NEW YORK — Shares of grain-based foods companies were up sharply last year, partly recovering from severe losses sustained in 2008. The Grain-Based Foods Share Index, calculated by Milling & Baking News, ended the year at 10,350.06, up 13%.
Even with the double-digit gain, the index was still beneath the year-end closes of 2007 (11657.58), 2006 (11542.79) and 2004 (10852.64). The 10,350.06 close was 14% beneath the all-time high for the index (12018.59), reached in July 2007.
While lagging broader market index performances, the grain-based share gain wasn’t far behind the 19% jump in the Dow Jones average of industrial shares. The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index was up 24% for the year; the Nasdaq composite index was up 44% and the Russell 2000 was up 25%.
When combined with the performance in 2008, the Grain-Based Foods Index outperformed the broader market measures. For the two-years ended Dec. 31, the grain-based index was down 10%, versus a 21% decline in the Dow industrials, a 24% drop in the S.&P. 500 and a 14% decline in the Nasdaq index.
Drilling deeper into the S.&P. 500, the Grain-Based Share Index 2009 gain of 13% bested gains of four of the S.&P. sectors, including consumer staples, up 11%; energy, up 11%; telecom services, up 3%; and utilities, up 7%. Grain-based shares underperformed materials, up 45%; industrials, up 17%; consumer discretionary, up 39%; health care, up 17%; financials, up 15%; and information technology, up 60%.
Of the 26 companies comprising the Grain-Based Foods Share Index, 24 saw share price appreciation in 2009 and 2 were lower. Double-digit gains were posted by 19 companies with a median change of 16%. The average change of 76% was skewed by the percentage surge of MGP Ingredients, exceeding 1,000%.
MGP Ingredients, Inc.
Climbing to $7.65 in 2009, shares of MGP Ingredients, Inc., Atchison, Kas., posted the widest percentage gain among companies in the Grain-Based Foods Share Index. The jump of 1,042% represented a recovery from what appeared, from a stock-market perspective, to be a near-death experience for MGPI. The company’s shares closed 2008 at 67c, and hit bottom in January at 50c. Shares fell again to 50c in February and March before recovering to as high as $10 Dec. 17.
The dramatic share price recovery extended the company’s record as the most volatile grain-based foods stock. Shares were down 93% in 2008 and 58% in 2007. That followed gains the four preceding years of 88%, 37%, 10% and 103%, respectively.
The company sustained a loss of $69,123,000 in the fiscal year ended June 30.
“We completed a significant transformation in fiscal 2009 in order to strengthen our position as a producer of value-added ingredients sold into a wide range of branded packaged goods,” said Tim Newkirk, president and chief executive officer. “A key milestone was our planned reductions in commodity-type market categories, primarily fuel grade alcohol and vital wheat gluten.”
Earlier in the year, the company said it was exiting the fuel grade alcohol business altogether. Later in the year the company announced it was entering a joint venture with SEACOR Energy under which it will reopen its Pekin, Ill., facility.
Bridgford Foods Corp.
The second widest gain among grain-based shares was posted by Bridgford Foods Corp., Anaheim, Calif. Up 194% last year, the surge followed a 43% decline in 2008, a year characterized by the company as one “of extraordinary challenges for Bridgford, due primarily to the cost of grains, meats and petroleum products achieving record-setting levels during the year.”
Because of those factors, the company was unprofitable for the year, but conditions improved in 2009. The company earned $3,628,000 in the first nine months of 2009 (period ended July 10), compared with a loss of $7,320,000 during the first nine months of fiscal 2008.
Tasty Baking Co.
A near doubling in the value of Tasty Baking Co. shares in 2009 lifted the company’s stock price closer to the $8 to $10 range that prevailed through much of the decade. Philadelphia-based Tasty shares closed at $6.73, up 99% from the 2008 close of $3.39. Down 59% in 2008 (the second poorest performance of grain-based company shares), Tasty’s shares bottomed at $2.75 in October of that year. Even at $6.73, though, the Tasty share price was beneath average prices ($9 to $10 per share) prevailing as long ago as the early- to mid-1990s.
Contributing to the rebound in 2009 was improved profitability and progress toward a major transition under way at the company’s Philadelphia headquarters and manufacturing plant.
