This isn't shaping up to be the year of heady growth SodaStream (NASDAQ:SODA) expected when it tapped Scarlett Johansson to be its global brand ambassador. Shares of the company behind the world's most popular maker of carbonated beverages opened sharply lower on Tuesday after SodaStream posted bleak preliminary results for the third quarter.
SodaStream now sees revenue for the three months ending in September to clock in at roughly $125 million, with a mere $8.5 million in operating income. SodaStream rang up $144.6 million in sales during last year's third quarter, and analysts were targeting $154.1 million on the top line this time around. Wall Street was looking for a profit of $0.68 a share, but clearly that isn't going to happen.
The former market darling was held back by continuing weakness in its U.S. business. It's not selling as many soda makers as it used to, so the company is failing to attract new buyers to the platform. Flavored syrup sales are also languishing, suggesting that existing owners in this country are either turning to other sweeteners or that the SodaStream machines are starting to collect cobwebs alongside Foreman grills and Margaritaville drink makers.
It's not a good place to be on a day when the market was lulled into thinking SodaStream shares would be heading higher -- not lower.
When buyout buzz goes bad
When SodaStream shares were halted ahead of Tuesday's market open it seemed as if the buyout chatter that had been percolating for months was finally going to pan out.
The buzz in SodaStream's home turf of Israel surfaced last year with reports that PepsiCo (NASDAQ:PEP) was willing to pay as much as $95 a share for the company. PepsiCo denied this talk. Why would the world's second-largest soft drink company cannibalize its flagship business by encouraging home-brewed pop? And why would Pepsi turn its back on its regional bottlers?
Things got ugly for SodaStream after that, starting with a problematic holiday quarter in 2013 in which stateside sales and margins took a hit after the company stuffed retail channels with soda makers that went unsold during the telltale season. The situation has only deteriorated through 2014. Tuesday's unsettling news wasn't the first time this year that SodaStream talked down its performance.
However, several financial media reports -- out of Israel and the U.K. -- indicated in recent weeks there was buyout interest for SodaStream at $40 a share or slightly higher. If there was genuine interest before, particularly in Europe where SodaStream still appears to be going strong, you can be sure that any offers will be happening at lower price points now.
Scarlett's gone with the wind
This was supposed to be a great year for SodaStream's stateside business. Johansson signed up for an endorsement deal that culminated in a slick Super Bowl ad just as the Seahawks were pounding the Broncos.
Johansson even defended SodaStream's operations in the disputed West Bank, dumping her support for Oxfam when that group spoke critically about her association with the Israeli beverage company. However, one can have only so much star power. Between slowing soda consumption trends in general and SodaStream's own domestic miscues, having one of Hollywood's hottest starlets on your side sometimes isn't enough.
SodaStream accepts that it has made some mistakes over the past year. It will also shift its marketing strategy, realizing that the environmental and freshness messages aren't resonating with U.S. soda sippers. It now plans to rally around the health and wellness benefits of its beverages when pitted against Coke and Pepsi. One can argue that it might be too late. The SodaStream machine is rubbing elbows with the ice cream maker up in the attic. However, it's probably not a fluke that SodaStream is still growing in its more established European market. Backed with a strong balance sheet and a few more marketing arrows in its quiver, SodaStream is going to take a few more shots to hit its target.