By Dow Jones Business News, March 20, 2013, 11:42:00 AM EDT
--General Mills' fiscal-third quarter net up 1.8% as pound volume, excluding acquisitions, rises for first time in two
--Company issues weak fourth-quarter outlook as supply-chain costs, marketing spending to rise
--Sales for two of its largest U.S. businesses, yogurt and cereal, fall
(Adds comments from interview with General Mills CEO. Updates shares.)
By Paul Ziobro
General Mills Inc.'s ( GIS ) fiscal third-quarter earnings rose 1.8% as the maker of Cheerios cereal sold more products
in its base business, as measured by weight, for the first time in two years, a sign the packaged-food industry is
continuing its steady, but, slow improvement.
Excluding acquisitions like Brazilian food company Yoki Alimentos SA, General Mills sales rose 2%, including a one-
percentage-point contribution from higher sales volume, a closely watched metric that had been down each quarter since
the third quarter of 2011.
The prolonged volume slump came after General Mills saw costs rise faster than they had in at least 30 years, forcing
the company to take significant price increases.
With annual cost increases mitigating, General Mills and other food companies have tamed price increases and started
to see sales volumes recover, albeit slowly. General Mills has selectively lowered prices even in some categories, like
on its U.S. yogurt business, and increased in-store merchandising to spur sales as well. "As we have lapped that pricing
-- and fine-tuned our pricing -- we've seen that volume recover steadily over the year," General Mills Chairman and
Chief Executive Ken Powell said in an interview.
General Mills results topped expectations of Wall Street analysts, but issued a downbeat view for fourth-quarter
profit, as it plans to step up marketing spending to back the launch of more new products and sees higher supply-chain
costs. Still, results were enough to lift shares, which were up 2.7% in recent trading to $47.67, just short of an all-
time high hit earlier.
General Mills' U.S. sales are being buoyed by new increased sales of snacks, baking products and soups, but two of its
largest categories, cereal and yogurt, continue to slump. In the latest quarter, cereal sales fell 2% and yogurt sales
General Mills continues to launch new products in both categories to try to fix sales, which are being hurt as
consumers try new products, like Greek yogurt, for breakfast. While Yoplait yogurt sales were still down, the drop was
less than the prior quarter, as products like Greek yogurt with 100 calories are picking up steam.
Cereal, meanwhile, is introducing new products like Cheerios Medley Crunch, which mixes regular cheerios with wheat
flakes and nut clusters, as well as increasing merchandising levels to try to recapture some lost market share to
Kellogg Co. (K).
"We have some executional work to do here on cereal, but I'm very confident we can do that," Mr. Powell said.
For the quarter ended Feb. 24, General Mills reported a profit of $398.4 million, or 60 cents a share, up from $391.5
million, or 58 cents a share, a year earlier. Excluding items such as mark-to-market valuation and restructuring costs,
adjusted earnings rose to 64 cents from 55 cents.
Revenue jumped 7.5% to $4.43 billion.
Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had most recently forecast per-share earnings of 57 cents on revenue of $4.36
Gross margin fell to 34.4% from 36.6% as input costs increased 11%.
At its U.S. retail segment, the largest by revenue, net sales rose 2.1%, while operating profit increased 13%. The
international segment's sales climbed 24% to $1.3 billion, but the segment's operating profit was flat, partly due to
the impact from Venezuelan currency devaluation. Bakeries and foodservice segment sales edged up 0.1% to $470 million
and operating profit rose 13%.
The company also raised its full-year adjusted earnings estimate by a penny to between $2.66 and $2.68. The increased
full-year view, however, means that fourth-quarter adjusted per-share earnings will be between 50 cents and 52 cents a
share. Analysts were expected General Mills to post per-share earnings of 59 cents.
Melodie Warner contributed to this article.
Write to Paul Ziobro at firstname.lastname@example.org
Subscribe to WSJ: http://online.wsj.com?mod=djnwires
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
Copyright (c) 2013 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.