By Melodie Warner
TAKING THE PULSE: Consumer-product companies have struggled to defend their market share as U.S. shoppers trade down from more expensive, name-brand labels to save money, just as grocery chains become more competitive by polishing up their private labels as brands in themselves. To combat stagnant grocery sales, some packaged-food companies are increasingly turning their focus to snacks, which generally start at lower prices and offer the added value of convenience, for which shoppers are willing to pay more. Furthermore, prices for snacks can be raised more easily than those of some grocery staples.
Cereal maker Kellogg Co. (>> Kellogg Company) reached a $2.7 billion deal with Procter & Gamble Co. (PG) to buy its Pringles potato crisps, while rival General Mills Inc. (>> General Mills, Inc.) recently bought Food Should Taste Good Inc., a maker of tortilla chips in such flavors as sweet potato and chocolate. Meanwhile, Kraft Foods Inc. (>> Kraft Foods Inc) is nearing the separation of its North American grocery business from its snacks division.
To be sure, some consumer-product companies are also fighting back by rolling out more discounts and coupons while increasing their advertising budgets.
COMPANIES TO WATCH:
Coca-Cola Co. (>> The Coca-Cola Company) - reports April 17
Wall Street Expectations: Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters recently expected a profit of 88 cents a share on $10.82 billion in revenue, compared with 86 cents a share and $10.52 billion, respectively, a year earlier.
Key Issues: The beverage giant plans to plow up to $650 million in new, annual cost savings back into the marketing of its brands, which continued to grow sales and volume during the fourth quarter. Coke has said it doesn't plan to be dragged into a pricing war that could erase some of the progress it has made by raising prices, especially in markets close to home. The savings should also help mitigate increasing commodity costs that are forecast to rise up to $450 million this year after an $800 million spike in 2011.
PepsiCo Inc. (>> PepsiCo, Inc.) - reports April 26
Wall Street Expectations: Analysts forecast a profit of 67 cents a share on $12.36 billion in revenue, compared with 74 cents a share and $11.94 billion, respectively, a year earlier.
Key Issues: PepsiCo considered splitting its snack and beverage businesses, but instead decided to boost marketing and advertising by $500 million to $600 million this year, mostly in the U.S. where its flagship Pepsi-Cola drink has dropped to the No. 3 spot behind Coca-Cola and Diet Coke. Pepsi is also implementing a three-year productivity program projected to save more than $500 million this year and to reduce capital expenditures by 10% from 2011 levels. The restructuring will cause core earnings growth to fall 5% this year, but PepsiCo expects a return to long-term earnings growth in the high-single digits in 2013.
Procter & Gamble Co. (PG) - reports April 27
Wall Street Expectations: Analysts forecast a profit of 93 cents a share on $20.3 billion in revenue, compared with 96 cents a share and $20.23 billion, respectively, a year earlier.
Key Issues: P&G issued a downbeat view for its current quarter while slashing its full-year earnings projection in January due primarily to unfavorable currency rates. But P&G lost market share across a greater portion of its business lines in the past quarter than previous ones, partly because competitors had held back on raising prices. P&G has said it will rescind some of those price increases.
The company also unveiled plans to eliminate about 4,000 more jobs and cut its massive marketing budget by $1 billion as the consumer-products giant targets savings of $10 billion by 2016. The company has said cuts will come by thinning the ranks of marketing executives and spending more efficiently, such as leaning more heavily on lower-cost digital marketing.
Kraft Foods Inc. (>> Kraft Foods Inc) - date to be announced
Wall Street Expectations: Analysts forecast a profit of 56 cents a share on $13.04 billion in revenue, compared with 52 cents a share and $12.57 billion, respectively, a year earlier.
Key Issues: The packaged-food giant has forecast 2012 organic revenue growth of about 5%, including the negative impact from product pruning in North America. The company has continued to redirect cost savings into increased brand marketing and rolled out new products in recent months, helping to offset some weakness in the overall packaged-food market.
Kraft also decided its North American grocery business will keep the Kraft Foods name after the planned split off, while the global snacks business gets the new moniker Mondelez International (pronounced mohn-dah-LEEZ). Kraft explained that combining "monde" from the Latin word for world, and "delez," a so-called fanciful expression of delicious, is meant to evoke the idea of a "delicious world."
(The Thomson Reuters financial estimates and year-earlier figures may not be comparable due to one-time items and other adjustments.)
-By Melodie Warner, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2283; email@example.com