Editor’s Plate: Lessons From Our 2020 Top 100©

Aug. 10, 2020
Our annual report of the top food and beverage companies in the U.S. and Canada discovered 2019 was a pretty good, stable year.

Our annual Top 100© report found 2019 to be a quiet, positive year for the larger companies in the food and beverage industry. A year in which most companies improved both top- and bottom-line numbers, many for the third consecutive year.

Listen to our podcast episode Food For Thought: Top 100© Growth and Loss Amid a Pandemic to hear the Food Processing team dive deeper into the Top 100© for 2020. 

It also was a year of stability. There were no blockbuster or transformative acquisitions – tops was Ferrero Group’s $1.3 billion purchase of the former Keebler business and fruit snacks from Kellogg. There were few changes at the top of most of these companies. There are new leaders atop Kraft Heinz and Danone North America (and see my next item for one at Tyson) but not the sort of churn we saw in 2017-2018.

Forty-five of our Top 100 companies saw sales increases in whatever fiscal year just ended for them. Only 13 reported decreases. That kind of steady growth has not been a given lately. Some of the highest-profile companies suffered through three straight years of sales declines 2015-2017.

Net income was more of a mixed bag: up for 18, down for 26. Four recorded net losses. Three names disappeared, the victims of late-2018 acquisitions (Keystone Foods to Tyson), a retreat from the food industry (Cott Corp.) or bankruptcy (Dean Foods).

Like any list, our Top 100 is a fun scorecard, but it’s only a small portion of this research project. For every company name and sales figure you see in our Top 100 analysis, we also record on our interactive chart, spanning back several years. You can check out, save, bookmark, etc. the chart over at www.foodprocessing.com/top100/2020. Here you can click on Company Name to make the list alphabetic. Or sort it by Total Company Sales or by Net Income if you want to see who’s most profitable.

Even better: Click on a company name and you get each company’s profile – which includes headquarters address, top executives, subsidiaries, food categories, brands and in most cases plant locations. PepsiCo alone has 75 brands! Smithfield has 41 plants. Multiply that by 100 companies and you’ll appreciate the work we put into this. Give our cover story a read now and be sure you visit (and bookmark) www.FoodProcessing.com/top100. As an added bonus, we also have both a PDF and Excel versions of the chart you can download for yourself. Make these your year-long research tools.

An interesting CEO for Tyson

Tyson Foods made a former Google and health care executive its next CEO (effective in October). Dean Banks has had a meteoric rise at the animal protein company. Not an audacious choice as a director in 2017, if you want a different perspective. One eyebrow raised when he was named president last November. Both eyebrows are up now that he will succeed CEO Noel White, a classic company insider and meat guy.

If ever there was a sign that a company wants radical change, this is it.

Banks is perfectly suited for the short term. The coronavirus pandemic has created two issues for Tyson: how to assure employees the company cares about their health and how to automate and get better information technology up and down the supply chain in the future. Banks sounds like half Larry Page (Google co-founder) and half Anthony Fauci – I mean both as compliments. If they could have thrown in a little Jeff Bezos for e-commerce they would have hit the trifecta.

Yes, he’s great for the short term, but we’re talking about running an 85-year-old chicken and beef company. The animal protein business – some might call it slaughtering – hasn’t really changed that much in a hundred years (a terrible understatement, I realize). But Tyson is changing. The company already has developed its own plant-based analogues and made investments in cultured meat startups. So maybe he is the right man for the changing job.

It will be interesting to see where this goes.

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