A Caffeine Boost for Smucker?

J.M. Smucker (NYSE: SJM  ) has a long-standing history as an independent food producer and recently decided it's much better to eat than be eaten in the industry. Its fourth-quarter results reflected the purchase of a milk business that made up the bulk of sales growth. And given a recently announced acquisition, it looks like Smucker is only getting warmed up on that front.

Sales for the quarter rose 20%, while earnings came in a bit light of analyst expectations, thanks to the residual effect of a peanut butter scare at rival ConAgra (NYSE: CAG  ) in last year's quarter. The full-year results for Smucker were similar, as acquisitions boosted sales 18% while earnings increased just 9%. The bottom line was hit by costs for integrating the purchase of Eagle, and margin pressure thanks to food inflation, which served to increase raw material costs and is affecting rivals as well, including Kraft (NYSE: KFT  ) , Sara Lee (NYSE: SLE  ) , and General Mills (NYSE: GIS  ) .

Of course, an analysis of the fiscal year turned out to be of limited value because Smucker announced the largest acquisition in its history earlier this month. It will acquire the Folgers coffee business from Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG  ) ; that's supposed to help Smucker nearly double sales to $3.8 billion to $4 billion this fiscal year. Management is also calling for earnings of $3.45 to $3.50, which would be a nice boost from 2007 results -- if the deal closes on schedule.

Coffee will move from zilch to account for 42% of Smucker's sales, thus eclipsing the legacy jam, baking, peanut butter, and milk businesses. Needless to say, there is quite a lot of integration risk, but there is also potential in adding a leading brand that likely wasn't receiving full attention in P&G's extensive empire. Given that Smucker's stock fell 9% on the weaker-than-expected fourth-quarter results, its appeal as an investment has definitely increased. Here's to hoping the company's appetite doesn't prove destructive to shareholder value.

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