Diamond seeking snack acquisitions

by Monica Watrous
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Slated to debut from Diamond Foods is a line of Emerald seasoned cashews in such flavors as dill, jalapeño and sriracha.

SAN FRANCISCO — Diamond Foods, Inc. is evaluating acquisition opportunities in on-trend categories, said Brian Driscoll, president and chief executive officer.

“We think that our portfolio range needs to be expanded,” Mr. Driscoll said during a Sept. 29 earnings call with financial analysts. “We don’t think we have the kind of range that’s ideal for where we want to take the company over time. We want to stick close to our center of competence, which is convenient protein and snacks and salty snacks. That’s our ambition.”

The San Francisco-based maker of Kettle chips, Pop Secret popcorn and Emerald nuts also plans to continue adding innovation to strengthen its foothold in the competitive snack market. Volume declines in nuts, primarily driven by the discontinuation of certain high-volume, low-margin products, competitive pressures in the United Kingdom, and the adverse impact of foreign exchange rates in the U.K. and Canada contributed to a decline in sales for the fourth quarter and flat sales for the fiscal year.

For the year ended July 31, Diamond had net income of $33,030,000, equal to $1.05 per share on the common stock, which compared with a loss of $164,702,000 the year before. Adjusted EBIDTA advanced 18% to $123.8 million from $105.1 million the previous fiscal year, according to the company.

Net sales for the year dipped slightly to $864,165,000 from year-ago sales of $865,207,000, which included slight gains in the snacks segment offset by declines in the nuts segment.

In the coming year, Diamond Foods is set to expand its Kettle brand into new categories.

Brian Driscoll, president and c.e.o. of Diamond

“We are introducing Kettle into two fast-growing snacking areas: vegetable chips and alternative oils,” Mr. Driscoll said. “In Q2, we will begin a phased launch of a new brand of vegetable chips called Kettle Uprooted, which will initially consist of two varieties.

“At the same time, we’ll be launching a line of alternative oil chips with flavor infused salts, taking advantage of this recent culinary trend. This line-up will initially consist of three varieties all made with avocado oil.

“Finally, we plan to continue adding innovation to our rapidly growing Kettle organic chip line-up to include a multi-pack offering and new flavor varieties.”

Also slated to debut is a line of Emerald seasoned cashews in such flavors as dill, jalapeño and sriracha.

“We expect this range of seasoned cashews, along with other planned new items, to become increasingly important to our 100-calorie convenient protein platform,” Mr. Driscoll said. “Until recently, our assortment has been almost exclusively almonds, which have been increasing significantly in cost.”

Additionally, the company has been pursuing Non-GMO Project verification across its portfolio. Mr. Driscoll said future acquisitions would align with those efforts.

“We want to be in this non-G.M.O. space, and we’ve seen great success with our efforts on Kettle, as you know,” he said. “We feel really good about the response we’re getting on the Emerald repositioning and transition. Retailers have embraced the Non-GMO verification transition on Diamond, so we’re morphing our portfolio entirely there, and we think we can build on that through acquisition in order to assist accelerating our growth profile.”

Net income for the fourth quarter was $7,869,000, or 25c per share, which compared with a loss of $1,856,000 for the prior-year period. Net sales for the quarter declined nearly 8% to $201,810,000 from sales of $219,070,000 the year before.
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