ORRVILLE, OHIO — The coronavirus (COVID-19) propelled the J.M. Smucker Co. to a strong fourth quarter. Center-store sales across a variety of categories were key to the company’s successful finish to the fiscal year, and now management is trying to forecast how the virus’ impact on the market may affect fiscal 2021 results. 

Net income for the quarter ended April 30 totaled $298 million, equal to $1.98 per share on the common stock, and a significant jump when compared to the fourth quarter of fiscal 2019, when the company earned $72 million, equal to 63¢ per share.

Quarterly sales rose to 10% to $2.1 billion.

“Consumer takeaway in measured channels increased 40% across our portfolio in March with growth of 72% for consumer foods, 37% for coffee and 20% for pet,” said Mark T. Smucker, president and chief executive officer, during a June 3 conference call with securities analysts. “In April, elevated demand continued in the coffee and consumer food segment. For pet food, consumer takeaway reversed in April as pet parents began depleting the initial March stock-up purchases.”

While tailwinds propelled the company’s retail product lines, its International and Away From Home business unit suffered as restaurants, lodging, schools and many offices closed.

“The Away From Home experienced a sales decline of 15% for the quarter and nearly 50% in April,” Mr. Smucker said.

Business unit sales for the full fiscal year were flat at $262 million.

With more consumers under stay-at-home orders, Smucker’s Coffee business unit benefited as quarterly sales rose 11% to $582 million.

“We gained dollar and volume share during the quarter for all brands across the mainstream, one-cup and instant formats,” Mr. Smucker said. “Over 1 million new households tried the Folgers, Dunkin' or Café Bustelo brands in the quarter with 75% of those households purchasing Folgers for the first time during the last 12 months.”

With Smucker’s new Uncrustables manufacturing plant operational in Longmont, Colo., the US Retail Consumer Foods business unit was on track for a strong year. Then COVID-19 hit.

“Full-year sales for the (Uncrustables) brand increased 26% and accelerated to a 50% increase in the fourth quarter,” Mr. Smucker said.

Both the Jif peanut butter and Smucker’s Fruit Spreads brands experienced higher sales velocities during the quarter, with consumer takeaway of peanut butter outpacing available production.

US Retail Consumer Foods sales rose 22% to $481 million during the quarter.

US Retail Pet Foods sales rose 6% during the quarter to $768 million. The business unit experienced volume/mix growth for all its major cat and dog food brands during the quarter.

For fiscal 2020, net income rose 52% to $780 million, equal to $6.84 per share. Sales came in flat at $7.8 billion for the year versus $7.84 billion the year prior.

Fiscal 2021 guidance calls for sales to fall 1% to 2% when compared to fiscal 2020, and earnings per share are forecast in a range between $7.90 and $8.30.

“COVID-19 implications had a material benefit to our fiscal 2020 results and are creating significant uncertainty in our fiscal 2021 projections,” Mr. Smucker said. “Rapidly changing consumer purchasing behavior in retail and Away From Home channels, volatility of input costs and any supply chain disruption could materially impact future results.”

The company expects its Away From Home business unit to experience a $170 million sales decline during the year. Pantry destocking will affect Pet Food sales during the first quarter, but Mr. Smucker said there will be no material ongoing changes to pet food demand from COVID-19 for the remainder of the year.

“For our Coffee, Consumer Foods and Canadian retail businesses, we anticipate elevated demand extending early in the fiscal year from increased at-home consumption and then moderating for the remainder of the fiscal year,” Mr. Smucker said. “Excluding the disruption caused by COVID-19, underlying sales growth across the business is projected to be positive.

“Key considerations included in our assumptions are continued double-digit growth for the Smucker's Uncrustables brand, enabled by a full year of increased production capacity; a Coffee segment sales increase reflecting lapped, deflationary pricing and the ongoing growth of the Dunkin' and Cafe Bustelo brands; and continued strength for dog snacks and cat food, an improvement from the Nutrish brand and dog food.”

Tucker H. Marshall, chief financial officer, said, “We recognize there are a lot of events and uncertainty in this dynamic time. But that's also why … we put a wide guidance range, so that we have some flexibility to achieve the numbers.”