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Profiting From Peanut Butter

By Jim Baumer – Mar 25, 2014 at 4:31AM

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The story of Hormel Foods is much more than merely SPAM; the nearly 125-year-old Minnesota-based maker of meat and other food products is showing it knows how to bring home the bacon for investors through diversification and forward-thinking leadership.

When I think of Hormel Foods (HRL 1.63%), I can't help but think of iconic SPAM. I'm of the age that grew up eating sandwiches and all manner of other recipes made with the pressed-meat product.

If the story of Hormel Foods ended there, then they'd be yet another company with an intriguing product relegated to the dustbin of history. Instead, the nearly 125-year-old Minnesota-based maker of meat and other food products is showing it knows how to bring home the bacon (and peanut butter) for investors.

Getting a boost from SKIPPY
Hormel Foods boasts a diversified portfolio of more than 30 unique brands; most of these are either number one or two in their respective categories.

Rather than rest on their laurels and prior successes, the company continues seeking innovation and new opportunities in the marketplace. Their consistently top brand rankings across product categories demonstrates their understanding of consumer needs and more important, the consistent execution of forward-thinking ideas.

By leveraging some of the company's most popular blue-chip brands in innovative ways, Hormel Foods took advantage of a key opportunity in the marketplace and ensured its products are even more relevant and attractive for today's consumers.

While the company launched several successful new products in 2013 like their REV, a ready-to-eat wrap, and foodservice items, like Hormel Fire Braised meats, these pale in comparison to the acquisition of SKIPPY Peanut Butter from Unilever in early 2013.

In acquiring the SKIPPY brand, which also included the Little Rock, Arkansas manufacturing facility and all sales worldwide, except in China, Hormel Foods gained a foothold in an important new brand category. With SKIPPY sales expected to be approximately $370 million, with nearly $100 million of those sales outside the United States, this is a key factor. Equally important—SKIPPY, which was first introduced to consumers in 1932—holds the number two share in what's considered a growing "center-of-the-store" category and is the leading brand in the faster growing subcategory of natural peanut butter. Peanut butter is a $2 billion category with a 74% household penetration and is the second most popular sandwich behind ham in the United States.

More in common with Cheerios than you'd think
Because of Hormel Foods' longtime association with their SPAM brand, it's common practice to lump them in with commodity meat companies like Tyson Foods, or perhaps Smithfield; in reality, Hormel's returns on capital are much closer to branded packaged goods companies like General Mills (GIS 0.59%).

Both companies also were included on the 2014 Best Companies for Leaders list by Chief Executive magazine. This is the first time Hormel has received this recognition.

Chief Executive compiles its list each year identifying companies that excel in leadership development. Criteria included having a formal leadership process in place, the depth of the leadership funnel (as measured by the percentage of senior management and middle management positions filled by internal candidates), and the company's performance. Both companies continue to stay competitive through cultivating cultures of innovation and forward-thinking.  The list also utilizes a shareholder value-performance metric based on 10-year growth and market capitalization.

Not sexy, but solid
General Mills' quarterly profit surged to $410.6 million, or $0.64 per share, versus a year-ago profit of $398.4 million, or $0.60 per share. Its adjusted profit came in at $0.62 per share.

Hormel's quarter was also a solid one, with earnings per share of $0.57, up 19% from $0.48 per share a year ago. The company reported record dollar sales of $2.2 billion, and increased of 6%. Their grocery products division saw operating profits jump 13%, with volume up 24%, mainly thanks to SKIPPY products.

With a diverse portfolio of products (including a new, teriyaki-flavored version of SPAM) and strong financials heading during the first quarter, both Hormel and Generals Mills, while not sexy investments, are certainly solid ones.

Jim Baumer has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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