Snyder's-Lance May Be a Business to Snack On

Source: Snyder's-Lance.

We don't sit down for meals anymore so much as graze throughout the day, and that change in eating habits presents an opportunity for snack foods player Snyder's-Lance (NASDAQ: LNCE  ) to capitalize on the other food trend -- healthier foods.

According to the market researchers at IRI Worldwide, we're becoming a nation of "opportunist eaters," with 21% of us grabbing food on the go, eating when we can, and more often than not doing so by ourselves rather than as a family. The Hartman Group says more than half of all dining occasions are snacks or mini meals.

Snyder's-Lance, the maker of snacks foods such as its Snyder's of Hanover pretzels, Cape Cod potato chips, Stella D'oro baked goods, and Archway cookies, is positioning those brands to take advantage of the developing trend of fast snacking on healthier fare. Indeed, as NPD Group has found, the more we snack, the healthier our diets are. Its "Snacking in America" survey found that those who consumed 36% more snack meals a year had the healthiest diets while those who had the fewest snack meals had the least healthy diets.

Snacking is becoming big business. The number of new snack products launched globally has grown at a compounded rate of 22% annually between 2009 and 2013, with Innova Food Insights saying nearly 60% of all snack foods are now positioned as being better for you.

Because of this, Snyder's-Lance recently jettisoned its private-label snack foods business, selling it to Shearer's Foods last month for $430 million, to focus increasingly on the branded opportunities that the better-for-you and premium snacks market offers. Private-label products accounted for $288 million of the snack maker's revenues last year, 16% of the total $1.76 billion it generated. At the same time, it closed on the purchase of Baptista's Bakery, which supplies its Snack Factory Pretzel Crisp.

The growth of snacks was a primary reason billionaire investor Nelson Peltz wanted PepsiCo to spin off its beverage business and focus solely on its Frito-Lay division, the biggest player in the space, going even so far as to suggest it should buy Mondelez International, the global snack foods giant.

Source: Frito-Lay. 

While he's since given up on such grandiose plans, Peltz did make the case that where soda sales were stagnant, the snack foods business was booming. Earlier this year, Pepsi said its snack volumes grew 3% in 2013 and that it expected the division would account for two-thirds of its revenue growth in the future. 

Kellogg catapulted itself into the second-place spot when it purchased the Pringles potato chips brand for $2.7 billion in 2012. Although it reported that internal sales dropped 2.4% overall in the first quarter, Pringles itself saw strong growth in each region across the globe, helping to boost its U.S. snacks business, which climbed to $903 million in quarterly revenues.

Yet while the trends are more than moving in Snyder's-Lance's favor, its stock isn't exactly cheap, even though it sits some 15% below its 52-week high achieved last fall. It trades at 25 times earnings and nearly 20 times estimates, and with less than $6 million in cash but $470 million in long-term debt, its balance sheet is a little skewed. Still, it's free cash flow positive, generating over $8 million in excess cash, and it pays a dividend yielding 2.4%.

You might not want to grab a whole handful of Snyder's-Lance stock just yet, but like the trend of opportunistic eating, investors noshing around the edges and waiting for a pullback in price could tide you over till you're ready to feast.

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