PepsiCo's Earnings: 3 Key Things to Watch

PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP  ) is a global food and beverage manufacturer, most commonly known for its namesake beverage, that competes with Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO  ) and Dr Pepper Snapple Group. The company is hoping that healthier products and its diversified business offerings will help it buck the slump in North American soda sales. 

PepsiCo's first-quarter 2014 earnings are on tap this Thursday. Here are three key things to watch.

Source: PepsiCo.

Plans for real-sugar Pepsi
My favorite part of actually listening in to an earnings call is that you can hear about business strategy beyond bottom-line numbers. PepsiCo recently announced it would be offering Pepsi made with real sugar, instead of high-fructose corn syrup, starting this summer, and I think the move has a chance to be a major win for the company. 

Coca-Cola has a dominant and expanding market share over Pepsi in carbonated beverages, and Dr Pepper Snapple relies on carbonated beverage sales for over 73% of its revenue. Meanwhile, PepsiCo suffered a 2% organic sales decline in its most recent quarter. 

Carbonated beverage sales in North America are in systematic decline, so this isn't a Hail Mary, and PesiCo doesn't need sodas to grow. My hope is that this is not a gimmick, that real sugar will stick, and that this helps soda sales stay flat so PepsiCo's other business units can shine. 

For this quarter, let's look to hear more about this rollout and what management's sales expectations for real-sugar Pepsi are. 

Source: PepsiCo.

Continued growth in food businesses 
Some investors are unaware that PepsiCo doesn't really rely on Pepsi that much these days. The various foods businesses (snacks and Quaker products) account for 61.1% of revenues at PepsiCo. Compare that to Coca-Cola, which has an entire business operation based on beverages (although it does have many healthier beverage offerings than its namesake soda now). 

So with another quarter approaching, it's possibly more important for the foods business to perform well than beverages. Last quarter PepsiCo's Frito-Lay unit showed organic revenue growth of 4%, Latin American Foods grew 13%, but Quaker declined 1.5% on a poor product mix. 

This quarter, we need to see a Quaker turnaround and continued growth for Frito-Lay. Quaker needs to do a better job of marketing its products to consumers, and it needs to manufacture better products that customers actually want. Look for management to advise on plans to energize that brand. 

Should PepsiCo split up?
Recently, investor Nelson Peltz of Trian Fund Management made a push for PepsiCo to spin off its food business from the beverage unit. Some investors feel a separated company would unlock value at both units, and allow Pepsi's beverage unit to operate more nimbly, possibly pulling off strategic partnerships to reinvigorate the brand (a la Coca-Cola and Keurig). 

PepsiCo has pushed back by stating that the soda business is profitable, as is the company overall, and that calls to split the company are overblown. Even Warren Buffett has added his two cents to the matter, saying that such splits are usually focused on short-term goals. 

Still, with health trends flying in opposition of the soda business, the calls for a PepsiCo split have never been louder. I'm looking forward to hearing what management has to say on the matter. 

Foolish conclusion: A call worth listening to
PepsiCo has a unique opportunity, because management has done everything it can to reposition the company toward a more health-conscious consumer. That said, the company's soda business is facing health headwinds regardless.

This quarterly call will be worth listening to, as we'll get to see how that transition is coming. Listen in for these three points; they will be the keys to PepsiCo's success. 

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