Baking relegated to outsider status on Wall Street

by Josh Sosland
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Listening to the many presentations at the annual conference of the Consumer Analyst Group of New York last week in Boca Raton, Fla., prompted a sense that from an investment perspective, the U.S. baking industry is on the outside looking in.

For the uninitiated, CAGNY is a three-day annual parade of top executives from publicly-traded consumer packaged goods companies explaining the investment merits of their businesses to hundreds of Wall Street analysts. The view of baking as an outsider isn’t that the industry’s companies were not well represented on the roster of presenters. After all, it’s been very rare in recent years that any company that would describe itself principally as a baker would be part of the CAGNY event. Instead it was the degree to which bakers are absent when it comes to certain key growth themes emphasized again and again at the conference. Just about every presenter did somersaults to highlight the non-U.S. activities of their businesses, particularly in emerging economies. Even companies that have lagged in expanding outside the United States did whatever they could to dress up this shortcoming.

With few exceptions, though, an exploration of global opportunities is not part of the agenda for U.S. baking companies. Secondly, many presenters went out of their way to emphasize snacking and, by implication, de-emphasize baking. Certainly, Kellogg, Kraft and Campbell Soup each has a significant baking business, but they all highlighted their snacking credentials. It was jarring to hear Denise Morrison, the company’s designated next chief executive officer, repeatedly refer to Pepperidge Farm as Campbell’s “baked snacks” rather than baking business.

The implication from each of these companies, as well as the move of Sara Lee Corp. away from fresh baking, is that the U.S. baking industry is a tough sell to the investment community in 2011. Perhaps the lone bright baking spot was Ms. Morrison’s announcement that Pepperidge would be bringing its Goldfish franchise into the bread aisle. The move highlights an area where baking has been and needs to remain “on trend,” and that is with robust innovation that resonates with consumers.
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