Report highlights strength of C.P.G. industry

by Eric Schroeder
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WASHINGTON — The consumer packaged goods (C.P.G.) industry outperformed the rest of the market in 2008 — as measured by the S&P 500 and Dow Jones Industrial Averages — according to a new study from the Grocery Manufacturers Association (G.M.A.) and PricewaterhouseCoopers L.L.P.

The report, "2009 Financial Performance Report: Focusing on Today, Envisioning Tomorrow," examined research, interviews and financial data on 157 companies in the food, beverage and consumer products sector. The study found that not only did the C.P.G. industry outperform the S&P 500 by more than 15 index points and the Dow Jones by at least 10 points, but C.P.G. manufacturer median sales rose approximately 10% in 2008. More impressive was the fact the top quartile of companies managed to grow sales by 18%, a figure that was slightly higher than the previous year’s sales growth for the quartile.

"Given the C.P.G. industry’s laser focus on delivering value, innovation and investment in the future, it’s no surprise that it appears to be weathering this economic cycle better than other sectors," said Pamela Bailey, president and chief executive officer of the G.M.A. "This performance is testimony to the fact that C.P.G. companies are fulfilling their core mission, which is giving consumers the quality products they need at an affordable price."

Among the three major C.P.G. sectors — beverage, food and household products — food had the best performance, with sales growing 10.2%, according to the report. The growth was attributed to consumers’ increasing move to cooking and eating at home, albeit with a preference for value-oriented products.

In terms of financials, the report noted that food companies experienced flat to slightly lower median returns on invested capital, market capital and assets. And while the food sector fared better than the beverage business in each of these metrics, it lagged household products.

In the beverage sector, gross margins and sales growth remained steady, the report noted, but even so the sector "still seemed to be swimming upstream, especially in the market that once fairly defined the sector: carbonated drinks."

The 2008 median shareholder returns for beverage companies, at a negative 33%, were the poorest result of the three major C.P.G. manufacturing sectors, lagging food at a negative 20.7% and household products at a negative 28.4%. The report also showed steep declines for the beverage sector between 2007 and 2008 in return on invested capital, return on market capital, and return on assets.

Profitability, the category the report noted as a key measure for distinguishing top performing companies, showed significant declines in the beverage industry.

Despite the challenges in the beverage sector, a silver lining was that selling, general and administrative (SG&A) expenses were robust, with large beverage companies choosing to either build upon or re-ignite their portfolio, or acquire non-carbonated drinks.

"There are lessons to be learned from the C.P.G. top performers, which are well positioned to emerge from this recession stronger than ever before, as they continue to invest in their core brands, take advantage of scale to produce healthy margins, and manage down debt," said John Maxwell, consumer packaged goods and retail industry leader, PricewaterhouseCoopers. "Finding new and better ways to sustain cost reductions, manage I.T. related risks, invest strategically to capture market share, and take thoughtful approaches to tax credits and incentives are a few recommendations for C.P.G. companies as they prepare for the recovery.

"Although the C.P.G. industry fared better than other industries, it cannot be complacent and must remain focused on the constantly evolving consumer purchase behaviors. This is critical as suppliers, retailers, and restaurants continue to be impacted by the liquidity crunch. There are opportunities for C.P.G. industry companies that can capitalize on the trend of consumers focusing on product value within categories, on the move from eating out to eating in, and as consumers that have de-loaded the pantry begin to re-load."

The full report may be accessed at www.pwc.com/us/retailandconsumer or www.gmaonline.org/publications.

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