The name behind pantry favorites such as Frosted Flakes, Special K, and Cheez-It crackers, Kellogg
The company's seeming lack of snap, crackle, and pop on the top line resulted from foreign-exchange headwinds, which have knocked about global giants such as Philip Morris International
Of course, part of the EPS gain came courtesy of a lower tax rate and the postponement of advertising expenses. Still, underlying operations improved: Gross margin increased in the face of continued cost inflation and expenses related to management's ambitious multi-year $1 billion savings initiative. That's the kind of operating discipline that helps strong companies emerge from tough times even stronger.
Lest you think that everything's milk and honey, Kellogg has had a few helpings of difficulty, including an overall 0.5% volume decline in Q2. Though it may be best known for its cereal brands, Kellogg derives roughly 40% of its revenue from snacks (versus more than half for cereal), and peanut-related recalls earlier in the year continued to hurt snack performance.
In addition, Europe -- a significant square on the global game board, at 18% of Kellogg's year-to-date sales -- was a major volume killer. Some of that decline resulted from a planned shift in product mix, but the rest was exclusively recession-related. Attempting to appease hard-hit consumers, European retailers have favored lower-priced private-label products. Management now sees improving European trends, but profit margins could suffer as the company ramps up promotions.
In happier news, North America needed no excuses; volumes here increased slightly, accompanied by impressive sales gains in the cereal business. Finally, Latin American consumers continue to hunger for American brands such as Kellogg, a phenomenon corroborated by consumer-staples giant Colgate-Palmolive's
Looking ahead, management expects consumers to continue eating at home more often. Should that trend slip in a stronger economy, the company's cost-savings plan -- slated for a year-end 2011 completion -- should help offset future business softness.
Updated earnings guidance isn't quite as aggressive as General Mills'
But for investors who don't mind a relatively finicky focus in their food makers, Kellogg should continue to provide two scoops of stability and moderate growth.