By Svea Herbst-Bayliss

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The activist investment firm pushing Freshpet Inc to consider selling itself has told the pet-food company that it plans to launch a proxy fight and run for board seats, according to a regulatory filing made on Thursday.

Jana Partners LLC, which owns an 8.9% stake in Freshpet, recently added another candidate to its lineup in preparation for next year’s annual meeting when four directors, including the chief executive officer, stand for election.

Last week, Jana Partners recruited Kurt Schmidt, a former chief executive officer of premium pet food brand Blue Buffalo which was purchased by General Mills Inc in 2017, to help with its campaign. The other advisers include a former Kraft Foods chief financial officer and a former chief executive officer at Jarden Corp, the filing shows.

Jana Partners wants Freshpet to consider operational changes and improve how it allocates capital in addition to exploring a sale. It ratcheted up the pressure this week by telling the company that it is ready to proceed with a board challenge.

The move comes nearly a year before the company, with a market capitalization of $2.7 billion, is expected to hold its annual meeting in October, 2023 and months before investors are permitted to nominate directors in June.

A representative for Freshpet was not immediately available for comment.

(Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss; editing by Diane Craft)