Kraft's Earnings Release: What You Need to Know

Kraft Foods Group (NASDAQ: KRFT  ) provided investors with third-quarter results after Wednesday's closing bell. Here's what you need to know about the company's recent earnings announcement.

Mixed bag
Kraft's revenue slipped 4.2% for the quarter. Revenue declines were partly attributed to soft Jell-O sales, volume weakness in salad dressings and mayonnaise, and lower prices from higher levels of merchandising activity for Capri Sun and Kool-Aid. But a major reason for the decline stemmed from maneuverings related to its October 2012 spinoff from Mondelez International (NASDAQ: MDLZ  ) . Last year, Kraft prematurely shipped product to retailers as a precaution before its split from Mondelez. As a result, Kraft booked more revenue in the third quarter of last year than it otherwise would have.

The maker of Oscar Mayer, Velveeta, and Miracle Whip reported a profit of $0.83 per share, up $0.04, or 5.1%, compared to the prior year. Third-quarter EPS included a $0.18 gain tied to market-based impacts to benefit plans, driven by higher discount rates and investment returns. But excluding this gain, EPS was actually lower than the prior year. Kraft raised its full-year earnings outlook to $3.58 a share, up from $3.40 a share, due to impacts related to benefit plans. The company expects its 2013 revenue growth to come in at the same rate or slightly lower than the overall North American food and beverage market.

Cash remains king
Since the spinoff, Kraft's management has prioritized profit above revenue growth. As a result, Kraft has operated as a leaner, more cost-efficient organization, primarily by concentrating on metrics like free cash flow and return on invested capital. Kraft's free cash flow stands at $745 million year to date, and the company expects its full-year 2013 figure to come in at $1.2 billion.  

Big challenges aren't budging
One of Kraft's largest threats can be seen each time you enter your nearest grocery store. Private-label and other big-branded competitors constantly pressure Kraft's highly commoditized categories. Private-label goods typically cost consumers up to 40% less than branded ones, so budget-conscious customers are increasingly stocking their shopping carts with more of them. In order to compete with these rivals, Kraft must relentlessly invest in core brands, reinvent new products, distinguish their value proposition, and tweak pricing strategies.

Foolish takeaway
Kraft faces a tough battle as it defends its brands and fights for market share in an increasingly commoditized packaged food and beverage industry. So far, management appears focused on the right metrics. Keep watching to see if its efforts translate into long-term results.

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