Some things simply transcend barriers, reminding us that regardless of the world's vast cultural differences, we'll always share some common ground. Just about everyone appreciates ice cream, for example, or ketchup -- though not necessarily together. Maybe the appeal is even instinctual, considering that ketchup was one of my 2-year-old son's favorite first foods. Of course, judging by his inevitable red hair, you'd also think he found it to be a fabulous shampoo.
Given some of the setbacks Heinz
This morning, the condiment maker announced third-quarter earnings of $152.4 million, a 25% drop from a year ago, as higher commodity, fuel, and supply-chain costs shaved nearly a full point off gross margins. The bigger problem, though, was a hefty $73.8 million writedown of the company's 6-million-share (17%) stake in Hain Celestial Group
The asset impairment charge, although not exactly something to brag about, isn't particularly troubling to the long-term investor, either. Heinz may still capitalize on its Hain investment, since it provides exposure to the fast-growing organic and natural-foods niche. Hain distributes a broad range of products designed to appeal to the health-conscious crowd.
The temporary margin contraction is also a transitory concern. Soaring commodity costs have been a common complaint in the packaged-food business. Margins have been marching south at Campbell Soup
Recently, Mathew Emmert outlined several of the reasons why Heinz deserves a spot among select companies as a Motley Fool Income Investor selection. Not the least of those reasons was the valuable Heinz brand, which enjoys global recognition and now maintains a decisive 70% stranglehold on the domestic ketchup market. On the other hand, the Heinz name represents only about one-third of the company's overall sales. The heavy hitter has more than carried its weight, but the rest of the company's lineup has lacked the same power.
Today's results, though, indicate that the flagship brand may be getting some help. North American Consumer Products sales advanced by double digits, driven by solid increases in both volume (up 6.7%) and pricing (up 2.8%). The company attributed the growth to better performance from Ore-Ida, Bagel Bites, and TGI Friday's snacks -- the first two reported sales gains of 12% and 23%, respectively. However, other brands -- notably, the Tegel poultry business -- continue to be problematic, and international sales would have been modest, or even down in Europe, without the benefit of favorable currency translation.
One player, even a superstar, has a difficult time carrying an entire team. With better performance from its supporting cast, Heinz could put some impressive totals on the scoreboard.
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Fool contributor Nathan Slaughter would like to warn all new parents about leaving their kids alone with a plate of ketchup. He owns none of the companies mentioned.