During the fall, Tasty began pie production at its new Philadelphia Navy Yard plant, adding cupcake and cookie bar lines in December.
Through much of the year, the company reported steady progress in its financials with gross margins improving 34.5% in the second quarter ended June 27 before a setback to 26.2% in the third quarter ended Sept. 26 (still up from 25.6% in the third quarter of fiscal 2009).
Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Inc.
Somewhat heightened optimism in the outlook for Krispy Kreme Doughnuts, Inc. was evident in the 76% share price gain in 2009. A year earlier Krispy Kreme shares were down 47%, closing at $1.68 per share.
The 2009 close of only $2.95, while nearly triple the 52-week low of $1.01, was a shadow of the value of the Winston-Salem, N.C.-based company during its high-flying period at the start of the decade. After an initial public offering in 2000, the company’s shares rose so fast and furiously that management decided to declare two-for-one stock dividends twice in 2001. The company’s shares peaked at $49.75 in August 2003.
In late December 2009, the company received notice of a proposed settlement of derivative litigation pending against the company and its former chief executive officer, Scott A. Livengood. The action brought on behalf of Krispy Kreme seeks to recover damages caused by alleged breaches of fiduciary duties in connection with the management of the company and the company’s acquisitions of certain franchises. If approved by the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina at a hearing set for Feb. 24, 2010, the proposed settlement would result in the final dismissal of the action against Mr. Livengood.
American Italian Pasta Co.
One year after its shares climbed 219%, American Italian Pasta Co., Kansas City, in 2009 saw a share price gain of 56%. The close of $34.79 was up 1,060% from the January 2006 low of $3 but remained 34% below the all-time high of $52.56 set in June 2002.
The share price rally in 2008 and 2009 presaged the company’s earnings recovery. AIPC net income in the fiscal year ended Oct. 2 was up 365% from fiscal 2008.
Commenting on the dramatic earnings gain, Jack Kelly, AIPC president and c.e.o., said, “Our ability to grow our market share while simultaneously making significant improvements in our key indicators of financial strength, such as gross profit margin, net income, operating cash flow, net debt and EBITDA, is a reflection that our strategic decision to pursue long-term profitable growth by focusing on customer brands and on our strongest proprietary brands was the right decision.”
Additionally, the company has ridden a wave of renewed consumer interest in eating pasta, driven in part by the weak U.S. economy. Demand had faltered earlier in the decade.
Ten per cent sales growth in 2009 reflected a 17% jump in retail sales, offset partly by an 8% drop in institutional sales. Volume was up 6% overall.
Grupo Bimbo S.A.B. de C.V.
Shares of Grupo Bimbo S.A.B. de C.V. rose 46% in 2009 after slipping 10% in 2008.
In what was the largest grain-based foods industry transaction of the year, Grupo Bimbo acquired the U.S. fresh bakery business of Weston Foods, Inc. The value of the acquisition was about $2.5 billion.
While the acquisition prompted a ratings agency to raise the possibility of a credit rating downgrade for Bimbo because of the debt taken on in connection with the transaction, Bimbo’s earnings have been strong this year. As a result, the company has been able to pay down debt on an accelerated timetable.
Reporting financial results for the third quarter ended Sept. 30, Bimbo said earnings and sales were up sharply because of the acquisition.
Gross margin of Bimbo’s U.S baking business expanded by 8.7 percentage points to 10.2%. Elaborating on the improvement, Bimbo noted the more efficient cost and expense structure derived from the incorporation of BBU East, the shared best practices between regions, and a stronger U.S. dollar versus the peso. Guillermo Quiroz, chief financial officer for Grupo Bimbo S.A.B. de C.V., spoke about future U.S. EBITDA in an Oct. 23 earnings conference call.
“We are expecting to see the EBITDA margin in the U.S. improving toward, let’s say, a long-term goal of 13% in about two or three years more,” he said.
J.M. Smucker Co.
The successful integration of the Folgers coffee business contributed to a 42% gain in shares of J.M. Smucker Co. in 2009. Shares had declined 16% in 2008.
Orville, Ohio-based Smucker acquired the Folgers business from Procter and Gamble for $3.3 billion. Folgers accounts for more than 35% of Smucker sales, and the company’s earnings were up sharply in 2009.
