2007 - the best of times, the worst of times
Christmas is a time for lists, lists and more lists. As we near the end of 2007, it seems an ideal time for just-food to create one of its own and detail who we think has thrived - and who has suffered - in a hectic year for the food industry.
2007 has been - among other things - a year of rising commodity costs; of retail consolidation, expansion and examination; and of "green" consumerism.
The year has also been one to remember - and one to forget - for some in the food industry. Here's our take on who has had a good and bad 12 months during 2007.
It was a good year for:
Heinz has looked rejuvenated this year following the boardroom turmoil of 2006. The US-based food giant has bucked the trend of a number of its peers and shrugged off rising commodity costs through investment in its brands and growth internationally. Analysts have praised Heinz's recent performance and the company's management has raised its outlook, suggesting they believe there is more good news to come. A company full of beans.
The privately-owned UK bread maker has had a bumper year. Warburtons bread has grown to become the UK's number two grocery brand, behind only the might of Coca-Cola. Warburtons has proved that good-quality brands can still thrive despite concerns over consumer spending and despite the state of the UK bread category. As its peer Inter Link Foods has been sold and Kingsmill maker Associated British Foods weighs up whether to remain in bread making, Warburtons can toast a strong 2007.
3. Barry Callebaut
The Swiss business-to-business chocolate maker has benefited from a year in which the world's largest confectioners, battling to keep costs down, have looked to outsource their chocolate production. Callebaut has signed multi-year supply deals with the likes of Nestlé, and Cadbury and is now seen as the leading industry supplier of chocolate.
The UK's number two grocer has been a shining light in a mixed year for parent Wal-Mart. The US giant has expressed concern over US consumer spending and seen its Japanese venture suffer but its business in the UK has gone from strength to strength. Upon joining Asda in 2005, CEO Andy Bond refocused the business on fresh food and clothing, a strategy that has paid dividends.
5. Whole Foods Market
It took a while - and it was not without controversy - but Whole Foods got its man in August when it snapped up rival US retailer Wild Oats. Whole Foods, the natural and organic retailer, saw off a fierce legal battle with US regulators to secure the deal and seems to have put embarrassing revelations regarding its CEO behind it. The company also opened its first UK store this year and, while the jury may still be out on that project, the Wild Oats buy will give it much needed clout against the likes of Wal-Mart, Safeway and Kroger in the clamour for the organic dollar.
Elsewhere, 2007 has been 12 months to forget for:
1. Tate & Lyle
A plummeting share price, falling profits and relegation from the FTSE 100, the list of the UK's leading listed firms, has made 2007 Tate & Lyle's "annus horribilis". The weak US dollar, losses from its European sugar trading business and rising commodity costs all hit Tate & Lyle this year. The company's woes led to calls for CEO Iain Ferguson to resign. The affable Scot is staying and believes an asset sale and a focus on value-added food ingredients will turn Tate around. How much longer Ferguson will be given at the helm remains uncertain.
2. Dean Foods
The US dairy giant has been described as an organisation in crisis. Dean Foods, the largest milk processor in the US, has suffered as dairy costs continue to rise, with profits down and jobs lost. Some may see Dean Foods as a victim of factors outside of its control. However, some industry watchers believe that the company itself is to blame for its current woes; some see the scale of its organic dairies, for instance, as a key factor in the glut of organic milk in the US. CEO Gregg Engles has described trading conditions for the company as the "most difficult" in its history. In August, Engles took the reins at Dean Foods' dairy division. Some see dairy commodity costs cooling in 2008; Engles will be praying they do.
3. Cadbury Schweppes
Cadbury, the world's largest confectioner, has ended 2007 with criticism ringing its ears. The UK company has spent much of this year looking to revitalise the business and quell investor anxiety at its performance. Production sites have closed and jobs cut as Cadbury looks to bring its margins somewhere in line with its peers. The success of its gorilla ad campaign in the UK providing Cadbury with some light relief but union protests and a warning from activist investor Nelson Peltz suggests 2008 could be equally challenging for Cadbury.
The East has not really fulfilled the promise that Danone expected this year. The French food giant has faced difficulties in China with an increasingly bitter dispute over a beverage business and a decision to rip up a dairy venture after just a year. In India, Danone is embroiled in a long-running spat with a local biscuits partner. The French food giant has had some success this year - its acquisition of nutrition firm Numico was a highlight - but its venture in the high-risk, high-reward markets of the East have hit the buffers.
It's been a year of change for Hershey, the US confectionery giant. It started with some radical - but necessary - restructuring of the business but ended with the feeling that the status quo will prevail at the company. Criticised for being too reliant on the US, and too slow to tap into the growing ends of its domestic chocolate market, Hershey embarked on ventures in China and India and a raft of NPD at home. However, after the exit of its CEO and a shake-up in the boardroom, it seems the Hershey Trust, its controlling - and some say "controlling" shareholder - is restricting the company's development.
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Christmas is a time for lists, lists and more lists. As we near the end of 2007, it seems an ideal time for just-food to create one of its own and detail who we think has thrived – and who has suffere...
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