Some of the factors we noted when covering Fortune Brands'
Improved volume and pricing, as well as a weaker U.S. dollar (which helps sell exports in overseas markets), helped drive up sales and gross profit growth for the company's beverages businesses 12% and 16%, respectively. The discontinuation of some wine brands mitigated sales somewhat. Check out Seth Jayson's January Take on Robert Mondavi
While Brown-Forman sells things like china, crystal, and luggage as well as whiskey, tequila, wine, and other spirits, the beverages business accounted for nearly 90% of its total sales and some 74% of its total gross profits during the quarter. Beverage-related operating income jumped 25%, helping offset a 30% decline in consumer durables even as revenues rose and the company cut direct marketing because of lower customer response.
Management wants to use this dynamic to its advantage in the fourth quarter, using more ad dollars to push spirits in an attempt to lower inventory levels worldwide. It's a smart short-term move: The holiday selling season has come to an end, but liquor remains an attractive, relatively low-cost luxury item for price-conscious shoppers who still want to make some "lifestyle-enhancing" purchases.
Fool contributor Dave Marino-Nachison doesn't own any of the companies in this story. He can be reached via email.