For the first half of fiscal 2010, period ended Oct. 31, the company’s net income was up 154% from the first half of fiscal 2009, and sales were up 55%.
“With strong momentum in the first half of the year and confidence in our strategy and our ability to execute this strategy, we are raising our outlook for the year,” said Richard Smucker, executive chairman and co-c.e.o. “We recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of the Folgers merger and appreciate the efforts of our employees in quickly achieving all key integration milestones. We continue to expect good performance from our portfolio.”
In the most recent quarter, volumes of Pillsbury and Crisco brands were up double digits, partly offset by declines in canned milk. The sales reflected lower prices for shortening, oils, flour and canned milk.
The company is raising its full-year outlook to between $3.95 and $4.05 per share, an increase from the previous range of $3.65 to $3.80.
ConAgra Foods, Inc.
Following declines in the two previous years, shares of ConAgra Foods, Inc. climbed 40% in 2009. ConAgra’s stock fell 31% in 2008 and 12% in 2007. The $23.05 close in 2009 was up 70% from the recent low reached on Dec. 5, 2008. The stock’s all-time high was $38.75, set in December 1997.
Following tough years made more difficult by major product recalls, operating earnings have been strong in fiscal year 2010.
After raising earnings guidance after the first quarter ended Aug. 30, Omaha-based ConAgra chalked up an earnings gain of 43% in the second quarter, ended Nov. 30.
“Our strong performance this quarter reflects continued momentum in the Consumer Foods segment and gives us heightened confidence in our fiscal 2010 e.p.s. outlook,” said Gary Rodkin, c.e.o. “Success with innovation and marketing drove significantly improved market shares and top-line progress in the Consumer Foods segment for the quarter while a more favorable input cost environment and strong cost savings substantially contributed to profit growth.”
Panera Bread Co.
Recovering earnings helped lift the share price of Panera Bread Co., Richmond Heights, Mo., 28% in 2009. A year earlier Panera shares were up 46%. The closing price of $66.94 was not too far beneath the all-time high of $75.88 set in April 2006. Additionally, the bakery cafe’s share price performance over the past 10 years has been stellar. The 2009 closing price was up 764% from the end of 1999.
The architect of that performance, founder Ron Shaich, announced plans to retire, effective with the conclusion of the company’s next annual meeting, scheduled for May 2010. Bill Moreton, executive vice-president and co-chief operating officer, will become president and c.e.o. Mr. Shaich will become executive chairman of the board.
After slumping 56% in 2008, the share price of Bunge Ltd., White Plains, N.Y., rose 23% in 2009. The closing price of $63.83 was still down 45% from the 2007 closing price but was quadruple the $16 value of the 2001 initial public offering value.
In the first nine months of 2009, Bunge net income was $350 million, or $2.48 per share, down 73% from $1,274 million, or $9.26, during the first nine months of fiscal 2008. In recent periods the weakest link at Bunge has been its fertilizer segment, with a third-quarter loss of $127 million, versus an $84 million profit in the third quarter last year. Volume was 3,814 million, up 24%, while sales were $1,190 million, down 37%.
Bunge attributed the loss to the continued mismatch between current market prices and inventory costs, which negatively impacted margins.
Looking ahead to the remainder of the year, Jacqualyn Fouse, c.f.o., said agribusiness should post a strong finish while food and ingredients should continue to recover. But continued weaker results in the company’s fertilizer business led the company to cut its 2009 full-year earnings guidance to $3.10 to $3.50 per share from earlier guidance of $4.90 to $5.40 per share, Ms. Fouse said.
Shares of Lance Inc., Charlotte, N.C., rose 15% in 2009, eclipsing the 12% gain in 2008. The company’s shares were up 2% in 2007.
The advance reflected improved profitability because of moderating ingredient costs. Still, the company in 2009 was challenged by the Peanut Corporation of America peanut butter recall even though Lance was not a customer of P.C.A.
In late 2008, the company acquired the assets of Archway Cookies L.L.C. and focused during much of 2009 on moving Archway products into distribution.
On Oct. 13, Lance acquired the Stella D’oro brand as well as certain manufacturing equipment and inventory from Stella D’oro Biscuit Co., Inc., Bronx, N.Y. Terms of the purchase agreement were not disclosed. Production of Stella D’oro cookies has been moved from a Bronx plant to other Lance production facilities.
