Mondelēz looks to fund investments by expanding margins

by Eric Schroeder
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NEW YORK — Mondelēz International has identified several opportunities to expand margins while funding investments in emerging markets to drive long-term growth, Irene Rosenfeld, chairman and chief executive officer, told participants at the Citi 2013 Global Consumer Conference held May 29 in New York.

“Mondelēz International is a unique investment vehicle with all the elements in place for sustainable profitable growth,” Ms. Rosenfeld said. “With these assets, we will deliver top-tier financial results.”

She added emerging markets “are essential” to the company’s overall growth aspiration.

“The race is on for us to secure and expand our positions in these fast-growing markets,” she said. “Our competitors also find emerging markets attractive, so competition will intensify in the near term.  That’s why stepping up our investments now is critical to deliver long-term shareholder value.”

In her comments, Ms. Rosenfeld stressed  Mondelēz will take a disciplined approach to focused emerging markets investments, and won’t invest “unless we’re confident we can achieve attractive returns within a reasonable time frame.”

Ms. Rosenfeld identified an investment plan that would have Mondelēz increasing investments by about $100 million this year, $200 million in 2014 and up to $300 million in 2015 and thereafter in emerging markets. The investments broadly fall into three buckets:

• “Boosting marketing and trade support behind Power Brands and global innovation platforms. These investments have a payback of about a year.

• “Adding route-to-market and sales capabilities to expand coverage of outlets, particularly in traditional trade. These types of investments also have a quick payback, typically one to two years.

 • “Capitalizing on ‘white space’ opportunities by entering new markets with new categories, such as the recent launch of Stride gum in China. White-space investments have a payback period of three-to-five years.”

Ms. Rosenfeld said Mondelēz plans to pay for the investments by expanding gross margins in North America and Europe.

In both regions, the company will improve mix by focusing on growing its Power Brands, which typically have gross margins that are 100-200 basis points higher than other brands, she said. Power Brands include Cadbury, Cadbury Dairy Milk and Milka chocolate; Jacobs coffee; LU, Nabisco and Oreo biscuits; Tang powdered beverages; and Trident gum.

In addition, Ms. Rosenfeld said Mondelēz is managing costs aggressively, with a continued focus on delivering gross productivity of more than 4% of cost of goods sold and driving overhead savings.

In North America, she said the company is targeting a 500-basis-point improvement in operating income margin, with the majority of the increase expected to come from reinventing its supply chain network, introducing new production lines that incorporate leading-edge technologies and repatriating production from co-manufacturers. Overheads also will improve as dis-synergies associated with the spin-off of the North American grocery business are eliminated, she said.

In Europe, Ms. Rosenfeld said Mondelēz is targeting an improvement of 250 basis points in operating income margin, which would be at the upper end of the peer average. She said the company intends to reach the target by streamlining its supply chain and by continuing to reduce overheads by integrating Central European countries into its centralized category-led model and by leveraging service centers in low-cost locations.

The actions in North America and Europe are expected to expand Mondelēz’s base operating income margin by 60-90 basis points annually over the next three years. The company plans to reinvest a portion of the savings to fund growth in emerging markets and for ongoing restructuring.

Ms. Rosenfeld reiterated the company’s expectation to deliver 2013 organic net revenue growth at the low end of its 5% to 7% long-term target. In the back half of the year, as headwinds from lower coffee pricing and capacity constraints abate, top-line growth is expected to accelerate significantly, she said.

The company also reaffirmed its 2013 operating e.p.s. guidance of $1.55 to $1.60 on a constant currency basis. Second-quarter margins are expected to remain pressured due to the aforementioned growth investments and comparisons with very high margins in the second quarter 2012. As with revenue growth, margin expansion is expected to sharply accelerate in the second half.

“2013 is the first year of our journey as a focused growth company,” Ms. Rosenfeld said. “I’m confident that our strategy will position us well to deliver top-tier performance in the near term and for many years to come.”
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