CAGNY Day 2: Bumps in the Road for Tyson, Kellogg, J.M. Smucker

Feb. 20, 2020
Consumer Analyst Group of New York hears a hiccup from Tyson and continuing struggles from Kellogg and J.M. Smucker.

Day 2 of this year's Consumer Analyst Group of New York Conference found three companies struggling to varying degrees. For Tyson Foods, it's a very small bump in what has been a long, successful road. But for Kellogg and J.M. Smucker, companies struggling with transformations — well, they're still struggling.

Read Day 1 Coverage of the 2020 CAGNY Meeting

Tyson had sales of $42.4 billion in FY2019 (its fiscal year ended Sept. 28), its fourth consecutive year of sales growth. But the company also experienced its first drop in earnings in seven years — still a respectable $2.035 billion, but down from FY2018's $3.027 billion. Tyson has delivered six consecutive quarters of topline growth.

One of the speakers was Dean Banks, who has been president just since November. Although on Tyson's board of directors for two years, he was an interesting hire. He's a tech guy, having been on the leadership team at X, part of Alphabet Inc., Google’s parent, and he held previous tech firm roles. And the company's main speaker, Noel White, has been CEO 17 months, although he was a longtime employee.

Despite being big in chicken and beef, Tyson is a distant third in pork. But its pork exports are up 600% in 1Q2020 over 1Q2019, largely because China has lost more than 35% of its swine herd in the past three years due to African swine flu, said White. Wholesale pork prices are at record highs in China, the European Union and Brazil. By the way, China is now the world’s largest importer of beef.

In prepared foods, sales of Tyson's Jimmy Dean brand were up 19.1% in FY 2019, and Hillshire grew 9.2%.

Kellogg has been in a rebuild since hiring Chairman and CEO Steve Cahillane in 2017. "We entered 2020 in the best condition we've been in in a very long time," Cahillane said — apparently better than the final 2019 numbers, which showed sales up just a hair, to $13.578 billion from $13.547 billion, and reported operating profit down 18% to $ 1.4 billion.

But several divestitures and an acquisition or two have reshaped the company. Snacks, broadly defined, are now the company's biggest category, just eclipsing 50% of total company sales. That includes everything from Pringles to Cheez-Its, Pop Tarts and Rice Krispie Treats to RX Bars. And that comes after the company divested cookie (including Keebler) and fruit snack brands.

While all the snack brands are doing well, Cahillane is most excited by the company's 45-year-old meat analogue brand Morning Star Farms. The meat replacement category finally caught up to it. And just before the CAGNY meeting, Kellogg announced a sub-brand for Morningstar, Incogmeato, which is a full line of plant-based meat substitutes but in the refrigerated section, not frozen as most Morning Star items are.

While General Mills executives a day earlier trumpeted their cereal business' return to topline growth, Kellogg hasn't fared as well. "Cereal is still in decline," warned CFO Chris Hood. But he promised a sales increase in FY2020.

J.M. Smucker is another company that barely resembles its legacy. Its largest segment now is pet foods, with $2.9 billion in U.S. retail sales. Coffee is second with $2.1 billion in sales. And while the company still makes jelly and fruit spreads, peanut butter too, the most exciting product they're in is Uncrustables, the frozen PBJ that has grown 19% a year over the past 18 years.

Not so for the rest of the company. After two down years, sales crept up a tiny bit in FY2019 to $7.8 billion (Smucker's fiscal year ends April 30), but net income ($514 million) was less than half what it was in 2018. At the start of this fiscal year, company officers predicted sales would be flat, but they recently restated their outlook saying FY2020 sales would be down about 3%.

Smucker's dedicated Uncrustables plant in Longmont, Colo., began full production last summer.

Last November Smucker announced the removal of two top executives and the creation of a chief operating officer position, but none of those positions has been filled.

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