Hershey's New Treats Are Sweet for Investors

The Hershey Company (NYSE: HSY  ) is the largest chocolate maker in the U.S. as well as a lead confectioner in the global village. The company has revenues of more than $7.1 billion. Hershey's popular candy favorites include over 80 brand names like Hershey's Hershey's Bliss, Hershey's Kisses, Jolly Rancher, Reese's, Twizzlers, and other iconic names too numerous to mention.

While some may think of Hershey as a slow moving stock, the company continues to innovate and grow either by successfully launching new products or acquiring other candy makers. And the latest additions to its array of brands might make the company more attractive for investors with a long-term view.

Hershey's latest innovations and acquisitions
Hershey announced in February a new product, Lancaster Soft Cremes, were available at retailers in the U.S. The new product rollout was comprised of three caramel-based flavors -- caramel, caramel mixed with vanilla, and raspberry.

Hershey launched the Lancaster brand in China earlier this year, which as part of the company's broader strategy to expand internationally. The plan is designed to grow Hershey's presence in other exotic locales like Mexico and Brazil without losing focus on building its competitive advantage in the U.S. and Canada.

The Lancaster brand will be supported by what the company calls a "robust integrated marketing campaign." The pitch will have a sweet slogan, "New Lancaster Soft Cremes. Caramel Reimagined." A television ad campaign which began airing in February will be combined with a year-long sampling of Lancaster Cremes in various markets. 

This sweet stuff comes on the heels of Hershey's acquisition of Brookside Foods in January 2012. The goal of this play was twofold: broaden the company's product line with chocolate-covered fruit juice treats as well expand the brand further around the world.

Brookside held patents on fruit juice products like goji, acai, blueberry, and pomegranate. The company's pitch was that these chocolate-covered delights contained benefits of flavanols and antioxidants. 

In other words, Hershey's play is to get on board the "Eat healthy" trend train by offering sweet treats that are supposedly good for candy consumers as well. Whether candy lovers will buy into this notion remains to be seen. Of course, the proof is in the pudding so to speak, and earnings performance is the bottom line for investors.

Hershey's fourth-quarter and full-year 2013 figures
Hershey reported solid chocolate fourth-quarter earnings and revenues at the end of January. The company also raised its earnings per share guidance for 2014.

Hershey's fourth-quarter 2013 adjusted earnings of $0.86 was a 16.2% year over year gain. Revenues also rose by 11.7% year over year. The company attributed the good numbers to a solid holiday season and stronger-than-expected international growth.

Looking ahead the company sees another year of top-line growth and margin expansion in 2014. Hershey's management believes this growth will be driven by continued momentum in Hershey's array of brands combined with the new product launches and advances in the global candy store. 

Hershey's competitive edge
Hershey is strong in many ways, especially because of brand recognition. But another sweet spot is the company's long history of dividend payouts. Currently, it pays $1.94 per share annually and  the dividend yields 2%. 

These factors along with the candy makers' successful history of new launches and acquisitions like Lancaster Soft Cremes and Brookside, respectively, help Hershey maintain a competitive advantage in the U.S. over other public chocolate producers like Nestle (NASDAQOTH: NSRGY  ) and Tootsie Roll (NYSE: TR  ) .

The word "public" is emphasized here because Hershey also competes with Mars for market share at home and abroad. Mars has net sales of more than $33 billion and its business segments including Petcare, Chocolate, and Wrigley, among others. But Mars is privately held and is not part of this discussion. 

Like Hershey, Nestle also sells a number of popular favorites like Nestle Crunch, Butterfinger, and Hundred Grand. The company also has candy with a global reach with brands such as Nestle Aero, Cailler, and Orion. And Nestle is also introducing new treats that are designed to meet the demands of health-conscious candy lovers with its low-calorie Skinny Cow Candy. 

Nestle's strong international presence will present a challenge to Hershey's international growth strategy. That being said, Nestle's shares are trading close to the 52-week high of 77.85. While the company's share price performed well over the past year, Hershey's appears to be poised for more solid returns given its new product launches and expansion in the international candy marketplace.

While Tootsie Roll is also a popular confectioner, it is far smaller than Hershey. Tootsie Roll has a present market cap of $1.8 billion, 8% of Hershey's market cap of $22 billion. Furthermore, in its last financial report, Tootsie's year-to-date revenue declined 4%. 

Finally, analysts believe that Tootsie's share price might be on the way down in the coming year. In short, Tootsie Roll's smaller size in terms of market cap and product offerings make Hershey a sweeter candy producer in the long run. 

The last chocolate kiss
The Hershey Company has a history of successful product innovation, as well as solid revenue and earnings growth. Hershey's growing volume in its iconic brands and the candy maker's plans of expanding into the global candy village make the candy maker worthy of another look by investors with a long-term view as well as a sweet tooth.

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