Top 100 Food and Beverage Companies for 2013: Starting Over

Aug. 12, 2013
The asset-shuffling of 2012 leads to new food and beverage companies and improved profitability for all.

Our annual Top 100© primarily is a descending list of the largest food and beverage processors in the U.S. and Canada (See the full list at But if you look beyond the first column of numbers, 2012 food and beverage sales, it also provides a glimpse into the general health of the food industry.

The next columns, especially "2012 Net Income (or Loss)," tell who's doing well and who's not so well. Big changes – plus or minus – in sales hint at who has done some acquiring and who has sold off some assets. And this year, like never before, corporate reorganizations have given birth to new companies.

That's perhaps the most remarkable part of this year's report. Every year, a few companies come and go from this list, although in the past it's always been sizable processors being acquired by even bigger ones, resulting in some $500 million sales company sneaking into 99th or 100th place on this list.

See the entire M&A breakdown in our 2012 Mergers and Acquistions report

This year there are some huge debutantes. Mondelez International (No. 19) leads off that list. The much-heralded splinter off what used to be Kraft Foods had 2012 overall sales of $35 billion – although we credit the firm only for $6.9 billion, that being the value of products Mondelez manufactures in U.S. and Canadian plants.

Legacy Kraft Foods Group Inc., which was designed to be the smaller company, lands higher up at No. 6 because of its preponderance of North American-produced foods. Together as Kraft Foods Inc., they were a perennial top-4 company.

Hillshire Brands debuts at No. 30, taking the place – albeit much lower – that predecessor Sara Lee used to hold.

WhiteWave Foods is a new name, at No. 52. It was the organic milk (Horizon brand), soymilk (Silk brand) and coffee creamer (International Delight brand) businesses of Dean Foods. Dean has had a rough time in recent years, having lost nearly $1.6 billion in 2011. So to focus the company, Chairman Gregg Engles engineered the initial public offering of 20 percent of WhiteWave stock last fall, with Dean holding the other 80 percent. As planned, those shares right now are being distributed to Dean shareholders, with the two companies being totally separated. Even Engles resigned from Dean Foods to devote his full attention to WhiteWave as its chairman. Which means Dean has a new chairman and a new CEO. 

And in January of this year – so it won't show up in this report, which is based mostly on calendar 2012 figures – Dean Foods completed the sale of its Morningstar Foods division to Saputo Inc. for $1.45 billion. Morningstar specialized in dairy and non-dairy extended shelf-life and cultured products. Which leaves Dean primarily with fresh milk and ice cream products. So while Dean remains in the top 10 this year, it will undoubtedly slide further on next year's list.

Another newbie that's another victim of corporate reorganization and spinoff is No. 85 Post Foods. Until 2008, the cereal business was part of Kraft, which sold it to Ralcorp, which spun it off in a poison pill-like attempt to fend off the overtures of ConAgra. Which didn't work.

ConAgra continued its pursuit of a smaller Ralcorp, with the acquisition of the former private label leader occurring at the very end of last year. So ConAgra moves up a notch this year to No. 12 while Ralcorp, formerly No. 24, disappears.

What the numbers show

Getting back to the numbers, especially comparing sales and profits in 2012 vs. 2011, you get a collective pulse of this business. It's remarkable that only two of the top 26 companies saw sales decline in 2012, and both of those – Dean and Kraft –we've already explained. Two of those top 26 companies saw positive reversals in the profit/loss column. All the gyrations at Dean appear to have paid off, with the company turning that $1.6 billion 2011 loss into a $161 million profit in 2012. No. 17 Pilgrim's Pride, now majority owned by JBS (No. 4), went from -$497 million to +$174 million. (And, as we went to press, the poultry company reported a healthy 2Q2013, with net income of $191 million, nearly triple that of 2Q2012.)

You have to scroll all the way down to No. 28, Dole Food Co., to find a net loss this year – although two steps down, aforementioned Hillshire Brands apparently hasn't found its legs yet. (Hillshire, however, has a fiscal year that ends on June 30, so its current-year report was not available as of our press time.)

Six more steps down, No. 36 Chiquita Brands Intl. endured a $403 million loss in 2012, the most red ink on this chart. The company's explanation is a cautionary tale that maybe not every company should become a value-added product innovator:

"Chiquita experienced a significant decrease in profitability and free cash flow over time as a result of a previous business strategy focused on branded diversification and innovation," the company annual report states. "This set of strategic choices … required significant investments in research and development, consumer marketing and corresponding infrastructure, which diverted resources and attention from our core businesses of bananas and salads and burdened us with product offerings that ultimately failed to meet our revenue growth and profit expectations."

So, in August 2012, a new strategy started transforming the company (back?) into a high-volume, low-cost branded produce supplier.

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 [2012] … 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.

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