Top Food and Beverage Companies for 2011: PepsiCo Takes the Lead

Our annual report on the food and beverage industry's top companies finds that the biggest news is only one company reported a loss in 2010.

By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief

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We try not to make this annual list into any kind of a competition, but there is a new leader atop our Top 100© chart of the largest food and beverage companies in the U.S. and Canada.

PepsiCo Inc., which has been No. 2, 3 or 4 on this list in recent years, turned in a good 2010 by most measures, increasing its former core operations, the ones we measure, by 7-9 percent. But its biggest leap up our chart occurred with the February 2010 acquisition of its largest – and independent – bottlers. Pepsi Bottling Group Inc. added $14 billion in sales to the corporation's top line, and PepsiAmericas chipped in another $5 billion.

While not all their sales were domestic, the sales (and efficiencies) of both have been so integrated into PepsiCo we cannot separate them out. Fortunately for us, PepsiCo does separate revenues by region. So, adding together PepsiCo Americas Beverages, Frito-Lay North America and Quaker Foods North America, we get our chart-leading $35.6 billion figure.

PepsiCo's growth notwithstanding, perhaps the biggest news in this year's table is the number of companies that recorded net losses during 2010: There was only one! Dole Food Co. (No. 17) got caught between lower banana production worldwide and weaker pricing, and the company lost $30 million, even though sales increased by nearly 2 percent. (Only 62 of the companies report net income – the private ones do not.) We haven't had only one company reporting a net loss for the year in at least eight years (and maybe much longer – our figures back then were incomplete).

Getting back to PepsiCo, that example illustrates much of the logic and the challenges we encounter each year in making this list. It is a list of the 100 largest food & beverage processors in the U.S. and Canada – not necessarily food marketers or resellers. We don't count products manufactured overseas (although we do count exports); we count only value-added products (not raw milk, produce or eggs); and we count self-manufactured products only, not those made by other food processors and rebranded (although we do count contract manufacturers and private labelers).

At least we try. There's an assumed homogeneity across the food industry but, as we pore through annual reports and other documents each year, we realize how every company is different. We make adjustments where we think they're warranted, which means you won't see many of these numbers in any other report.

All company sales all over the globe are included in the column "2010 Total Company Sales." And this list represents the most recent fiscal years available for these companies. For most, that means calendar 2010, but several already have reported 2011 fiscal years. For Cargill and ConAgra, fiscal 2011 ended as recently as May.

So it wasn't a bad year, although it did come with challenges. PepsiCo Chairman/CEO Indra Nooyi could have been speaking for most of these companies when she wrote in her company's annual report: "Amid the continuing challenge of the most difficult global macroeconomic environment in decades, we delivered strong operating performance that puts us in the top tier in our industry."

In a different statement to analysts, Nooyi noted some issues being faced by most companies on this list. "We posted broad-based worldwide gains in both snacks and beverages, our businesses deftly balanced a delicate price-value consumer equation and we aggressively managed costs and productivity." But she also noted being mindful of "three realities":

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