US food group Sara Lee said it viewed fiscal 2009 as a “good year” despite posting a 2.5% drop in net sales and seeing its shares tumble in the wake of its annual results.


Speaking on the company’s earnings call today (12 August), CEO Brenda Barnes said all Sara Lee’s business segments had done “quite well”.


“Obviously we have a couple of big headwinds in a couple of international segments but overall we view this as a good year. Cash flow was very strong.”


For the fiscal year to 27 June, net income reached US$364m from a net loss of $79m in 2008. The company also reported an increase in operating income to $713m from $260m in fiscal 2008.


However, Sara Lee’s net sales fell to $12.9bn from $13.2bn during the previous year.


For fiscal 2010, the company forecast earnings of $1.03 to $1.09 a share, including a 19-cent contingency payment related to a tobacco business it sold in fiscal 1999.


In particular, Barnes added that the company was “excited” about the future of its bakery business, despite the division’s sales only edging up 1%.


“We have a really great brand, we have really good innovation with marketing to support it. Our outlook is still to be up in fiscal 2010 in our profitability,” Barnes said. “Like in any business, we have to deal with the circumstances of the market place at the time but not go off course. I think we will match volume.”


Barnes said Sara Lee would keep trying to improve its gross margins, and that a lot of its actions are geared towards that goal.


“To try and reduce the cost of goods going in and to get the pricing at the right level in relation to commodity mix. That’s where we keep pushing,” Barnes said.


Gross margins inched up to 62% from 61.5% for the period, even as volumes from Sara Lee’s continuing businesses fell 2.5%.


Barnes said: “The whole industry is facing volume pressure. I don’t personally get worried looking at the volumes looking at the business based on the results we’ve had because we’re doing what we planned to do.”


However, Sara Lee shares dropped 7.87% in trading today to $9.95.