Brands continue to trail private label at ConAgra

Brands continue to trail private label at ConAgra

A surge in own label sales more than offset softness in the consumer brands business of ConAgra Foods.

In a trading update today (20 March), ConAgra revealed that total sales increased 22.1% in the first nine-months of the year, climbing to US$13.2bn.

Gains were driven by a 307% rise in sales of private brands. Growth at this unit more than offset the decline of ConAgra's branded business. Conagra, which includes Chef Boyardee and Healthy Choice among its branded stable, said that consumer food sales dropped 1.7% in the period.

Operating profit was also down 1.1% in the consumer business. However, a near 850% increase in profitability at the group's private brand unit drive a 9.4% rise in group operating profit, which climbed to US$1.4bn in the nine-months. Net income was up 7.5% to $636.5m, from $592.1m last year.

The company, which beefed up its private label presence with the acquisition of Ralcorp Holdings, said profitability was aided by the ongoing realisation of synergies from the deal.

Assessing the result, Janney Montgomery Scott analyst Jonathan Feeney was upbeat on the firm's long-term prospects as a potential consolidator in the US private label sector.

"Beyond 2014, we see potential for improved cash flow driven by Ralcorp synergies, lower restructuring charges, and improved growth as ConAgra leads an intelligent, decade-long consolidation of the fragmented private label food industry," he wrote in a note to investors.

Show the press release

ConAgra Foods Posts Double-Digit Comparable EPS Growth in Fiscal 2014 Third Quarter; Reaffirms Full Fiscal-Year EPS

Fiscal 2014 Third-quarter Highlights (% cited vs. year-ago period amounts, where applicable):

  • Diluted EPS from continuing operations of $0.58 as reported vs. $0.28 a year ago. Comparable EPS of $0.62 increased 13%.
  • Consumer Foods sales declined in line with expectations, and comparable operating profit was flat. Challenges for a few key brands are weighing on overall segment sales results. Strong productivity, lower marketing expense, and other cost reductions benefited segment profits.
  • Commercial Foods posted a slight decline in sales and a decrease in operating profit, as expected. The decrease in profit was due to previously discussed customer transition and crop quality issues in the Lamb Weston potato products business.
  • Private Brands sales and comparable operating profit increased substantially, although below original expectations, as prior year results included only 27 days of contribution from Ralcorp given the date of that acquisition.
  • The company continues to expect full-year diluted EPS to be in the range of$2.22 - $2.25, adjusted for items impacting comparability.
  • Debt reduction and other capital allocation goals are unchanged.
  • The Ardent Mills transaction remains on track for completion in the second quarter of calendar 2014.

OMAHA, Neb.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Mar. 20, 2014-- ConAgra Foods, Inc., (NYSE: CAG) one of North America’s leading food companies, today reported results for the fiscal 2014 third quarter ended Feb. 23, 2014. Diluted EPS from continuing operations was $0.58 as reported for the fiscal third quarter vs.$0.28 in the year-ago period. After adjusting for items impacting comparability, current-quarter diluted EPS of $0.62 was 13% above the comparable $0.55earned in the year-ago period. Items impacting comparability are summarized toward the end of this release and reconciled for Regulation G purposes on page 11.

Gary Rodkin, ConAgra Foods’ chief executive officer, said, “We are on track with our EPS projections for the second half of this fiscal year. As we have previously discussed, there are operating challenges that have impacted segment performance and overall EPS growth, but we are encouraged by some pockets of strength. This quarter we posted good sales and market share performances for some of our consumer brands, good international growth for our potato operations, and continued improvement in the operations and organization for our private brands. The synergies expected from the former Ralcorp businesses are coming in slightly ahead of plans, and we continue to make good progress on SG&A efficiency initiatives. We reaffirm our full year fiscal 2014 EPS guidance, and remain confident in our long-term strategy and outlook.”

Consumer Foods Segment
Branded food items sold worldwide in retail channels.

The Consumer Foods segment posted sales of approximately $1.9 billion and operating profit of $266 million, as reported. Sales declined, as expected, reflecting a 3% volume decrease and flat price/mix. The impact of foreign exchange negatively impacted segment sales by 1%.

  • As previously discussed, some of the volume decline in the fiscal third quarter reflects business that occurred earlier than planned in the fiscal second quarter as part of holiday promotions and changes in customer inventory levels, thus a shift in timing.
  • Brands posting sales growth for the quarter include Bertolli, Hebrew National, Reddi-wip, Ro*Tel, Slim Jim, Swiss Miss, Wolf and others. More brand details are in the Q&A document accompanying this release.
  • As previously discussed, Healthy ChoiceOrville Redenbacher’s and Chef Boyardee (which collectively have annual sales in excess of $1 billion) continue to face challenges and are posting substantial volume declines. The company has important product changes, in-store initiatives, and refinements to consumer communication under way, which are expected to gradually improve the volume and profit performance of these brands throughout fiscal 2015.

Operating profit of $266 million was 1% above year-ago amounts as reported. After adjusting for $4 million of net expense in the current quarter and $5 million of net expense in the year-ago period from items impacting comparability, current quarter operating profit of $270 million was in line with comparable year-ago amounts. While top-line challenges weighed on profitability, several factors favorably contributed to the quarter’s profit performance, including manageable inflation, supply chain productivity initiatives, lower incentive compensation, and a strong focus on other selling, general, and administrative (SG&A) related efficiencies. Advertising and consumer promotion costs declined$15 million year-over-year, reflecting a focus on efficiency.

Commercial Foods Segment
Specialty potato, seasonings, blends, flavors, milled grain, as well as consumer branded and private branded packaged food items and bakery products, sold to foodservice and commercial channels worldwide.

