AP News

Campbell Soup profit rises amid turnaround push


NEW YORK (AP) — Campbell Soup is preparing to flood supermarket shelves with dozens of new products in the year ahead, but the push to revive its mainstay soup business isn't expected to pay off anytime soon.

The Camden, N.J.-based company, which also makes Pepperidge Farm cookies and V8 juices, said Tuesday that it expects the vast majority of its sales growth in fiscal 2013 to come from its recent acquisition of Bolthouse Farms, which is intended to position the company in the faster-growing premium juice market.

As for the new soups and sauces that have started shipping to retailers in time for the prime soup-selling season, CEO Denise Morrison said the company should have a better read on how they'll fare after the fiscal first quarter.

"The consumer will let us know if we can be more exuberant," she said.

In the year ahead, Campbell plans to introduce 50 new products, including soups in flavors such as Moroccan chicken and Coconut curry. The hope is that the new soups and sauces, which come in trendy pouches instead of cans, will help the company court younger consumers.

But Campbell warned that it still faces a challenging economic environment, with consumers making fewer trips to grocery stores and spending less per visit. The company also emphasized that it was taking longer than expected to return to its long-term growth targets.

"The consumer continues to be cautious and that is not likely to change in the near future," Morrison said.

For its fiscal fourth quarter, Campbell reported a higher-than-expected profit as soup sales rose 9 percent. It was the first sales increase for the unit in more than two years and the biggest gain since the first quarter of 2009.

The increase was driven by retailers running promotions and stocking up on inventories of its condensed soups, such as chicken noodle and tomato. A 5 percent price hike also contributed to growth.

Year-to-date, Campbell's overall market share of soups is nevertheless down 2.9 percent, according to SymphonyIRI. Other brands collectively saw a 10 percent share increase in terms of dollars, while store-brand varieties enjoyed a 2.1 percent increase.

The company also noted in a conference call with investors that recent price increases could hurt soup volumes in the months ahead.

Campbell Soup Co. said it earned $127 million, or 40 cents per share, for the period ended July 29. In the year ago period — when the company was weighed down by restructuring charges — it earned $100 million, or 31 cents per share.

Stripping out acquisition-related costs in the latest quarter, earnings were 41 cents per share. Analysts surveyed by FactSet expected 39 cents per share.

Revenue was basically flat at $1.61 billion, but beat Wall Street's $1.59 billion estimate.

Condensed soup sales rose 14 percent and broth sales climbed 4 percent. Sales of ready-to-serve soups edged up 1 percent, with sales of "Chunky" soups up slightly.

Its new "Slow Kettle" soups also contributed to growth, although the company did not give specifics.

Gross margin declined mostly because of higher costs and increased promotional spending, which were somewhat offset by higher selling prices and productivity improvements.

Sales of sauces rose 4 percent in the U.S. on improved sales of Prego pasta sauces and Pace Mexican sauces. Sales for U.S. beverages climbed 3 percent, led by increased sales of "V8 Splash" and better sales of "V8 V-Fusion."

The global baking and snacking segment reported a 1 percent decline in sales, with sales of frozen products falling. Sales of Pepperidge Farm products and Goldfish snack crackers were strong.

North American foodservices sales dropped 3 percent, while sales of international simple meals and beverages fell 7 percent partly because of unfavorable foreign exchange rates.

For the full year, Campbell earned $774 million, or $2.41 per share, down from $805 million, or $2.42 per share, in the previous year. Annual revenue dipped slightly to $7.71 billion.

For fiscal 2013, Campbell foresees adjusted earnings of $2.51 to $2.57 per share. Revenue is expected to climb 10 percent to 12 percent, implying a range of $8.48 billion to $8.64 billion.

Wall Street expects earnings of $2.52 per share on revenue of $8.47 billion.

The company's shares rose 20 cents to $35.34 in afternoon trading after rising as high as $36.28 earlier in the session, their highest level since November 2010.


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