key growth trends has been the humanization of pets, as more consumers treat their pets as part of the family," Tyson said in a statement.
Freshpet, is a New Jersey-based start-up. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
"The alliance between Tyson and Freshpet will meet changing consumer needs by providing real food for pets -- not 'pet food,'" said Scott Morris, Freshpet co-founder. "We believe these products will redefine the category and change the way people think about feeding their pets."
The refrigerated fresh pet food market is expected to reach nearly $500 million in annual sales by 2012, according to trade estimates.
Freshpet supplies about 3,000 stores across the United States and has secured commitments for over a thousand more. Store expansion is expected to accelerate with the support of Tyson's national retail relationships.
"This is a natural extension of Tyson's experience in making innovative refrigerated protein products for families," Jeff Webster, group vice president of Tyson's renewable products division, said in a statement. (Reporting by Bob Burgdorfer; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)