Normally, commodities are pretty unpleasant things from a culinary perspective. You can't drink 42,000 gallons of gasoline (and you shouldn't try!), 10 tons of cocoa isn't very appealing, and 100,000 pounds of live beef isn't too tasty -- or very easy on the nose.
But bananas, melons, and pineapples? Ahhh, now those are commodities that you can -- and, according to every dietitian on the planet, should -- sink your teeth into.
Motley Fool Hidden Gems
recommendation Fresh Del Monte
Although the company remains on the wrong end of pricing trends with expenses like fuel and containerboard, margins still improved for the quarter. Gross margin lifted by about 320 basis points, and about half of that was maintained on the operating income line, as operating margin climbed from 6.9% to 8.4%
The company's banana business had a good quarter; sales rose 3% on a 19% price increase. Despite high ocean freight expenses and weather issues in Central America, Fresh Del Monte saw gross profit in the banana business more than double in the first quarter.
Other fresh produce did reasonably well. A good quarter for pineapples and melons was somewhat offset by decreased performance in the non-tropical-fruit segment. While the melon business was hampered a bit by plant disease, pricing was good for melons and pineapples.
The growth star in the quarter was no doubt the fresh-cut-produce business. Sales climbed 55% on 46% higher volume. This business boasts a gross margin above the company average, and the company's relationship with Wendy's
Management also remains very positive on the European business, which should become another source of growth in the years to come.
Defying my normal preference for buy-and-hold, I have to confess to buying and selling Fresh Del Monte shares on a couple of different occasions in the past few years. Though I've made money on each trip, I'm still somewhat torn with respect to this company and its shares.
On one hand, I think that Fresh Del Monte is one of the best produce businesses out there. On the other hand, it is a produce business and is somewhat powerless against weather, pricing, disease, and other potential bad outcomes.
On one hand, valuation appears very low. On the other hand, valuation has almost always been low on these shares, and it can be a long and frustrating process to wait for the market to upsize its valuation multiples on a company.
When it's all said and done, I can't help liking this company, and I suspect I'll own the shares again someday -- probably after the stock takes a tumble from an inevitable bad quarter or weather event. In the meantime, investors should keep eating their fruits and veggies. After all, what good is a great stock pick if you're not healthy enough to spend the profits?
Eat up more information on the food sector with these Foolish takes:
- Welcome Back, Kentucky Fried Chicken
- A Mixed Bag at Kraft
- Kraft's Forbidden Fruit
- Addition by Subtraction at Performance Foods
Since Tom Gardner recommended Fresh Del Monte in the February 2004 issue of Motley Fool Hidden Gems , shares have returned 16.57% vs. the S&P 500's 1.32% gain over the same time period. Want to find out which other companies have made the cut? Take a free 30-day trial today.
Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).