What happened

Packaged food giant Pinnacle Foods (NYSE: PF) trailed the market last month, dropping 13% compared to a 4% decrease in the S&P 500, according to data provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence.

The decline left shares in slightly negative territory over the past 12 months, compared to a 14% gain for the broader market.

So what

February's decline came as investors braced themselves for potentially disappointing fiscal fourth-quarter earnings results due on March 1. Pinnacle Foods had last announced weak sales growth in the prior quarter, even as profitability improved thanks mainly to cost cuts.

A person's hand pushing a grocery cart through the aisle.

Image source: Getty Images.

Now what

The company's fourth-quarter report continued that basic trend, with organic sales falling 2.4% as volume worsened and prices ticked higher. Pinnacle's gross profit margin held steady at about 31% of sales, but its revenue was pressured by a few major food retailers choosing to reduce their inventories during the period.

Pinnacle's 2018 forecast calls for a solid year of earnings growth thanks to the combination of cost cuts and benefits from lower taxes. The company sees inflation hurting profitability, though, even as the industry struggles with sluggish overall demand. Altogether, this forecast implies modest improvements despite a difficult sales environment for packaged foods.