Sales for the Commercial Foods segment were $1.5 billion, down slightly compared with $1.5 billion a year-ago (rounded) as reported. Current-quarter sales include some benefit from acquisitions, specifically legacy Ralcorp foodservice results, which had only 27 days of contribution in year-ago amounts because of the date of the acquisition. Segment operating profit was $163 million, 12% below year-ago amounts as reported. After adjusting for $17 million of net expense in the current quarter and $10 million of net expense in year-ago amounts from items impacting comparability, comparable current-quarter operating profit of $180 million declined 8% versus $196 million a year ago.

Lamb Weston potato products’ profits were below year-ago amounts, as expected, given that a major foodservice customer did not renew a sizeable amount of potato business toward the end of last fiscal year. Lamb Weston continues to expand business with other customers; margins are lower-than-planned because of the customer mix shift as well as weaker-than-planned potato crop quality. Lamb Weston is achieving good growth internationally despite the fact that some customers are facing short-term challenges in certain Asian markets. Flour milling sales decreased, reflecting the pass-through of lower wheat costs as well as lower volumes, while milling profits increased over year-ago amounts due to favorable mix and efficiencies. Overall segment profits also reflect lower incentive compensation expense.

Private Brands
Private brand food items sold in domestic markets.

Sales for the Private Brands segment were $1.1 billion in the quarter, up more than $600 million over year-ago amounts. This increase reflects the acquisition of the Ralcorp businesses; sales from most of the former Ralcorp businesses are reported within this segment. Year-ago amounts include only 27 days of contribution from Ralcorp because of the date of the acquisition. Operating profit for this segment was $45 million as reported and $66 million adjusted for items impacting comparability; the increase over prior-year amounts reflects the acquisition.

As previously discussed, profitability for the Private Brands segment is below plan this fiscal year in part due to sales force and supply chain transition issues, as well as pricing actions implemented in response to competitive pressure. As part of improving connections with customers as the company works through those issues, and to remain competitive in the marketplace, the company has made deliberate pricing concessions to protect volumes; these concessions have negatively impacted margins. The margin pressures are expected to continue throughout the remainder of the fiscal year and have been reflected in the current EPS guidance. The company has made organizational, pricing, and customer service improvements that are expected to gradually improve performance over time.

Hedging Activities – This language primarily relates to operations other than the company’s milling operations or significant financing activities.

Hedge gains and losses are aggregated, and net amounts are reclassified from unallocated Corporate expense to the operating segments when the underlying commodity or foreign currency being hedged is expensed in segment cost of goods sold. The net of these activities resulted in $52 million of favorable impact in the current quarter and $27 million of unfavorable impact in the year-ago period. The company identifies these amounts as items impacting comparability.

Other Items

  • Unallocated Corporate amounts were $50 million of expense in the current quarter and$199 million of expense in the year-ago period, as reported.
    • Current-quarter amounts include:
      • $52 million of favorable hedge-related impact.
      • $55 million of unfavorable impact related to settling interest rate derivatives and recognizing the loss in the current quarter. This is connected to the company’s decision to forego refinancing debt that matures in the fiscal fourth quarter.
      • $13 million of integration and restructuring costs.
    • Prior-year period amounts include:
      • $27 million of unfavorable hedge-related impact, and
      • $85 million of other expenses from items impacting comparability.
    • Excluding these amounts, unallocated Corporate expense was $34 million for the current quarter and $87 million in the year-ago period. The comparable decline largely reflects lower incentive and pension costs.
  • Equity method investment earnings were $11 million for the current quarter and $12 millionin the year-ago period.
  • Net interest expense was $95 million in the current quarter and $71 million in the year-ago period; the increase reflects the incremental interest related to the debt incurred to fund acquisitions, principally Ralcorp.

Capital Items

  • Dividends for the current quarter totaled $105 million versus $101 million in the year-ago period, reflecting an increase in shares outstanding.
  • The company did not repurchase any shares of common stock during the quarter.
  • For the current quarter, capital expenditures for property, plant and equipment were $139 million, compared with $107 million in the year-ago period. Depreciation and amortization expense was approximately $156 million for the fiscal third quarter; this compares with a total of $113 million in the year-ago period.
  • The company is currently preparing for the formation of Ardent Mills, a joint venture into which the company expects to contribute its milling operations. As discussed in the company’s 8-K filed on Feb. 10, 2014, that transaction is expected to close in the second quarter of calendar 2014, subject to reaching agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice, financing and other customary closing conditions. The company will offer more details on the specifics of the venture in connection with the close of the transaction.
  • The company is preparing to divest a small operation within the Private Brands segment; historical amounts have been adjusted slightly to reflect the reclassification of this business as discontinued operations.

Outlook

The company continues to expect fiscal 2014 diluted EPS, adjusted for items impacting comparability, to be in the range of $2.22-$2.25. The company continues to expect operating cash flow of approximately $1.4 billion in fiscal 2014, and to repay approximately $550 million of debt before the end of the fiscal year. After repaying approximately $550 million of debt in fiscal 2014, this will amount to slightly more than $950 million of cumulative net debt repayment since the acquisition of Ralcorp.

Consistent with past practice, the company will communicate details on expectations for fiscal 2015 EPS performance with the fiscal 2014 year-end release; as previously disclosed, the company expects comparable EPS growth in fiscal 2015 at a rate lower than the original double-digit target.

The company’s long-term EPS growth rates, and multi-year synergy goals related to the Ralcorp acquisition, are unchanged from prior estimates. The company expects at least 10% annual comparable EPS growth in the fiscal 2016-2017 period, largely due to the benefit of Ralcorp-related synergies; the company continues to expect the Ralcorp transaction to generate $300 million of annual pretax cost-related synergies by the end of fiscal 2017.

Original source: ConAgra Foods