In November, Lance c.e.o. David V. Singer was elected a director of Flowers Foods, Inc. To accommodate Mr. Singer, the Flowers board was expanded to 12 from 11.
Shares of Seaboard Corp., Shawnee Mission, Kas., rose 13% in 2009. The company’s shares were down 19% the year before.
For the first nine months of 2009, Seaboard net income was $79,607,000, or $64.32 per share, down from $123,895,000, or $99.62 per share. Net sales totaled $2,642,023,000, down from $3,125,310,000
For the nine months ended Oct. 3, operating income in the Commodity
Trading and Milling Division totaled $24,917,000, down 71% from $83,627,000 in the same period a year ago. Net sales were $1,105,158,000, down 20% from $1,383,120,000. Seaboard said the operating income decline reflected fluctuation in marking to market certain derivative contracts.
While about half the value of the June 2007 high of $2,699 per share, the 2009 closing price of $1,349 was still sharply higher than lows set earlier in the decade. The price was up 811% from the low of $148 set in December 2000.
Sara Lee Corp.
The share price of Sara Lee Corp. rose 24% in 2009, recovering a significant part of the 39% decline sustained in 2008. The December closing price of $12.18 remained a fraction of the Downers Grove, Ill.-based company’s all-time high closing price of $57.69 set in October 1998.
The company has spent the entire decade shedding businesses in an effort to build shareholder value, and the initiative continued into 2009. In a move that would bring the company ever closer to becoming purely a food and beverage business, Sara Lee on Sept. 25 said it had received a binding offer of €1,275 million ($1,870 million) for its global body care and European detergents business. Sara Lee said the businesses sought by Unilever generated annual sales of €750 million in fiscal 2009, accounting for about 50% of sales and 55% of the adjusted operating segment income of the International Household and Body Care business.
Meanwhile, the company’s North American business units, primarily its processed meats and food service operations, boosted earnings for the company during the first quarter ended Sept. 26. Net income was up 24%, prompting Brenda C. Barnes, chairman and c.e.o., to increase earnings-per-share guidance for the full year to a range of $1.12 to $1.18 per share, up from $1.03 to $1.09 per share.
Operating income for Sara Lee’s North American Retail business, which includes its processed meats brands, was $83 million for the quarter compared with $54 million during the previous year. The increase was primarily the result of lower input costs, favorable sales mix, growth of the Jimmy Dean brand, improvement in supply chain performance and Project Accelerate, and continuous improvement savings.
Beginning the year with an announcement that it would raise prices on its ready-to-eat cereal, Kellogg Co., Battle Creek, Mich., saw share prices advance 21% in 2009, fully recovering from the 16% decline in 2008.
In January 2009, the company said it would raise the prices on most of its cereal brands as well as Pop-Tarts toaster pastries beginning Jan. 18.
“The effective price increase across our product portfolio is in the low-to-mid single digits,” a company spokesperson said.
Through the first three quarters of the year, Kellogg net income was up 7% from the same period in 2008.
The company’s net income was up 6% in the third quarter, 12% on a currency-neutral basis. Based on those results, Kellogg raised its earnings guidance for 2009 to growth of 10% to 12%, on a currency neutral basis, up from 8% to 10%. For 2010, the company projected currency-neutral earnings growth of 10% to 12%, a “second consecutive year of growth above long-term annual targets,” the company said.
“The current economic environment has placed significant pressure on our consumers,” said David Mackay, c.e.o. “However, the environment also provided us with both the incentive and the opportunity to build an even stronger company for the future. We are aggressively pursuing productivity initiatives as well as taking advantages of media deflation and efficiency programs to invest even more back into advertising to further drive the long-term health of our brands.”
Mr. Mackay said the cereal category overall grew about 2% during the third quarter.
“Despite a competitive environment, category share growth in measured channels was up 20 basis points,” he said.
General Mills, Inc.
General Mills, Inc., Minneapolis, posted a share gain of 17% in 2009. Coming on the heels of a 7% advance in 2008, the company’s two-year advance of 24% was best among large cap grain-based foods companies.
The standout share price performance largely mirrored the company’s operating results.
