I'm not sure where the expression "like taking candy from a baby" first originated, but I do know it's not nearly as easy as it sounds. I discovered that yesterday after wrestling my 2-year-old son for a Hershey
This wasn't just any ordinary Reese's cup, though. In a new twist, this inside out version featured peanut butter covering the chocolate -- and I had to try it. The company has been quite successful at coaxing chocolate fans to sample these new products, and it seems to roll out one creative new treat after another. Next up, Hershey's kisses filled with peanut butter. Product innovation continues to help sweeten Hershey's top-line growth rates, and third-quarter sales, announced this morning, climbed 9.1% to a record $1.4 billion.
As was the case last quarter, approximately 3% of that growth was attributable to recent acquisitions, but organic growth of 6.5% remains well ahead of the company's targeted long-term goal of 3% to 4%. "Net price realizations," corporatespeak for selective price increases, were also a contributing factor.
While we're on the subject of generic PR language that says nothing, Hershey also booked a pre-tax charge of $101.4 million, or $0.27 per share, related to a "business realignment program" to support the firm's "value enhancing strategy." I'm not exactly sure what a value enhancing strategy is, but I assume it refers to moves announced last quarter to shut down a manufacturing facility in Puerto Rico and extend voluntary retirement packages to part of the workforce -- a streamlining process that is expected to trim annual costs by up to $50 million.
Excluding this charge, operating income for the quarter rose 13.6% to $185.2 million, or $0.75 per share. On that same basis, year-to-date earnings have jumped nearly 16%, and management has expressed confidence that bottom-line growth, both this fiscal year and next, is likely to keep humming along at a pace somewhat above its previous 9% to 11% targets.
Despite sluggish growth throughout the mature candy business, Hershey continues to deliver solid gains. By comparison, Cadbury Schweppes
While rising raw materials costs are worth keeping an eye on, Hershey seems to be pushing all the right buttons. The company has built on its industry-leading market share in recent quarters, announcing plans to ramp up the introduction of new products, and it has made acquisitions to obtain a larger presence in the premium chocolate marketplace. It has also expanded its retail operations, with candy outlets in Chicago and New York, and sells a broad array of personalized seasonal gifts on its website.
While Hershey's stock remains decadently priced, over the long haul the company should have no trouble keeping both shareholders and customers smiling.
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Fool contributor Nathan Slaughter is looking forward to trying Hershey's new extra dark chocolate. He owns none of the companies mentioned.