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Time to Stock Up on General Mills Stock?

By Dan Newman - Apr 25, 2013 at 6:51AM

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Keen management and healthy growth prospects might make General Mills a buy.

When you think General Mills (GIS -0.61%), you probably think of Cheerios. Maybe even Honey Nut Cheerios. But the brands it owns -- and the land it operates in -- are vast. If you had no clue the company earns as much in the Asia and Pacific region as it does in Canada, and that international revenue has grown 23% over the past nine months, you should probably take a second glance at this seemingly boring stock.

Solid and growing
Of course, General Mills makes plenty of cereals, like Lucky Charms. And a quick aside, adults make up almost half of Lucky Charms eaters, and a new ad campaign targeting the older crowd helped the sales of the cereal increase 16% since January. Beyond cereal, General Mills dishes out Progresso soup, Pillsbury rolls, Yoplait yogurt, and Nature Valley bars, among plenty of other goods.

Since purchasing Yoplait in 2011, the company has had a foothold in the growing Greek yogurt segment. But the company has significantly beaten the industry's growth: While Greek yogurt sales have jumped 49% over the past nine months, Yoplait Greek increased sales 137%. In 2012, Yoplait made up 13.5% of U.S. revenue for the company.

In a small acquisition spree last year, General Mills acquired Food Should Taste Good, maker of natural snacks, and Yoki Alimentos, a Brazilian food maker. CEO Ken Powell said in the latest conference call that Yoki sees double-digit sales growth in its largest businesses including popcorn, seasonings, and side dishes. Food Should Taste Good adds to General Mills aim toward healthy products. As Powell describes it:

...we're now one of the leading sources of whole grain in the country and done things like reduce sugar... Our snack bar franchise, I think, is strongly health-oriented, that's really one of the key appeals of that product line. Then as you go down the list, our Progresso Soup business, our Green Giant business, the entire yogurt category... just as an example recently we took the high fructose corn syrup out of Yoplait Original.

For the U.S. consumer who is focused more on health, or the emerging market consumer who wants the convenience of microwave popcorn or luxury of Haagen-Dazs, General Mills is positioned to deliver.

Healthy management
But even a seemingly strong business can be ruined by the wrong leaders. Thankfully, General Mill's leaders have proven themselves worthy of an investment. Powell has worked for the company since 1979 and CMO Mark Addicks since 1988 and the story is the same for many of General Mills top executives. Since Powell became CEO in 2007, General Mills stock has returned more than 100%, while the market returned 17%.

Additionally, management knows its been trigger-happy on acquisitions recently and admits it. As Powell said: "While we would like to expand our footprints internationally and we talked about that repeatedly, these opportunities came before us at a pace that we didn't really expect and with very high quality as well. So we took advantage of those opportunities and we were very, very active." He goes on to guide that in the next year General Mills will have much less merger and acquisition activity. That candor, as well as avoidance of padding its revenues with serial acquisitions, demonstrates a solid company.

Peeling back the label
General Mills must contend with commodity costs, keep up its operational efficiency, and stay on top of competitors in advertising to maintain its business, but it seems that its more than competent to do so. Take a closer look at this stock that many might consider boring, because it might just keep returning tremendous value for shareholders.

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General Mills, Inc. Stock Quote
General Mills, Inc.
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