Pinnacle Foods (NYSE:PF), a leading producer, marketer and distributor of high-quality branded food products, has a household penetration rate of 85% in the U.S. Moreover, it claims to be among the top five companies in the frozen food segment, besides occupying the top two positions in 10 of the 12 major categories in which it competes.
Let's take a look at Pinnacle's recently reported quarterly results and see how it compares against its peers.
Growing through acquisitions
Pinnacle has been growing through merger & acquisitions. Its acquisition of Wish Bone from Unilever proved to be a wise decision. Wish Bone contributed $0.02 per share to earnings during the fourth quarter of fiscal 2013. As a result, adjusted net earnings increased 15% versus the prior-year quarter to $0.58 per share. This was despite lower promotional activities, which pressured its market share.
The Wish Bone acquisition proved accretive for Pinnacle's Duncan Hines division, which registered an impressive 12.5% year-over-year growth rate during the fourth quarter. This, coupled with a strong performance in the North American retail business, net sales increased nearly 5%. The performance would have been even better, but a 1% year-over-year decline in the specialty foods segment during the quarter weighed on the results.
Productivity benefits and another acquisition
Going forward, Pinnacle expects to see more productivity benefits as a result of incremental synergies from the Wish Bone acquisition this year. Moreover, the start-up of a new production facility at St. Elmo, Illinois, is also expected to drive the company's performance. Currently, Unilever continues to manufacture Wish Bone-related products for Pinnacle under a co-manufacturing agreement that runs through early 2015.
In addition, in January of this year Pinnacle entered into definitive agreement to acquire the assets of Gilster-Mary Lee Corporation. This deal is expected to close early in the second quarter, and will enable Pinnacle to invest in upgrading the facility. Going forward, this will enhance its innovation capabilities and generate productivity savings over time.
As a result, Pinnacle expects to be on course with respect to its long-term productivity savings goal of 3% to 4% of cost of products sold. These productivity estimates do not include the synergies expected from the Wish Bone acquisition. For fiscal 2014, the company expects diluted EPS in the range of $1.70 to $1.75 versus EPS of $1.52 in fiscal 2013, signifying robust earnings growth.
What's the competition up to?
While both General Mills and Treehouse Foods have lagged the broader market as compared to Pinnacle, both also aren't shy of acquisitions for growth. General Mills, in particular, is a behemoth as compared to the other two. General Mills' strategic acquisitions in the past, including Yoki Alimentos in Brazil, Yoplait Canada, and Parampara Foods in India, have enabled the company to increase its scale in both emerging and developed economies. These are expected to yield good sales growth in fiscal 2014.
However, General Mills is up against a challenging task to arrest declining sales to get back on the front foot again. The fiscal 2014 third-quarter earnings of the company declined 6% year-over-year, as a result of weak performance in the all important U.S. market. Its sales dipped 1% from the year-ago levels , with the U.S. retail segment registering a 2% decline versus the year-ago quarter.
Moreover, rival Treehouse Foods is also focusing on acquisitions as a part of its growth strategy. It recently announced the acquisition of Canada-based Protenergy Natural Foods, which makes items such as private-label broth, soups, and gravies. The acquisition is expected to close late in the company's second quarter of fiscal 2014. This acquisition will expand its packaging capabilities and give Treehouse the chance to offer its customers a full range of wet and dry soup products.
During the fourth quarter of fiscal 2013, Treehouse, for the first time in three years, reported robust growth in earnings per share, operating cash flow, and revenue. Its acquisitions of Cains Foods and Associated Brands led sales to increase 11.4% over the comparable period last year. The company said that net sales in the first quarter of fiscal 2014 were better than expected, up 14.6% from last year. The momentum is expected to continue going forward due to its recent acquisitions.
Pinnacle has done well since going public last year. Its earnings are increasing at a good pace and investors can expect the company to do well going forward since it is focusing on productivity savings and increasing its market share through acquisitions. Moreover, Pinnacle also has a solid dividend yield of 2.80%, making the company an investment worth considering.
Yaggyaseni Mittra has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. 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.