Hershey (HSY -0.10%) , the American chocolate powerhouse, has started off 2014 hot, rising over 12% as the S&P 500 has risen less than 1%. A strong earnings report on Jan. 30 was the driving force behind most of this run, but three announcements on Feb. 19 have added fuel to the fire. Let's take a look at these three announcements and what it could mean for investors.
1. Bring it back, bring it back
To kick off the day, Hershey's Board of Directors announced the authorization of a $250 million share repurchase program. With Hershey's current market cap being about $24.1 billion, this is a considerable amount of shares being taken out of the market. The program has no expiration date, so Hershey can go about the repurchases in a slow and controlled fashion, and possibly wait for weakness in the market. In case you are not familiar, share repurchases reduce the amount of shares available in the market, boosting earnings per share, and making the remaining shares more valuable. Besides increasing its dividend, I believe repurchasing shares is the best way Hershey can return cash to shareholders.
2. Going global yet again
In Hershey's presentation at the Consumer Analyst Group of New York conference on Feb. 19, it announced its plan to continue to grow internationally. The Brookside brand, which Hershey acquired in January of 2012, will become the company's sixth global brand, joining Hershey's, Reese's, Hershey's Kisses, Jolly Rancher, and Ice Breakers. Brookside blends exotic fruits, like Açaí and Goji berries, from around the world and coats the mixture in premium dark chocolate.
Brookside was one of the fasted growing brands in the industry in 2013, with sales reaching approximately $200 million, a 74% increase from 2012. This strong performance is what led to the decision for expansion and it is being tested internationally right now. We will likely see further expansion and advertising in the next few quarters and I think this will lead to another year of 50%+ growth. Additionally, Hershey said it will be introducing Brookside Crunchy Clusters in the United States, and if this new crunchy version of the premium treats is successful, it will likely join the global lineup. Hershey has a real winner in Brookside and I think it could quickly grow into a billion-dollar brand.
3. Growing in the top spot
In the same presentation where it announced the plan for Brookside, Hershey also announced that it will continue to expand its presence in the United States' mint category, where it currently holds an incredible 39% market share. The company will do this through its very popular Ice Breakers brand by introducing Ice Breakers Cool Blast Chews. Hershey describes this new product as "a quick dissolving chew with a unique, soft and chewy texture that provides a cool blast of instant freshness" and it will be released into stores later this year.
I believe the product launch will be an immediate success, like that of Ice Breakers Ice Cubes gum in 2006 and Ice Breakers Duo in 2012, and will propel Hershey's share in the U.S. mint market above 40%. However, I do not see this product line being contained within the United States alone; Ice Breakers is one of Hershey's five current global brands, so I think Ice Breakers Cool Blast Chews will quickly expand into Canada and make its way into China by the conclusion of 2015. By putting the product in as many markets as possible, it has the greatest chance of taking off and being yet another cash cow within the Hershey family.
More bad news for Mondelez and Tootsie Roll
The aforementioned announcements are great for Hershey and its shareholders, but not so much for Mondelez International (MDLZ -0.68%) and Tootsie Roll Industries (TR -0.86%). Mondelez is the company behind competing brands such as Cadbury, Milka, Stride, Trident, and Dentyne, and Tootsie Roll is behind brands such as Tootsie Rolls, Andes, Junior Mints, Dubble Bubble, and Charms.
As Hershey has made several moves to introduce new brands and products while expanding current brands internationally, there has been little action by either of these competitors. This is a recipe for disaster for them, but success for Hershey. When it comes to earnings, Hershey takes another solid victory; here's a comparison of each company's full-year earnings for fiscal 2013:
|Earnings Per Share||$3.72||$1.51||$1.02|
|EPS Growth from 2012||14.8%||13.5%||18.6%|
|Revenue||$7.15 billion||$9.49 billion||$539.63 million|
|Revenue Growth from 2012||7.6%||(0.1%)||(1.2%)|
In addition, Hershey, Mondelez, and Tootsie Roll pay dividends, with current yields of 1.8%, 1.6%, and 1.1%, respectively. As investors, we want to go with the company who is innovating and expanding, while growing earnings and revenues; when it comes to the chocolate, candy, and mint industry, Hershey is the one company that fits this description. Mondelez and Tootsie Roll are great companies, but both need to start innovating if they want to keep up and give investors the growth we desire.
The Foolish bottom line
Hershey is continuing its rise as the most dominant producer of chocolate, candy, and mint in the world. It had already announced the addition of the Lancaster brand, a large stake in Shanghai Golden Monkey Food company, and the expansion of Jolly Ranchers into India, so these newest releases are just three more moves in the company's master plan. I strongly believe the new products and brands will provide an immediate, positive impact on earnings and allow the stock to continue its rally higher. Foolish investors should strongly consider adding a position in Hershey right now and holding it for several years as it is on track to reach its goal of $10 billion in net sales by 2017.