Aren't food stocks supposed to be slow growth vehicles? Apparently not if you're talking about retail and food-service bakery Flowers Foods (NYSE:FLO), which has become a three-bagger in four years

Flowers' current incarnation was born in March 2001, when Kellogg (NYSE:K) purchased a controlling stake in Keebler Foods from Flowers. In April of 2003, Flowers sold the Mrs. Smith's frozen dessert business to a private company for approximately $240 million. That left Flowers with such well-known names as Nature's Own and Cobblestone Mill, and my favorite, Mrs. Freshley's, provider of chocolate cupcakes and other delectable treats.

Yesterday the company announced that first-quarter sales increased 10.5%. Net income rose an impressive 46% (beating analyst estimates by $0.03 a share) when compared with last year's comparable quarter, and the company upped its guidance for the year.

Flowers' expected earnings growth, 11% per year over the next five years, should interest investors; it handily beats the food industry's expected average growth of 8.6%. The company's $77 million of annual trailing free cash flow shows there should be plenty of cash for acquisitions, share repurchases, and dividend increases. The stock yields a tasty 1.56% today.

The company has also been buying its own shares. In 2002, the board authorized a repurchase of up to 7.5 million shares (adjusted for a 3-for-2 stock split). At the time, that represented approximately 16.5% of the outstanding shares. Since then, the company has repurchased 4.9 million shares at an average price of $27.45 (over $5 less than the current price). After all the share buying, the company's bank and other debt is a reasonable $86 million.

All of this good news comes at a price. The stock is up roughly 40% over the past 52 weeks and is priced at 25.6 times trailing earnings. That is more than twice the expected 11% earnings growth rate. Yikes. Does that make sense?

One analyst didn't think so and downgraded the stock today to a "hold." Investors have to look at the company's trailing five years' compounded earnings growth rate of 48% and see greater than 11% growth ahead to justify such a price. That might be the case, but this is still a bread and snack-cake company that has to fight for shelf space -- no shortage of competitors here. At today's price, there is too much good news priced into this stock to attract this observer.

Fool contributor W.D. Crotty does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned. Click here to see The Motley Fool's disclosure policy.