After beating analysts’ forecasts in the first quarter ended Aug. 30, the company raised its fiscal 2010 earnings guidance to $4.40 to $4.45, up from $4.20 to $4.25. Three months later, bolstered by strong results in its U.S. Retail segment, the company raised guidance again, to $4.52 to $4.57.
For the six months ended Nov. 29, the company’s net earnings totaled $986.1 million, or $3.01 per share, up 50% from $656.7 million, or $1.96 per share, in the same period of fiscal 2009. Net sales in the first half of fiscal 2010 totaled $7,597 million, up 1.2% from $7,508.2 million.
“Our businesses are growing, and General Mills people in our plants, sales teams and offices worldwide are delivering great performance,” said Kendall Powell, chairman and c.e.o. “As we move into the second half of fiscal 2010, we plan to make additional reinvestments in marketing and merchandising programs to fuel continued growth for our brands this year and into fiscal 2011.”
Campbell Soup Co.
Shares of Campbell Soup Co., Camden, N.J., rose 13% in 2009 after declining 16% in 2008. The share price gains were achieved despite flagging net income.
The company posted earnings of $736 million in the year ended Aug. 2, equal to $2.09 per share on the common stock, down from $1,165 million, or $3.12 per share, in fiscal 2008.
Operating earnings within the Baking and Snacking division of the Campbell Soup Co. totaled $262 million in the year ended Aug. 2, up 118% from $120 million in fiscal 2008. Excluding special items, the division’s profits were up modestly.
During a September conference call, Douglas R. Conant, president and c.e.o., was asked whether consumers were trading down from Pepperidge Farm. Without denying there was any effect, Mr. Conant remained upbeat about the brand and its prospects.
“We did grow Pepperidge Farm last year, top and bottom line, so we feel very good about it,” Mr. Conant said. “The growth slowed relative to prior years. Even in a tough year we’ve got a great brand, and we actually are seeing a little better traction of our brands in Pepperidge Farm right now. So, knock on wood, we should have another solid year in Pepperidge Farm.”
Archer Daniels Midland Co.
While its shares were up 9% in 2009, Archer Daniels Midland Co., Decatur, Ill., struggled in its efforts to grow profitability in 2009. The share price gain followed a drop of 38% in 2008.
Earnings in the company’s fiscal 2010 first quarter were down 53% from the same period a year earlier, though a large part of the decline reflected a change in LIFO inventory valuations.
Sluggish demand for ethanol and crops generally were key factors in the weak financial results.
Patricia Woertz, chairman, president and c.e.o., was optimistic going into calendar 2010.
“Earnings were significantly better than the second half of fiscal 2009,” she said after announcing first-quarter results. “As we advance our growth strategy, we are using our financial strength to build shareholder value. Looking ahead, we see demand improving in some key markets, and we have the assets and acumen to capture value as the global economy resets.”
Capped by an 83% decline in the fourth quarter, net income at ADM in the year ended June 30 was down 5%, pressured by higher corn costs, lower average selling prices and weaker demand. Net sales were $69,207 million, down 1% from $69,816 million in the same period a year ago.
In May 2009, ADM said it completed the acquisition of the Schokinag-Schokolade-Industrie Herrmann GmbH & Co. KG. The acquisition first was announced on Jan. 23, 2009.
Headquartered in Mannheim, Germany, ADM Schokinag is one of Europe’s leading producers of industrial chocolate and cocoa powder with manufacturing facilities in Mannheim and in Manage, Belgium, as well as sales offices in Ludlow, England, and Bakersfield, Calif.
Shares of PepsiCo, Inc., Purchase, N.Y., were up 11% in 2009, partly recovering from a 28% decline in 2008. For the first nine months of fiscal 2009, net income was $4,424 million, or $2.81 per share, down slightly from $4,499 million, or $2.79 per share. Net sales for the first nine months were $29,935 million, down 2% from $30,522 million.
Notable at the company in 2009 was the retirement of Michael D. White, vice-chairman and c.e.o. of PepsiCo International, after 20 years with the company. During his tenure, PepsiCo International grew to be the corporation’s largest division, consistently achieving the highest level of growth among PepsiCo’s various units.
During 2009, PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay business was the strongest leg of its PepsiCo Americas Food business.
