The Consumer Analysts Group of New York (CAGNY) Conference looked a little different this year. Amid a pandemic that had only just begun during the 2020 CAGNY conference, the 2021 event was presented entirely online. Senior Executives from General Mills, Conagra, Unilever, Mondelez, and Kraft Heinz presented on Day 1 of the event, providing both a reflective look back at the impact the last year has had on many of their bottom lines, while also using the CPG momentum to look forward and into a growth mindset.
After a year that saw upheavals due to coronavirus and social injustice as well as an increased review of automation's capabilities, the theme of this year's presentations seems to focus on how companies and their brands can—and will—evolve going forward.
General Mills CEO Jeff Harmening kicked off the conference, speaking about the company's 'Accelerate' growth strategy. The strategy involves four pillars that General Mills hopes will create a competitive advantage, and includes building purpose-driven brands, innovating to meet consumer demands, investing in data and analytics, and being a force for good. General Mills' sales were up 17.3% in 2020 and are currently up 8% for the first half of fiscal 2021. Profits are up 14% at $1,698.0 million for the same period over this time last year.
Conagra CEO Sean Connolly focused on frozen and its tremendous growth to shine a spotlight on how the coronavirus pandemic and consumer 'at home' trends have given them an edge. Behavior trends for Millennials and Gen Z were of particular importance as the company looks to enhance its offerings with products and brands the consumers of future will care about, including a spate of plant-based products. Conagra's FY 2020 sales (ending May 31, 2020) were $11.054 billion, up 16%. Net income was $840 million, up 24%. For the next six months, ending Nov. 29, 2020, sales were running 9% ahead of the year-earlier period and net income was up 63%.
Purpose-driven growth was the theme for Unilever's session, with CEO Alan Jope and CFO Graeme Pitkethly talking about the global firm's investments. Functional nutrition and plant-based product are top of mind for the food segment, with functional nutrition accounting for 25% growth—or 1.1 billion euros—in 2020. Overall, Unilever's 2020 sales were 50.7 billion euros, a 2.4% decline. Net profit was 6.1 billion euros, a 0.8% increase.
With comfort foods and snacking on the rise in 2020, Mondelēz CEO Dirk Van de Put kicked off the second half of Day 1 presentations talking about the snack giant's innovation strategy. With a bigger focus on core renovation, the company plans to reduce its SKUs 25% and focus more on incremental innovation. Heading into its third year of a growth strategy laid out in 2018, organic growth has continued to accelerate at 3.4% for 2018-2020.
Kraft Heinz, which had been missing from the annual conference for the last several years, came back swinging in 2021. CEO Miguel Patricio led off the presentation talking about the multi-year transformation the company kicked off in 2021.
The pandemic's center-store comfort allegiance translated to building a strong foundation faster than anticipated and the company expects 2021 to accelerate momentum. Part of the transformation strategy included moving from more than 55 product categories to six consumer platforms, which resulted in net sales of $26 billion in 2020, with 80% of those sales in the U.S. and Canada. The global company also plans to focusing on core products while reducing SKUs 20% by the end of 2021.