Morrison pressed on poor Pepperidge performance

by Eric Schroeder
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CAMDEN, N.J. — While a slowdown in soups was not surprising for Campbell Soup Co., the performance of the company’s flagship baking business, Pepperidge Farm, raised eyebrows among analysts participating in a May 19 conference call to discuss third-quarter results.

“Pepperidge Farm sales were softer than anticipated,” Denise Morrison, president and chief executive officer, said in prepared remarks during the conference call. “Goldfish Crackers achieved modest sales growth of 2%, boosted in part by Goldfish Puffs, which are performing well. Goldfish Crackers grew sales on the back of increased promotions in a very competitive environment, and gained momentum as the quarter progressed.

“However, we saw a significant slowdown in the overall cracker category and a decline in our adult savory crackers, which impacted our overall snacks results. We have reformulated and relaunched our adult savory crackers as Pepperidge Farm cracker chips and expect better performance going forward. Pepperidge Farm cookies had a weaker-than-expected performance, also wrapping a strong year-ago quarter.

“Pepperidge Farm bakery grew as we maintained our shelf space and increased sales of sandwich rolls and buns. It is evident that we have held our own despite the reentry of Hostess in the marketplace.

“Internationally we continued to deliver double-digit growth in Indonesia. During the quarter, we remained focused on stabilizing our Arnott’s Biscuit business in Australia for the long term. The Kelsen acquisition at the start of the fiscal year has given us a growth platform for biscuits in China and Hong Kong. Kelsen is tracking with our expectations.”

Pressed by an analyst during the call to explain why the investment community shouldn’t be concerned about the possibility of Pepperidge being a drag versus the competition, Ms. Morrison replied, “In Pepperidge Farm, we had positive profits, and the profits are actually pretty robust. The two portions of the business that had sales decline were adult savory crackers and frozen, which are actually a small portion of the business. In addition, we had a price increase on Goldfish last year. And we found that, given the competitive environment, we had to promote that product more in the third quarter. We did see lift improving as the quarter went on. So, we do believe that Pepperidge Farm is still a great business, in really good shape.”

A second analyst asked Ms. Morrison to talk more broadly about snacking and whether consumer diets are leading toward a shift away from grain-based products.

“There is no question that within snacking, we have seen — and I’m talking about macro snacking — we have seen brands in the better-for-you space gaining traction,” Ms. Morrison replied. “One of the reasons why we introduced Goldfish Puffs, in addition to attracting teens and tweens into the Goldfish franchise, was that we were able to make that product gluten-free. So we are participating in that macro snacking at this point.

“I do believe, though, that our cookie business and our Pepperidge Farm cracker business, particularly Goldfish, do have a nice, loyal consumer base. And we’ll continue to innovate in that space, as well. Our model is to give consumers choices, depending upon what they’re seeking to buy.”
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