2014 Consumer Analysts Group of New York Report

Food and beverage CEOs give contrasting views at annual financial analysts meeting.

By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief

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Snacking is both a diversion between meals and a replacement for some traditional meals, she said. Mondelez-sponsored research indicates 60 percent of people snack as a treat ("to lift up my mood"), 25 percent consider it necessary fuel and food for the body, and 15 percent use it to boost or refresh their minds.

Kraft CEO Tony Vernon talked of "fewer, bigger innovations" and even a little "product line pruning," but promised a strong advertising budget to support Kraft brands. He said the biggest surprise in the company's scant 18 months of existence was "an unprecedented confluence of factors." He called them the "Three C's of Change":

  • Consumer – He attached numbers to the shrinking American middle class – Kraft's key demographic -- while both upper and lower income consumer groups are growing. Household sizes are changing, shrinking mostly, and Hispanics are a growing segment.
  • Customer/the retailer – While "traditional" channels, primarily grocery stores, see sales decline, newer formats such as dollar stores and mass merchandisers are up.
  • Communication – While holding its TV, radio and print advertising steady, new dollars have been assigned to digital and mobile channels.

Despite having 130-year-old roots, the new Kraft is only 18 months old, and "We are not yet firing on all cylinders," Vernon said.

Vernon and Campbell CEO Morrison must have shared notes. In addition to repeating the comment about the shrinking American middle class, Morrison also acknowledged the impact societal changes were having on Campbell's business – aging baby boomers, shrinking households, growth in Hispanics, changes in retailers, growth in digital marketing. But she added "the current acrimonious public dialog about food."

On the positive side, she heralded the "dynamic growth of packaged fresh foods." Campbell is pursuing that with its buy last year of Bolthouse Farms, which is enabling Campbell's growth in both produce and fruit and vegetable juices. She noted less of a dependence on soups, which were 40 percent of Campbell sales as recently as 2012, now down to one-third.

Hershey, like Kraft, is bullish on domestic growth. CEO J.P. Bilbrey noted Hershey's U.S. market share in chocolate has grown to 44 percent, aided no doubt by Brookside, acquired in 2012. Brookside already is a $200 million brand, and he predicted it would hit $500 million in sales soon.

Bilbrey also discussed the potential in China via its pending acquisition of Shanghai Golden Monkey. That and the launch of a new Hershey brand, Lancaster, in China will make that country Hershey's No. 2 market by 2017.

Kellogg "had a sustainable growth circle in the early 2000s," said CEO John Bryant, "but the recession, supply chain issues" and other problems have stalled the company. Project K, a global cost-cutting program announced last year, will attack those problems on four fronts: creating global category teams, building capabilities and driving efficiencies; building a "global supply chain of the future"; and implementing a global business services model.

Bryant did mention that the Pringles acquisition has worked out better than anyone expected – domestically but especially internationally. And he's encouraged by the growing interest in breakfast and protein.

Also buoyed by the interests in breakfast and protein is another relative newcomer, Hillshire Brands. Sean Connolly, president/CEO, unveiled a raft of new products, including breakfast products in the Jimmy Dean line and protein-heavy snack kits (meats, cheese and crackers) under the name Hillshire Snacking.

Hillshire also is taking Jimmy Dean outside of the breakfast category with frozen sandwiches (pulled pork, shredded beef, hickory smoked sausage and smoked turkey) expected to launch this summer and bowls aimed at lunch. Sales from new products were 9 percent when the company was Sara Lee, but they already are at 11 percent and will be 13-15 percent in 2015.

A true newcomer was WhiteWave Foods, spawned in 2013 when it was spun off from Dean Foods. Even as a Dean unit, its specialties were plant-based milks (Silk soymilk), coffee creamers (International Delight) and "premium," formerly organic, milks (Horizon Organic).

But 2014 acquisitions are taking WhiteWave into new territory. The purchase of Earthbound Farm brings the company into packaged, primarily organic, produce. And the pending joint venture with Mengniu Dairy takes it to China.

Horizon also is growing into new categories. Just last month, the unit launched boxed macaroni and cheese dinners, some of them organic and some "made with organic" (at least 70 percent of ingredients are organic). Cookies and snack crackers are on the way, promised Chairman and CEO Gregg Engles.

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