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Annie's Is Finally an Appetizing Buy

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Right after its IPO, Annie's Inc. (NYSE: BNNY  ) landed on the watchlist for the real-money Prosocial Portfolio I manage for The organic and natural foods provider has many of the factors I look for in investments. Still, I had misgivings.

Recent developments have turned my concerns around. I've decided it's time to finally pull the trigger and buy shares of the organic food company for the Prosocial Portfolio. Ignore your first impression of Annie's -- macaroni and cheese. Its business fits the bill with its stakeholder-friendly design and the foundations for plenty of growth.

The business
The Berkeley, Calif.-based company has been around for 20 years. Annie Withey, the co-founder and of course, the Annie, remains involved in the business. The letters on the back of the boxes are actually written by Annie herself. 

Annie's public filings with the SEC, including its IPO prospectus, outline in detail the types of business advantages that fit perfectly into the Prosocial Portfolio theme. An increasing number of companies are gaining attention because they're proving that hardcore "profit over all" businesses aren't necessarily the most successful ones, and those are my favorite kinds.

The company formed "with the goal of giving families healthy and delicious macaroni and cheese and to show by example that a successful business can also be socially responsible" (emphasis mine).

In another snip from its SEC filings:

We are committed to operating in a socially responsible and environmentally sustainable manner, with an open and honest corporate culture. Our mission is to cultivate a healthier, happier world by spreading goodness through nourishing foods, honest words and conduct that is considerate and forever kind to the planet. Our corporate culture embodies these values and, as a result, we enjoy a highly motivated and skilled work force that is committed to our business and our mission. ... We believe our consumers connect with us because they love our products and relate to our values, resulting in loyal and trusting relationships. 

As much as I love that spirit, one of my major concerns about Annie's was the focus on the iconic organic macaroni and cheese. Increasing the array of Annie's products on grocers' shelves and compelling shoppers to buy beyond the mac and cheese was both a huge opportunity and a major challenge.

Why I'm buying
Given the need for more products in more channels, although the socially and environmentally conscious structure of the business excited me, the post-IPO price surge didn't. Although I'm often willing to buy premium-priced stocks like Whole Foods Market, Chipotle, and Starbucks, I will only do so when I believe in excellent businesses run by excellent managements positioned for amazing growth.

I simply wasn't sure about Annie's. The stock was trading at 33 times trailing earnings when I looked at it in April 2012, and I needed more indications it could tackle its challenges.

Right now, Annie's shares are trading at 33 times forward earnings. Over the course of several years, the company's been increasing revenue by about 20% annually. Its gross profit margin has been stable at around 38% to 39% for years, and unlike many newly public companies, it is profitable.

While analysts project 20% earnings growth in the fiscal year ended March 2015, signs of success in additional products lend the sense that it could generate more growth than currently expected.

Management revealed some heartening news to share in the conference call. Although traction in its grocery store channel still needs improvement, it's making progress with ancillary offerings. For example, frozen offerings are gaining, and management said Annie's pizza offering is doing well in the natural channel. 

It's also reported heartening trends when it comes to snacks, with a 20% increase in growth in overall grocery and 15% growth in the fruit snacks business. Annie's snacks include crackers, graham crackers, and granola. Meanwhile, touching on a fast-growing dietary restriction, Annie's released its gluten-free bars at the end of 2013, and management said these products are off to a good start. 

Another positive I like to take into account: Annie's has a strong balance sheet, with no debt.

The risks
Investors found Annie's unsatisfying because of a soft view going forward. The price of organic wheat is rising, and that was one of the drags. Management pointed out that farmers were holding organic wheat in their silos, so the shortage wasn't due to crop yield and supply. This won't abate overnight.

On a bigger level, supply of organic ingredients is a potentially daunting prospect. Organic ingredients still aren't plentiful, and growing demand translates into more competitors vying for the ingredients. Mother Nature can have a hand in crop yields, too, and sometimes not in a good way.

Speaking of competitors, Annie's has plenty, such as organic and natural kin Hain Celestial. (Given some similar product offerings, Hain Celestial is another Prosocial Portfolio stock.)

The organic area fits hand-in-glove with consumer health and sustainability trends, but popularity breeds big competition. Huge companies like Kellogg and PepsiCo are moving in, and let's not forget well-known names like Newman's Own and Amy's Kitchen.

The Foolish bottom line
I like the way Annie's basic mission fits into a positive, growth-oriented marketplace for the long term; this authenticity and sense of purpose appears to have been built into its DNA for decades. Stakeholder-friendly companies build positive foundations that provide economic success and fewer risks. Given trends embracing the kinds of products Annie's has been making all along, it's poised to take off.

Investors' current response to Annie's most recent quarter and outlook is short-term negativity. This kind of situation serves up the great opportunities investors wait for, and that's where Annie's stands right now.

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Read/Post Comments (5) | Recommend This Article (20)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On February 21, 2014, at 5:47 PM, ATahiri2 wrote:

    I've gone back and forth on this one, because I love the organic trends. I'm still torn because I love their crackers but hate their mac n' cheese.

    :)..the stomach is torn.


  • Report this Comment On February 22, 2014, at 10:47 AM, eyeknonothing wrote:

    I looked at your holdings and it seems like Pepsi is on it. Do you think Pepsi is a prosocial corporation, or am I mistaken? Thanks.

  • Report this Comment On February 22, 2014, at 1:32 PM, ATahiri2 wrote:

    Actually eyeknonothing PEP's CEO has really been working to push the company toward a more healthy and socially sustainable path. I urge you to check it out. You may not know that "Pepsi" soda's only make up 20% of PepsiCo the company as well.

    Check it out, it fits the prosocial vibe and then some.

  • Report this Comment On February 23, 2014, at 3:09 PM, TMFLomax wrote:

    Hi Adem! Actually I have their mac n cheese right here in my place and enjoyed some recently! ;) Yeah we all have our stomach torn by these choices at times. :)

    And yeah, that is why it is in the Prosocial Portfolio, eyeknonothing. ATahiri2, thanks for pointing that out. It's a huge company with a big ship to turn, but I do think Indra Nooyi has been trying to evolve for changing consumer tastes, demands, sustainability, etc.


  • Report this Comment On February 25, 2014, at 9:21 PM, FreedomTrader01 wrote:

    BNNY seems to be in a fairly strong distribution mode presently. It would seem prudent to put on a small position when it starts to rebound. At this point, it's not trending up. IMO, it's financial performance does not warrant putting on a position based on faith that it is ready to turn. It just broke down through support at 36.4 and seems to be basing. The smart money waits until it starts to rebound before putting on a serious BNNY play.

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Alyce Lomax

Alyce Lomax is a columnist for specializing in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues and an analyst for Motley Fool One. From October 2010 through June 2015, she managed the real-money Prosocial Portfolio, which integrated socially responsible investing factors into stock analysis.

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10/21/2014 7:59 PM
BNNY $0.00 Down +0.00 +0.00%
Annie's CAPS Rating: ****