What a difference a week makes.
When we looked in on ConAgra
Third-quarter results make it pretty clear that the company had to do something. Revenue growth of more than 4% isn't terrible for a huge food company, but it's not great, either. What's more, profitability is not so good. The company's gross margin slipped a full point, and by my calculation, segment operating profits were down about 3% from last year when you account for various impairments and unusual expenses. While deciphering the earnings picture is no great treat, the bottom-line result was flat earnings per share from continuing operations.
The good news here is that all three business units experienced revenue growth and positive volume growth. Assuming that the company continues to eliminate underperforming SKUs, and translates increased marketing expenditures into better sales (something I'm a little skeptical about), there's a decent base here from which to build.
On the other hand, the more I think about this restructuring, the more I begin to wonder how hard it will be to meet all of the goals. After all, restructurings are popular nowadays -- other food-oriented companies such as Sara Lee
While some of these are internal cost-costing initiatives (as in Hershey's case), others do involve increased R&D, marketing, and promotion activities. If Sara Lee, Unilever, and ConAgra all want to do better by marketing more and trying to take share, is there room for all of them to reach their self-improvement targets?
I'm happy to say that my column last week generated a fair bit of reader response, and it was almost universally skeptical and/or negative about ConAgra management's ability to turn this business around. I like skepticism going into turnarounds, because it often leaves the shares nice and cheap. Still, I'm not comfortable putting my own money here just yet, so I can't really recommend that anybody else do so, either.
Nibble on some more Foolish thoughts:
Sara Lee, Kraft, and Unilever are all Motley Fool Income Investor recommendations. Looking for stocks that pay you back? Try out Income Investor free for 30 days to read more about the market's best dividend-payers.
Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).