CAGNY Day 4: Coca-Cola and Nestle Sail Along

Feb. 24, 2020
Two of the world's biggest food and beverage companies continue on successful paths, their executives tell the Consumer Analyst Group of New York.

The final day, Day 4, of this year's Consumer Analyst Group of New York Conference was reserved for two of the biggest and most international of food and beverage companies. And two of the currently most successful. You can keep up with our CAGNY coverage by visiting our Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3 reports. 

Coca-Cola Co. remains overwhelmingly a beverage company and keeps finding ways to provide liquid refreshment around the world; recent examples include new flavors of Coca-Cola, a Coke-coffee blend and Coca-Cola Energy. And coming up soon is Aha sparkling water.

Nestle is transforming itself into a health and wellness company, and if that means getting rid of candy bars and ice creams, well, so be it. The strategy is working.

Every year, executives from large, publicly held food and beverage companies try to "sell" their companies to the financial analysts at the annual February conference, in the process revealing some strategies and news.

CEO James Quincey took over Coca-Cola from Muhtar Kent in 2017 and frankly hasn't changed much. He noted Coke delivered on its key 2019 objectives: organic revenue up 6%, operating income up 13%, comparable earnings per share up 1% (even after an 8-point currency headwind). "We experienced the highest share gains in nearly a decade," he said.

Similar growth, but higher EPS, is predicted for 2020.

Sales were $37.280 billion in 2019, up from $34.291 billion in 2018. Net income was $ 8.920 billion versus $6.434 billion in 2018.

"Sparkling" (carbonated) soft drinks remain the biggest part of revenue, but juice, dairy and plant and tea and coffee are growing – the last as a result of the 2018 acquisition of Costa Coffee.

"600 zombies were killed in 2019," Quincey said, referring to SKUs that were still on the books but were essentially dead. But a new SKU is Aha, an apparent answer to PepsiCo's Bubly. Aha is a caffeinated, flavored, sparkling water line, reportedly Coca-Cola's first new brand in more than a decade. It's scheduled to launch in March in the U.S., with the potential to expand globally.

Like PepsiCo's apparently successful Bubly, Aha will only come in cans, with a nod to recyclability. It's not Coke's first attempt at sparkling waters: a Dasani product was launched in 2014, and a sparkling version of Smartwater came in 2015. Coke will also introduce flavors to its nonsparkling Smartwater drinks in 2020.

Nestle sold its U.S. confectionery business to Ferrero in 2018, and is in the process of selling its U.S. ice cream business to Froneri, an ice cream-focused joint venture Nestlé created in 2016 with PAI Partners. That year, Nestlé transferred its European ice cream business in 20 countries to Froneri.

In addition to a health slant – in January Nestle said it will acquire the gastrointestinal medication Zenpep from Allergan -- "Our portfolio is becoming more premium over time," said Francois-Xavier Roger, an executive vice president and chief financial officer.

Now its biggest category (25% of sales) is beverages, including coffee, following the 2018 licensing of the Starbucks brand. "Nutrition & health science" is next at 16%, followed by Pet care at 15%.

Roger also acknowledged vegan and plant-based analogue products, including its older Garden Gourmet and newer Sweet Earth products. 2019 sales were 92.568 billion Swiss francs (about $94.6 billion), up from CHF 91.439. Net profit increased by 24.4% to CHF 12.6 billion (nearly $13 billion).

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