“Across P.A.F., we grew share in virtually every market where we operate,” Richard Goodman, c.f.o., said during an Oct. 8 conference call with analysts. “And key long-term growth platforms outside of our core portfolio such as nuts and seeds, bread snacks and baked products gained traction, each growing more than 20% year-to-date.”
While PepsiCo made no major external acquisitions in 2009, the company, together with The Pepsi Bottling Group, announced plans to invest $1 billion in the food and beverage business in Russia during the next three years.
“This investment reflects very clearly our great confidence in Russia and our long-term commitment to this very important market,” said Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo chairman and c.e.o.
Kraft Foods Inc.
With only a 1% gain in 2009, shares of Kraft Foods Inc. did not nearly recover the 18% decline sustained in 2008. The closing price of $27.18 was well above the March low of $20.81, but was down 38% from the all-time high set in June 2002, not long after the company’s initial public offering.
Late in the year, Northfield, Ill.-based Kraft initiated an effort to acquire Cadbury P.L.C. in a transaction valued at roughly $17 billion. Cadbury has resisted the offer, and the saga continued last week with Kraft raising its bid for Cadbury.
After issuing Kraft’s most recent quarterly financial results, the company’s chairman and c.e.o. Irene Rosenfeld, said Kraft would maintain a disciplined approach in its pursuit of acquisition candidates.
“Our criteria include accretion to cash e.p.s. in the second year, delivering a return on investment well in excess of our cost of capital, and maintaining both our investment grade credit rating and our dividend,” she said. “With or without Cadbury, Kraft Foods is well positioned to deliver top-tier performance,” Ms. Rosenfeld said.
Flowers Foods Inc.
A perennial leader in performance within grain-based foods, Flowers Foods Inc. shares were down modestly in 2009. The 2% decline followed a 4% gain in 2008, when Thomasville, Ga.-based Flowers was one of only seven grain-based foods companies that saw share price appreciation.
While profitability at Flowers has been strong, the company has cut its sales growth guidance in each of its last two quarterly reports. Updating guidance for fiscal 2009, Flowers in November projected sales growth of 7.5% to 8%, versus the 9.7% to 11% growth the company had been projecting in its guidance after the second quarter and 12.6% to 14.5% guidance offered with first-quarter results.
For the nine months ended Oct. 10, Flowers net income was $99,648,000, equal to $1.07 per share, up 14% from $87,147,000, or 94c per share, in the first three quarters of 2008. Net sales were $2,024,025,000, up 13%.
The company has encountered challenges principally in food service, vending and institutional categories associated with the weak economy.
“In addition, heavy promotional activity within the retail channel negatively affected volumes in the branded white bread category,” the company said.
During the year Flowers Foods acquired Leo’s Foods, Inc., a family-owned tortilla manufacturer with one facility in Fort Worth, Texas. The company manufactures flour and corn tortillas as well as tortilla chips that are sold nationwide to food service and institutional customers. The company’s annual revenues are approximately $30 million and it employs 230.
Also during the year, Flowers acquired the Cedar Rapids, Iowa, bread mix plant of General Mills, Inc. According to Flowers Foods, the acquired facility was to become part of a support business called Specialty Blending Co., L.L.C. The plant will supply Flowers, along with other U.S. bakers, with fresh bread mixes.
Gruma S.A.B. de C.V.
One standout company in 2009 not included in the Grain-Based Foods Share Index was Gruma S.A.B. de C.V., up 249% last year. Gruma’s closing price of $6.97 was up 667% from the 52-week low price of 91c, set in March.
The weakness was attributed to financing problems associated with major losses sustained by the company as a result of currency derivatives positions. Going into the summer, it wasn’t clear whether the company would be able to avoid bankrupty.
Gruma operated solidly in the black in the most recent quarter ended Sept. 30. Sales also were higher.
The picture was challenging in the United States. Sales volume at Gruma Corp. fell 3% in the third quarter due to lower tortilla sales volume in connection with a product-count reduction in some of the company’s tortilla stock-keeping units for the retail segment and lower sales in food service driven by a decline in the industry, as well as by lower corn flour sales volume in the United States as the company announced a price reduction at the beginning of the fourth quarter of fiscal 2009 to reflect lower corn prices.