ConAgra Foods Earnings Call Insights: Full-Year EPS Guidance and Competitor Promotional Activity

ConAgra Foods, Inc. (NYSE:CAG) recently reported its first quarter earnings and discussed the following topics in its earnings conference call.

Full-Year EPS Guidance

Andrew Lazar – Barclays Capital: Just got two questions for you to start it off. I guess, first thing, Gary, when you provided fiscal 2014 guidance, ConAgra was about a month into your first quarter. And at the time, you were quite bullish around volume momentum in consumer and the prospects for Consumer Foods at the time. So something that would seem very dramatic must have changed in kind of a month time from then to sort of cause ConAgra to lower, not only the first quarter, but the full-year EPS, so significantly. And you mentioned on the call some category weakness and some customer weakness, but frankly I’m still not sure kind of what that means and whether that was just overall industry issues because it seems to have hit ConAgra maybe more significantly. So I was hoping maybe you could run us through a little bit around, specifically what categories were real differentiators versus what you had thought a month before. And then these customer issues, were these things that were perhaps more discreet to ConAgra in terms of the impact to you and the reason I asked is because this all goes towards how achievable the new full-year EPS guidance is? That’s the first question.

Gary Rodkin – CEO: Andrew, I appreciate that. That’s a fair question. I think we all acknowledge that we’re still in a relatively sluggish industry environment, but as the summer went on, we saw trade spending accelerate and this is because customers – key customers were competing for traffic and manufacturers really heated up their competition for market share. You know that we’ve been on a path of shifting toward more pull via marketing and advertising, but with the increased merchandising intensity in some key customers and some key categories, we frankly lost some share of quality merchandising and in turn market share, and of course, volume. We are now in the process of course correcting that, rebalancing and shifting some advertising dollars selectively in a more competitive merchandising support all within responsible financial constraints. We’ll see the benefits starting late in Q2, but primarily in the second half of that ’14, but to get more specifics on the categories, let me turn it over to Tom McGough.

Tom McGough – President, Consumer Foods: Yeah. This is Tom. Our volume decline was concentrated in a couple businesses most notably in frozen and on Chef Boyardee as a result of the strong competitive activity that Gary highlighted. First in frozen, there is two things that are driving this activity. First of all, frozen is a big category, but volume has been weak and this is an important category for our customers and as a result, it has become the share battle in frozen meals. As a result, we saw a big increase in competitive promotional activity at several key customers during Q1. Similar situation on Chef Boyardee, as you know, we lead in the canned pasta category, but we really compete in a broader shelf-stable convenient meal arena and the reality in Q1 was that we saw a much stronger promotional activity, particularly at the back-to-school period in that broader category. In both instances, we are strengthening our promotional program to be more competitive. We anticipate that activity will be comparable going forward and we know that when we achieve our share of merchandising support we can improve our volume trends…

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