As global packaged food businesses continue to battle headwinds, including inflation in their supply chains and a cost-of-living crisis impacting consumer buying habits, we select a number of manufacturers that have managed to successfully navigate the choppy economic waters or are leading on innovation.

Freshpet

Freshpet’s shares outperformed the wider Nasdaq Composite index in 2023 as CEO Billy Cyr exuded confidence in long-term financial targets.

The stock had climbed 61% for the year as of 22 December before the Christmas holiday period, compared to a 44% gain in the Nasdaq, as the New Jersey-based pet-food producer also warded off a challenge from activist investor Jana Partners.

Volume growth accelerated in 2023, despite further pricing, as the business seeks to reach $1.8bn in sales by 2027 at an annual rate of 25%, which was eclipsed in the first nine months (the latest results) at more than 28%, prompting an increase in guidance.

Freshpet is “ahead of the pace required to deliver our 2027 goals”, Cyr said.

Premier Foods

The UK-based Mr Kipling cakes maker surpassed £1bn ($1.2bn) in sales, giving Premier Foods the firepower to notch up another acquisition – Fuel10K.

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By GlobalData

Unusually too, after 18 months or more of inflationary cost pressures and price increases, Premier Foods signalled a corner has been turned as the Sharwood’s sauces brand owner shifts into a lower gear, cutting prices on some products.

After last year’s purchase of The Spice Tailor, Premier Foods expansion into the UK breakfast cereal, snack bars and milk drinks categories, helped drive the shares up 26% (22 December) on the FTSE-250 in 2023. The London benchmark rose 2%.

Grupo Bimbo

Mexico’s Grupo Bimbo stepped up M&A in 2023, with four deals in food compared to one covered by Just Food last year.

Grupo Bimbo pounced for Mile Hi Bakery, National Choice Bakery and Natural Bakery, all in North America, while it invested in Zero Carb Company in the Netherlands and entered Romania with Vel Pitar.

CFO Diego Gaxiola said in July: “In order to continue to advance with our strategic plan and with the opportunities that we see in many different markets, we will continue to look and to be able to conclude inorganic growth, [and] some M&A projects.”

Mondelez International

Consumers were still willing to spend on indulgent snacks in 2023, despite the pressures on households, as evidenced by Mondelez’s increasing sales volumes – even in the wake of double-digit price increases.

“Snack bars are going to be a real strength for us,” CEO Dirk Van de Put said in November. The shares have climbed 6% on Nasdaq this year.

MorningStar analyst Erin Lash said: “We don’t believe Mondelez will shun brand spending; our forecast calls for it to expend 6% of sales ($2.6bn) annually in research, development, and marketing, supporting its competitive edge.”

This

As a handful of plant-based meat companies went to the wall this year, many from difficulties in raising extra financing, UK-based This won backing from ITV – and secured its first international listing.

In return for a minority stake, This got £4m ($5.1m) in advertising in September from the broadcaster, which made its debut investment in food through an equity fund.

Heather Mill’s VBites and other UK firms The Meatless Farm Co., Plant & Bean and LoveSeitan all collapsed this year, while the same fate was suffered by The Very Good Food Co. in Canada and Tattooed Chef in the US.

BellRing Brands

It may be in the future that food companies are divided into those that can benefit from the use of GLP-1 weight-loss drugs – and their impact on consumer choices – and those that find their sales negatively impacted.

US protein business BellRing Brands said it was assessing “strategies and tactics” to take the best advantage from the emergence of GLP-1 drugs.

CEO Darcy Davenport said BellRing is already “well aligned with this opportunity”, adding: “We’re encouraged by the early results of these medications and feel that they strengthen the already strong macro-trends behind our category, and specifically, our business.

Upside Foods

Upside Foods announced plans in June to build a “commercial-scale” plant for cultivated meat.

In the race to be first to produce meat grown in a lab on a significant scale,
the California-based business is hoping to have first-mover advantage.

In June, the US Department of Agriculture cleared cell-based chicken from Upside Foods for sale, some seven months after the US FDA told Upside that, for the first time, it had no objections to a cell-based meat product being made available for human consumption.

Upside has started selling its cultivated meat in restaurants and the plans for a new 187,000 sq-ft facility are the next step towards commercial-scale production.

Upside said the facility will have an “initial capacity to produce millions of pounds of cultivated-meat products per year”. It is aiming to launch products from the site in 2025.

The company has attracted investment from US meat giants Tyson Foods and Cargill and has raised more than $600m to date.