Editor's Plate: Number Crunching Our Top 100

Aug. 10, 2015
Looking for clues to the health of the U.S. and Canadian food and beverage industry.
Despite being a writer, I’m a closet numbers guy. Beyond adding and subtracting them, I like to look at what numbers mean. As a result, our Food Processing Top 100© is a treasure trove of information.

First of all, let me introduce the interactive table on our website. It’s our 40th annual attempt at ranking U.S. and Canadian food and beverage processors. That sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Those words also define our magazine’s audience. But we refine and interpret the numbers differently for almost every company to get at the core of what it means to be a U.S. and Canadian food and beverage processor.

My first observation: If this collective list is a health report on the U.S. & Canadian food and beverage industry, then some of the vital signs are not good. This year, 58 of the companies reported sales increases of at least 1 percent –  but last year that number was 63; 23 had improved profits (last year 34); 29 saw profits decline (last year there were only 19). Maybe the most striking: Seven companies had net losses, which is the biggest number of losers in at least four years (last year, four companies reported red ink).

Despite our Top 100© being a list of U.S. and Canadian processors, it’s notable the role foreign investors are playing in this business. It’s a role I’ve been critical of in the past, maybe because of national pride. In most cases, these foreign firms swooped in and bought troubled food companies. The opportunists! But after a few years under foreign ownership, there are a number of firms that seem to be flourishing.
Smithfield is one. We were so concerned over its acquisition by the Chinese company Shuanghui International Holdings in 2013 that we took a poll at the IFT Food Expo that year. But Smithfield has done well, its sales up nearly a billion dollars in the past year alone and profits are solid.

I’ve also been suspicious of the Brazilian firm JBS. First it bought venerable, old Swift, then the majority of Pilgrim’s Pride. Both American companies had endured rough times before their acquisitions, but both are sailing along now.

Mexico’s Bimbo has done a similarly fine job integrating a bunch of American bakeries that were struggling under the ownerships of Weston Foods, Sara Lee and others.

Number-crunching is fun, at least for some nerds like me. I invite you to do your own crunching of the numbers we provide in our Top 100©.

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