The value of brand names is that they immediately convey to consumers information about quality, durability, and consistency. No matter which McDonald's you walk into, you basically know you're going to get the exact same thing regardless of where you are. But sometimes events work against brand names and their stocks become discounted. Investors need to know whether it's a problem with the brand that could make it a market pariah, or if it's something more temporary that makes it a bargain.
Let's look at Campbell Soup (NYSE:CPB), Kellogg (NYSE:K), and J.M. Smucker (NYSE:SJM) to see if these three beaten-up brand names whose stocks have fallen 20% or more from their 52-week highs are bargains.
As consumers sought out healthier food items, prepared-foods maker Campbell Soup made a big bet on going fresh, acquiring juice maker Bolthouse Farms and Garden Fresh Farms, the top U.S. brand of refrigerated salsa as well as a maker of hummus, dips, and tortilla chips. But the bet has seemingly gone sideways, as Campbell can't seem to gain any traction in the space.
Net sales are down 1% companywide across the first three fiscal quarters, as it's facing a heavily promotional environment and grocery store food price deflation affects profitability.
Campbell Fresh sales were down 6% in the third quarter on lower Bolthouse sales, with segment operating earnings tumbling from $13 million to $1 million. Overall operating earnings are down 4% year to date, and management was forced to lower guidance for the year, now expecting sales to be flat to down 1% for the year compared with its previous forecast of flat to up 1%. While it has a cost-cutting operation in effect, turning that into growth is no easy task. And with its stock down 22% from recent highs, management is committed to staying the course on its better-for-you options.
Cereal has been no easier sell than soup these days, and cereal and snack manufacturer Kellogg recently announced it was closing two distribution centers and firing 500 employees, as it will no longer ship directly to retailers. It ultimately plans to close 39 distribution centers and eliminate 1,200 jobs as it starts shipping shipping product directly to its customers' warehouses instead of to their stores.
Kellogg is also investing in the health-food trend, by investing $2 million in plant-based smoothie maker start-up Bright Greens. As consumers avoid products with artificial sweeteners and additives, sodiums, and saturated fats, sales have fallen for the cereal company. It too went on a significant cost-cutting program, called Project K, that carved out some $300 million through 2016, with as much as $500 million to be realized through 2018 as it adds more such strategies.
The combination of consumers who are shunning packaged foods and fresh foods that are selling for low prices is making it difficult for companies like Kellogg to gain any sales traction, and its stock is down 20% from its 52-week high.
Adding to the list of companies continuing to take an ax to the cost side of their ledger, J.M. Smucker was able to beat analysts' earnings expectations in the second quarter and vowed to slash costs further.
Its biggest problems seem to be its Folgers coffee business and its pet-food division. The former suffered its fourth consecutive quarter of falling demand, while the latter saw its cat food brands such as Meow Mix and 9 Lives fall 5% from the year-ago period.
In the case of Folgers, it seems the convenience the brand offers is outweighed by consumers' willingness to pay up for a better cup of joe. As evidence, Smucker's own Cafe Bustelo brand continues to grow. Meanwhile, the pet food category is under competitive pressure, and the continued humanization of pets pushes pet owners to opt for premium and super-premium foods.
Big brand thunderdome
While Campbell Soup, Kellogg, and J.M. Smucker struggle to get a handle on changing consumer preferences, their stocks offer investors tasty dividends that will pay them while they wait for the turnarounds to gain traction. With yields ranging from 2.5% to 3% and stocks trading at mid-teen percentages of next year's earnings estimates, these three beaten-down brand names could be bargains for investors with the patience to wait for the recoveries to come.