By: Dean Best
Dean Best's views on the industry's hot issues.
Irwin Simon, the founder, president and CEO of Hain Celestial, often comes across as one of the more forthright chief executives in the US food industry, with a firm belief in his company and its prospects. With Hain Celestial's domestic business facing challenges and investor scrutiny intensifying, Simon this week set out how the company will improve its performance in the US and why he believes the group can thrive amid increasing competition - but there were signs he acknowledges the need to adapt to meet the challenge.
A striking transaction has been announced in the private-equity world, with US buy-out house Catterton to join forces with the investment arm of luxury goods group LVMH - and right along the consumer-facing parts of the food sector companies will be watching closely.
Just three years after PepsiCo and Muller launched their bid to capture part of the US yoghurt market, the companies have thrown in the towel. Dean Best believes the companies did not create distinct enough products to succeed in a competitive category.
The starting gun on the race for Quorn Foods is to be fired this week and interest in the UK meat-free business is likely to be high.
Two significant announcements this week - from dairy giant Fonterra and from infant formula group Mead Johnson - further underlined how the impact of China's recent economic slowdown is affecting companies in our sector.
UK grocer Waitrose has got industry watchers talking this afternoon (17 June) with the launch of a promotional programme that lets consumers choose which products they want to buy on offer. Rivals and suppliers will be watching very closely.
Campbell Soup Co. has again moved to inject growth into its business through M&A, snapping up US salsa-to-houmous maker Garden Fresh Gourmet. And the odds are more deals in categories like fresh food and snacks will follow.
Campbell Soup Co.'s third-quarter results included some positive news. Sales from the US group's baking and snacking arm grew solidly, while the company's profitability beat analyst expectations amid productivity savings and a pull back on promotional spending. However, Campbell's top line remains under pressure and it may have to turn to other measures to get sales growing.
In some ways, Jonathan Hart will leave the UK chocolate maker and retailer Thorntons next month in a better position than he found the business when he joined in January 2011. However, when Hart steps down on 27 June, a decision announced yesterday (18 May), Thorntons should be looking for - or be set to install - a new chief executive with more experience in FMCG and in selling branded products to UK and international grocers.
California is, in its own words, "facing one of the most severe droughts on record" and food and beverage companies are under scrutiny. The situation has served to bring a serious issue facing the industry to wider attention - and that may spark more companies into action in an area where environmental advocates say its record is mixed.
There were some cautiously positive noises coming out of Kellogg yesterday (5 May) as the US food group announced its first-quarter results - but a number of questions still hang over the Special K and Pringles maker.
PepsiCo yesterday (22 April) reported a set of solid underlying first-quarter results. But it was away from the numbers that the US food and drinks giant stirred more interest, with Indra Nooyi's comments on the need to adapt to the changing ways consumers define health attracting attention.
Today was a positive day for Unilever in some ways. The FMCG giant's first-quarter sales beat expectations and its shares rose steadily in London. Broadly, however, it is too soon to say whether Unilever can enjoy sustained growth from its food business.
The US food industry is going through a period of significant change and the major names have struggled to come up with the answers to meet new consumer habits. There have already been signs some are turning to M&A - think of the sales of Bolthouse, of Annie's and even Krave jerky last month - and the Kraft/Heinz mega-merger suggests deal-making could accelerate.
At the Consumer Analyst Group of Europe conference in London, Danone's recently-appointed CEO Emmanuel Faber gave a presentation to the investors and analysts in the audience that gave a sense of seriousness, of realism at the French food giant.
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