General Mills seen better positioned at U.S. Retail

by Josh Sosland
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NEW YORK — While holding to a “neutral” view of General Mills, Inc. as an investment, Robert Moskow of Credit Suisse said prospects for General Mills, Inc. are beginning to improve following a couple of years in which the company “struggled through a multitude of challenges.”

Mr. Moskow reached that conclusion following a series of analyst day presentations that led him to conclude management’s guidance of 7% to 8% earnings growth is ripe for upward revisions. Analyst day was held July 9 at the New York Stock Exchange.

A presentation by Ian R. Friendly, executive vice-president, chief operating officer, U.S. Retail, was “noticeably more upbeat than last year,” Mr. Moskow said.

“Promotional price points have been adjusted down, cereal merchandising support has returned to normal, Yoplait sales have returned to positive territory after two years of declines, and the re-launch of the ‘Helper’ brand looked (and tasted) compelling enough to regain some of the share it lost to Kraft,” he said. “Friendly said that sales growth accelerated in 8 of its top 10 categories in the fourth quarter and that the cereal business entered the first quarter with positive momentum.”

Highlighting a presentation by Christopher D. O’Leary, executive vice-president, chief operating officer, International, were forecasts of strong growth and margin expansion, Mr. Moskow said. The recently acquired Yoki food and beverage business in Brazil is growing at a double-digit pace, and Haagen-Dazs is expanding further in China and launching a global advertising campaign.

“International is expected to increase its productivity savings at a double-digit pace this year having consolidated the procurement of key commodities like cocoa and bundled its media spending,” Mr. O’Leary said. “Launching Yoplait in China is no longer a question of ‘should we,’ it is only a question of ‘how.’ Accessing a reliable and high quality dairy supply remains a challenge.”

Another positive cited by Mr. O’Leary is prospects for General Mills’ convenience store and food service business. While sales are expected to decline, profits are expected to grow through the exit of low-margin business.

“The shift to a company-owned sales force in the convenience channel has accelerated sales growth and resulted in a 67% increase in ‘advisorships’ for category merchandising with convenience-store operators,” he said.

Holding Mr. Moskow back from a more positive view still of General Mills is a lack of sustained strong scanner data at the U.S. retail level, particularly for yogurt and cereal, he said.

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