It seems that everything these days is a throwback to better days gone by; such television shows as Starsky & Hutch and Charlie's Angels have been made into popular movies, and Del Monte Foods (NYSE:DLM) is trying to pump some life into that pampered 9Lives feline Morris the cat.

When I think Del Monte, a can of pineapple slices in silky-sweet syrup comes to mind. While this is still the base of the company, an acquisition from Heinz (NYSE:HNZ) fetched the company tuna brand Starkist and 9Lives cat food. Del Monte has plowed back some of its healthy free cash flow ($200 million expected for fiscal 2005) to give these products a facelift and has brought back star pitchers Charlie the Tuna and Morris (the cat) to spark sales.

The company reported first-quarter earnings today, and it is plain to see that it must take one step back to move two steps forward. Earnings of $0.04 per share were below both the $0.06 per share expected by analysts and the $0.07 a share earned last year. Del Monte expects sales to grow in the range of 4% to 6% in the second quarter (from 2.4% in the first quarter) and 1% to 2% for fiscal 2005. According to its CEO, they "increased our investment in market and new product initiatives" and "expect these investments to fuel continued momentum and long-term growth."

From what I can see, the new Morris looks more like a tabby shelter cat than the pampered limousine-riding, spoiled cat we grew to know and love (although the original Morris was also rescued from an animal shelter). The company appears to be using the cat's 9Lives more conservatively this time around, banding together with national animal shelters and the American Humane Association to give Morris and the ad campaign a more middle American appeal.

The pet food industry isn't what it was when Morris burst onto the scene and through our TV sets, as premium marketers such as Iams have been fighting for market share in this $13 billion industry. Morris may be cute and the ads might strike a chord with consumers, but it could take some time for the more serious and educated pet owners to consider switching brands for their cats.

If it is true that "cats will do anything for the taste of 9Lives," should investors have a positive view of the company's prospects? While the share price has fluctuated this summer, it has appreciated about 17% over the past year. Del Monte is using its strong free cash flow to pay down debt and reinvest in strengthening its brands, but the shares appear to be fairly valued at nearly 12 times the fiscal 2005 earnings forecast of $0.83 per share (a premium relative to its expected growth rate of 8%).

If you're a cool cat like Morris, move your mouse quickly to snare some of these other views:

Fool contributor Phil Wohl spent more than 12 years on Wall Street and has no stake in any firms mentioned above.