Hain Celestial and Whole Foods Meet GMO Challenge

Hain Celestial and Whole Foods Market are meeting the GMO challenge as other food companies begin to grapple with this controversy.

Jan 17, 2014 at 10:30AM

Hain Celestial (NASDAQ:HAIN) and Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ:WFM) are meeting the genetically modified organism (GMO) controversy as other food companies begin to grapple with this growing consumer concern. The reason is pretty simple: As leaders in the organic-foods sector, both outfits were ahead of the curve before this debate gained traction with concerned consumers. In short, the long-standing "green" reputation of each outfit lends itself to meeting the GMO challenge.

Hain Celestial is a natural-food leader
Hain Celestial has long been a leading organic- and natural-foods company. And Hain continued its advance this week with the announcement of the acquisition of Tilda Limited -- the leading Basmati and specialty-rice producer.

The Tilda brand includes a variety of products that can be found across the globe, primarily in the UK, the Mid-East, India as well as North America. Tilda was founded in 1972, and it is the first company to bring Basmati rice to the Western world. Basmati rice can only be grown in the Himalayan foothills. These rice products are gluten free and do not contain GMOs. Tilda generated about $190 million in net sales in 2013.

Hain's acquisition of Tilda continues a long and successful trend of strategic acquisitions of organic-food producers. This has enabled Hain to continue building market share and boost cash flow, revenue, and earnings.

Hain posted outstanding numbers in its first-quarter report for the 2014 fiscal year, as earnings came in at $0.52 per share -- a 26.8% rise year over year. Going forward, the company expects sales to rise by 17% in fiscal 2014. Finally, earnings estimates for the rest of the fiscal year are in the range of $2.95 to $3.05 per share -- a 16% to 20% year-over-year gain.

Whole Foods Market still blazing the organic-food trail
Whole Foods currently sells more than 4,800 non-GMO project verified products from 250 brands, according to the organic king's website. And the company intends to continue its efforts to supply non-GMO foods by teaming up with suppliers that are moving away from using GMO food products.

Moreover, Whole Foods announced in March 2013 the natural-food market store would move aggressively to label all products in its US and Canadian stores to disclose foods containing GMOs. The company also noted, however, the prevalence of GMOs in the U.S. food supply will make this a daunting challenge -- one it intends to meet by 2018.

On the numbers side, Whole Foods had a rising number of organic shoppers in the 2013 fiscal year. For the 52 weeks ended September 2013, the organic grocer posted total sales of $12.9 billion -- an increase of 13% compared to 2012. The most impressive number posted was a 10.4% overall increase in revenue. More importantly, the company continued building its gross margin, supported in part by its private-label products -- currently 11% of total sales.

One fly in Whole Foods' ointment could be its revised guidance for 2014. The company said it anticipates slightly lower sales growth of 11%-13%. Given the fact, however, Whole Foods' sales figures for 2013 were record breaking, a cool off should not be a major concern for long-term investors.

Despite the revised guidance, Whole Foods' directors obviously have reason to believe the company's future prospects are healthy indeed. The board approved another repurchase program in the amount of $500 million through Dec. 31, 2015. The announcement came on the heels of an earlier repurchase plan of $300 million through Dec. 31, 2014. This is more good news for long-term investors since stock-repurchase plans serve to grow earnings per share.

Final Foolish thoughts
Hain Celestial's recent financial reports show a long-term trend of solid earnings. Moreover, Hain's track record of successful strategic initiatives coupled with its leadership in offering GMO-free foods make the company a healthy choice for consumers and investors alike.

Meanwhile, Whole Foods Market will continue to lead the organic-grocer sector at the end of the green day. And the company's steps to meet consumers' concerns about GMOs will support the outfit's long-standing reputation as a socially responsible company.

In sum, both Hain Celestial and Whole Foods Market continue to be good buys for long-term investors who are seeking not only profits but ethical investments as well.

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John Mackey, co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Kyle Colona has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Hain Celestial and Whole Foods Market. The Motley Fool owns shares of Hain Celestial and Whole Foods Market. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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