While Chiquita was not alone in reporting a loss, it didn't have much company. Only four food & beverage processors lost money in 2012. Diamond Foods (No. 89), coming off that little accounting kerfuffle, joins aforementioned Chiquita, Dole and Hillshire.
Dole may soon be joining H.J. Heinz Co. (No. 28) in the ranks of private companies. Effective in June, Heinz was taken private by 3G Capital and Berkshire Hathaway. Dole that same month formed a committee of its independent directors to consider an offer from its chairman and CEO David Murdock. He wants to buy the company back, just as he did in 2003. In addition to its 2012 loss, Dole lost money in 2010.
But that's it: only four losers this year (2012), down from six last year, but not as wonderful as the two reported in 2010. Also turning around 2011 loses were Pinnacle Foods (No. 42) and Sanderson Farms (No. 43).
Pinnacle, by the way, is now a public company. Blackstone Group owned all of this collection of well known but second-place brands (Swanson frozen dinners, Duncan Hines baking mixes, Van de Kamp's fish) but took it public in March of this year.
As for other top-line figures, 34 of these companies reported increased profits in 2012 vs. 26 whose profits dropped; 63 saw sales increases in 2012 and only 19 reported declines (in both cases, we only count movements of more than 1 percent). And while we manage to get or estimate sales for all these companies, we don't ever get profit or loss figures for the private companies.
Some significant movers
The biggest increase (82 percent) this year belongs to low-profile OSI Group (No. 50). The privately held company, one of McDonald's restaurants' original suppliers, wouldn't comment for this report, but it has been riding a wave of growth on two fronts. Its international reach has been exploding lately, with new plants in India, Poland, China and Hungary. But it's also been expanding in the U.S., building production facilities in Geneva, Ill., and West Jordan, Utah, as well as opening a customer culinary center at its Aurora, Ill., headquarters.
Although it already had been the largest baker in the U.S., No. 22 Bimbo Bakeries USA got 57 percent bigger in 2012. At the end of 2011, its Mexican parent, Grupo Bimbo SAB de CV, completed its acquisition of Sara Lee's North American Fresh Bakery business. Sales of the Sara Lee product lines were not disclosed but were huge, as Grupo Bimbo paid $959 million for the business. Bimbo immediately promised it would invest more than $1 billion in the U.S. over the next five years to consolidate and create a more efficient manufacturing and service platform.
No. 81 Reser's Fine Foods had a nice (50 percent) bump thanks to two 2012 acquisitions: Vaughan Foods (fresh cut produce) and Orval Kent (fresh cut fruit and prepared refrigerated salads), plus organic growth.
In its annual report, Sanderson Farms tells a story that represents the improved profits at most poultry companies:
"Our average sales price for poultry products during fiscal 2012 was 16.2 percent higher than a year ago. While this increase was offset slightly by the increase in our feed costs, we still realized a significant improvement in our operating margins this fiscal year compared with last year.
"Revenue growth was driven by improved market prices for our poultry products, higher volumes as a result of moving our new Kinston, North Carolina, plant to near full production and steady consumer demand for our products at the retail grocery store level… While the market for boneless breast meat remained relatively soft through the year, market prices still improved by 9.1 percent compared with fiscal 2011 [reflecting] continued weak demand for almost all protein consumed away from home, as restaurant traffic has been affected by persistently high national unemployment rates and general consumer concerns... Jumbo wings were a bright spot … prices were higher by 81.2 percent... Poultry exports for calendar 2012 were up approximately 10 percent through October compared with last year. Prices paid for corn and soybean meal, the company's primary feed ingredients, increased during the year, with a very steep increase in the fourth quarter. Overall, we paid $50.6 million more for feed grain in fiscal 2012 compared with fiscal 2011."
And while the company's note concluded with the usual caution for the new year, "market prices for grain have come off their record highs reached in August  … but they remain well above historical levels."
One company with quite a drop in sales is No. 82 (formerly No. 40) Hostess Brands LLC. This is the new Hostess, the businesses owned by C. Dean Metropolous and Apollo Global Management, and as a result the figure is kind of a fiscal 2013 estimate. Recall that the old Hostess Brands Inc. was liquidated in March of this year, with other pieces going to Flowers Foods (No. 37), Grupo Bimbo, McKee (No. 76) and United States Bakery.
So, all in all, it looks like 2012 was a pretty good year for the food industry. And with last summer's drought and resulting high crop prices behind us, 2013 looks to be shaping up similarly. Tune in this time next year to see if that holds true.
By the way, all this analysis harks back to the end of these companies' most current fiscal year – in most cases that's Dec. 31, 2012. A few, however, have fiscal years that ended early this year (General Mills as recently as June 26, 2013), and we use those whenever possible. For all, we use the most recent full year financial report available.