For the past year, Campbell Soup Company (NYSE:CPB) has struggled to produce revenue or earnings growth. Consumer appetites continue to shift away from canned and shelf-stable goods, toward fresher alternatives such as organics. Unfortunately, Campbell was very late to the organics party.
This has left Campbell's investors hungry. Shares are up just 2% year-to-date, which is far below the 12% return for the S&P 500 Index in that time. Things got a little better for Campbell shareholders when the company reported fiscal first quarter results that beat profit expectations. Still, it's hard to get excited about Campbell's outlook. Management reduced its forecast for full-year sales and earnings after reporting quarterly results.
Here's what shareholders need to know now.
Growth is hard to come by
Campbell's reported $2.25 billion in sales and $0.74 per share in adjusted earnings. Sales and adjusted EPS grew 4% and 12%, respectively, year over year.
The company's U.S. "simple meals" segment was up 8%, including U.S. soup sales up 6%. Condensed soup and broth sales were up, as were sales of Prego pasta sauces and Campbell's dinner sauces. Some of this was due to timing of the quarter end, relative to the Thanksgiving holiday. The fact that the quarter ended one week later than the first quarter last year led to a higher capture of Thanksgiving-related sales, which will only suppress next quarter's results somewhat. Cost cuts to shave off administrative and marketing expenses also helped boost profitability last quarter.
Campbell's existing core soup and pasta brands provide enough cash flow to support the company's dividend. Campbell's dividend accounts for just 44% of trailing-12 month earnings per share. However, future growth is going to be modest, and investors need to adjust their expectations. Along with its earnings report, Campbell Soup management lowered its guidance for fiscal year 2015. Campbell now expects flat to 2% sales growth, and a 1% decline to a 2% increase in adjusted earnings per share this year. Management might have reduced its forecast due to the strengthening U.S. dollar adversely impacting repatriated international revenue.
More concerning than currency, is the lack of a true growth catalyst. Campbell's core growth initiative over the past few years was to make a big push into new product categories, such as organics. The company acquired three different brands, Bolthouse Farms, Plum Organics, and Kelsen as it expanded into organic food and packaged fresh food. Kelsen also helps the company in faster-growing markets like China.
Management stated in its earnings conference call that these acquisitions helped Campbell's respond to the "seismic shifts in the consumer landscape, including the focus on health and well-being."
However, it's hard to see how these acquisitions have really benefited Campbell's bottom line. Despite double-digit revenue growth in Bolthouse Farms, the three organics brands collectively contributed just one percentage point to Campbell's sales growth last quarter.
Investors can count on the dividend, but not much growth
Even though Campbell's organics brands are successful, they are not nearly a large enough piece of the overall company to fuel growth. Management expects continued success in the organics category, but they still reduced earnings guidance.
Perhaps the best reason for buying Campbell's shares is its solid dividend. Campbell pays a 2.8% dividend, which is far ahead of the average yield for the stock market. The company should have little trouble paying the dividend going forward, since it accounts for less than half of Campbell's earnings.
While this might be enough to satisfy income investors, it seems Campbell's will be leaving growth-seekers hungry.
Editor's note: This story has been edited to clarify language about Campbell's simple meals segment and its acquisitions.
US Simple Meals was up 8% with gains in soup, which includes Swanson broth, as well as Prego pasta sauce and dinner sauces.
Bob Ciura 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.