PARSIPPANY, N.J. — Pinnacle Foods Inc. has hit the sweet spot with its single-serving dessert innovation. The company plans to expand the Duncan Hines Perfect Size for 1 platform that debuted last year with “13 additional offerings as well as 11 varieties of our new Perfect Size for 1 frostings and drizzles that allow consumers to easily and fully customize their experience across the line, something that is truly unique to this category,” said Mark A. Clouse, chief executive officer of Pinnacle Foods.
“Coming off a year where Duncan Hines grew household penetration by 3%, Perfect Size for 1 continues to outperform, driving (total distribution points) growth of 11% in the quarter for the entire Duncan Hines portfolio,” Mr. Clouse said during a May 3 earnings call with securities analysts.
Net earnings attributable to common shareholders of Pinnacle Foods Inc. in the three months ended April 1 were $56,914,100, equal to 48c per share on the common stock, up from $22,926,000, or 20c, in the year-ago period. Net sales were $778,832,000, up 1.7% from $766,074,000. Excluding the impact of the exited Aunt Jemima business, net sales expanded 4.3%, Mr. Clouse said.
“Our first quarter shaped up much as we had planned, with a very strong top line sustaining the momentum from 2017 and double-digit growth of adjusted diluted earnings per share, demonstrating our continued ability to sustain top-tier performance and shareholder returns,” Mr. Clouse said. “We also continued to win in the marketplace with both strong consumption and market share gains in the quarter, marking our 16th consecutive quarter of composite market share growth. We expect the robust slate of innovation that will hit the marketplace this year across all three of our retail segments will help us continue the momentum.”
Earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) in the Frozen segment advanced 5.5% to $53,711,000, and net sales increased 7.5% to $344,871,000.
Grocery segment EBIT slipped 4% to $49,748,000, reflecting higher inflation and product mix. Segment sales increased 0.6% to $261,007,000.
In the Boulder segment, EBIT expanded 78% to $11,851,000, reflecting the favorable impact of items affecting comparability versus the prior-year period as well as productivity, partially offset by input cost inflation. Segment net sales increased 0.5% to $97,756,000, as continued strength of the Gardein business and growth of Earth Balance offset lower net sales of Evol and Udi's products.
“End market performance for the segment remained very strong, with retail consumption advancing nearly 9%, led by continued growth of Gardein, which grew consumption over 55%; and Earth Balance, which was up 22%,” Mr. Clouse said. “This growth was partially offset by lower consumption of Evol, which was lapping a very strong promotional period in the previous year; and to a lesser extent, Udi’s, which is starting to benefit from the consumer trial of the new bread.”
Specialty segment EBIT declined 7.6% to $8,216,000, while net sales decreased 15% to $75,198,000, due to the impact of the Aunt Jemima exit.
“As we finish lapping the AJ exit, we anticipate the top line of the Specialty segment to return to what it’s been in the past, up a little bit in some quarters, down a little bit in others,” Mr. Clouse said. “But given the work we’ve done to exit low-margin businesses over the past year, we would expect adjusted EBIT margins to show good growth.”
Recent speculation has swirled over a potential sale of Pinnacle Foods after investment company JANA Partners L.L.C. took a 9.1% stake in the business. In an April 19 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, JANA Partners said it would like Pinnacle’s board and management team to consider evaluating alternatives for the company, including a sale or other consolidation opportunities.
Mr. Clouse said Pinnacle Foods has a “variety of investor meetings set up” following the earnings call.
“And although I don’t want give the specifics on any individual investor, but what I’ll say is we’ve had historically and continue to expect to have very constructive dialogues with the JANA team,” he added. “The board and I are committed to building value for our shareholders. We are ... open to hearing ideas and are happy to listen from all of our investors but, most certainly, JANA as well. So I think we look forward to those dialogues in the future. But to this point, we’ve been really focused on finishing out the quarter, getting earnings ready. And from this point now, we’ll kind of pivot as we normally do, with a pretty robust agenda of investor meetings and a conference coming up as well.”