VEVEY, SWITZERLAND — Nestle SA is ringing up double-digit organic sales growth for its plant-based items.  Entering other categories besides plant-based burgers could keep the momentum rolling, said Ulf Mark Schneider, chief executive officer.

“Those opportunities to reinvigorate the food category are few and far between,” he said in a Feb. 18 earnings call to discuss results for the fiscal year. “It's a once-in-a-generation opportunity, and I think we're making good progress with that.”

Company sales of plant-based meat analogs are in the vicinity of 200 million Swiss francs ($223 million), he said.

“But when you look at the wider opportunity, when you look at where we use these ingredients to then make more attractive downstream offerings like frozen pizza with plant-based toppings or frozen meals or other prepared dishes, then it's a much bigger opportunity,” he said. “Then we're talking almost 700 million Swiss francs, and here, again, growing at double-digit organic sales growth rates.”

Sales in plant-based dairy alternatives are slightly ahead of 100 million Swiss francs and growing by double-digit percentages, he said.

“But here again, it's an entry point to other areas that you can invigorate,” Mr. Schneider said. “Think about ice cream. Think about confectionery. Some of you may have seen earlier this week our announcement on vegan KitKat product. And so these ingredients are necessary starting points, so that further downstream, we can see continued success in new products.”

Plant-based fish alternatives represent another opportunity.

“We had seen great success last summer with the product that a few people had on the radar screen, and that is plant-based tuna alternative, which has been now one of the best-selling plant-based items in select European markets, and we're still scaling this up and can't make it fast enough,” he said.

In Nestle’s 2020 fiscal year, net profit decreased by 3% to 12.23 billion Swiss francs ($13.67 billion) from 12.61 billion Swiss francs in the previous fiscal year.

Sales dropped 9% to 84.34 billion Swiss francs ($94.25 billion), which compared with 92.57 billion Swiss francs in the previous fiscal year, but organic sales growth was 3.6%. Foreign exchange reduced sales by 8% because of the continued appreciation of the Swiss franc against most currencies. Divestitures had a negative impact of 4.6%.

“Sales in retail remained strong throughout the year,” said Francois-Xavier Roger, executive vice president and chief financial officer. “In out-of-home, sales decline moderated in the second half of the year, stabilizing at around minus 26%. We remain cautious and expect continued headwinds for the out-of-home channels in the first half of 2020. Improvement in the out-of-home channel is expected to be gradual, with a recovery back to pre-COVID levels, at the earliest, in 2022.”

Nestle executives in 2021 expect organic sales to grow at a mid-single-digit rate. Nestle will exercise caution and patience when it comes to acquisitions this year, Mr. Schneider said.

“We need to stay selective,” he said. “Having said that, we do believe that in 2021 as well, we will see some good additions to our business.”

In its Americas zone in 2020, Nestle reported sales of 34.01 billion Swiss francs ($38.01 billion), down 10% from 37.83 billion Swiss francs. Divestitures reduced sales by 5%, largely related to the sale of Nestle’s US ice cream business to Froneri, which was completed in January of this year. Foreign exchange had a negative effect of 10%. Organic growth was 4.8%.

While Purina PetCare was the largest contributor to sales growth, beverages, including Starbucks products, Coffee mate and Nescafé, posted double-digit growth. Frozen food, led by Stouffer’s DiGiorno and Hot Pockets, posted high single-digit growth.

In Europe, Middle East and North Africa, sales fell 6% to 20.23 billion Swiss francs from 21.46 billion Swiss francs. Divestitures reduced sales by 2.1%, largely related to Nestle divesting a 60% stake in the Herta charcuterie business. Foreign exchange had a negative impact of 7%. Organic sales growth was 2.9%.

In Asia, Oceania and sub-Saharan Africa, sales fell 6% to 20.73 billion Swiss francs, down from 22.12 billion Swiss francs. Organic sales growth was 0.5%. A sales decline in China was more than offset by mid-single-digit organic growth in other regions.

In Other Businesses, sales fell by 16% to 9.38 billion Swiss francs from 11.16 billion Swiss francs. Divestitures reduced sales by 18% due to a divestment of Nestle Skin Health. Foreign exchange had a negative effect of 6%. Organic growth was 8%. Nespresso organic sales jumped 7%. Organic sales growth accelerated by 12% for Nestle Health Science.