This Food Company Deserves a Closer Look

TreeHouse Foods (NYSE: THS  ) shares are up more than 30% year-to-date and the company is doing pretty well with its ready-to-eat products. The demand for packaged food items is increasing on the back of quick service restaurants, modern retail trade, technological improvements, and fast-changing lifestyles. These trends have helped TreeHouse do well so far.

Another important factor for growth in this industry has been the rise in commodity prices. This has led to more cooking at home due to a sluggish economy. Looking forward, as well, it looks like there's substantial opportunity for TreeHouse to exploit as the demand for packaged foods in the U.S. is expected to grow at 2.5% yearly through 2014 to around $8 billion .

The global canned food market is also expected to grow by 15% to $92.7 billion by the end of 2015. These robust projections have led almost all leading market players in the segment to expand their businesses and TreeHouse has followed suit.

Acquisitions driving growth
TreeHouse made a few acquisitions in 2012 that have already started proving accretive to earnings this year. In order to further consolidate its position going forward, the company completed the acquisition of Cains Foods in July this year. This acquisition is expected to enhance earnings by $0.05 per share in 2014.

In addition, TreeHouse has also announced that it will be acquiring Associated Foods. This is expected to add between $0.14 and $0.16 per share to 2014's earnings and $200 million to the top line. This acquisition will also provide TreeHouse with the private label powdered drinks, specialty teas and sweeteners that Associated Foods makes.

Management expects that the tea products from its latest acquisition will immediately go into the pods (K-Cup knock offs) that TreeHouse started making after the patent for the K-Cups expired last September. Having an early lead in K-Cup knock offs allowed it to become the biggest private label maker of the cups.

In addition, according to the company, most of the 1.1% revenue gain last quarter was due to sales of single-serve beverages. It reported revenue of $375.7 million and earnings of $0.50 per share in the previous quarter.

Management also hints that other drinks can eventually be sold in pods, too. Accordingly, further acquisitions by TreeHouse might focus on what can go into the pods as single-serve beverages are a big market. Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (NASDAQ: GMCR  )  admitted in its last earnings call that unlicensed players in this market are already holding around 11% of the market after the patents expired.

Others following suit...
Another company that has been in acquisition mode for growth is Campbell Soup (NYSE: CPB  ) , which recently acquired Kelsen Group, a producer of baked snacks. Kelsen's products are sold in 85 countries around the world, and the company had sales of $180 million in fiscal 2012. This acquisition should aid Campbell Soup's prospects in the Chinese market and increase its global footprint as well.

Campbell, the leading soup brand in the U.S., recently announced that it is going to offer K-cup soup packs that can be instantly prepared through Green Mountain's single-serve coffee machine, Keurig. To this effect, the company has already entered into an agreement with Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. The two companies have planned to introduce three types of K-cup soup packs next year, including Homestyle Chicken Broth & Noodle.

There are currently around 12.5 million households with one of Green Mountain's Keurig brewing machines, and in its most recent analyst call, the company said that it expects that to hit 16 million-17 million by the end of 2013 . Stated in brief, the potential for the yet-to-be-launched K-cup soups is pretty huge, but Campbell can expect TreeHouse to make a move in this segment given its acquisition policy.

...but TreeHouse looks compelling
While there might be confusion as to which K-cup soup maker to buy once TreeHouse enters the fray against Campbell, one thing seems very clear. With earnings expected to grow at a CAGR of almost 12% over the next five years, TreeHouse looks like a better prospect than Campbell, as Campbell's earnings are expected to grow at half this rate over the same time period .

TreeHouse has been making strategic acquisitions and it is also looking to expand its single-serve offerings in the future. Despite its solid run up so far this year, more upside could be in store for TreeHouse.

No Pitch


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