General Mills earnings jump 10%

by Jeff Gelski
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MINNEAPOLIS — General Mills, Inc. posted net earnings of $1.14 billion for the fiscal year ended May 27, equal to $3.30 per share on the common stock, up from $1.09 billion, or $3.05 per share, in the previous fiscal year.

Net sales for the fiscal year grew 6% to $12.44 billion, which compared with $11.71 billion in the previous fiscal year. Unit volume rose 4%. Total return to General Mills shareholders in fiscal 2007 through stock price appreciation and dividends exceeded 19%, said Steve Sanger, chairman and chief executive officer.

In the fourth quarter ended May 27, net earnings reached $224 million, or 65c per share, which compared with $222 million, or 62c, in the previous fiscal year. Fourth-quarter net sales grew 6% to $3.06 billion from $2.86 billion in the previous year’s fourth quarter. Fourth-quarter unit volume also grew 6%.

General Mills expects 2008 earnings per share to be in the range of $3.39 to $3.43, which would represent growth of 7% to 8% from 2007 results.

"We expect fiscal 2008 to be another year of strong operating performance, consistent with our long-term goals," Mr. Sanger said. "Our growth model calls for low single-digit growth in net sales, mid single-digit growth in segment operating profits, and high single-digit growth in earnings per share.

"We expect to meet these targets in 2008 despite the estimated 5% input-cost inflation and increased consumer marketing investment that is included in our plans."

For the 2007 fiscal year, operating profit increased in all three General Mills segments: U.S. Retail, International and Bakeries and Foodservice.

In U.S. Retail, segment operating profits rose 5% to reach nearly $1.9 billion. Fiscal 2007 net sales grew 4% to nearly $8.5 billion. Unit volume also increased 4%.

Within the Snacks division of U.S. Retail, net sales rose 10% to exceed $1 billion for the first time. Grain snacks such as Nature Valley granola bars and new Fiber One bars led the growth.

Yoplait sales grew 6%, led by Yoplait light varieties, Go-gurt and Yoplait Kids yogurt fortified with DHA Omega 3. Net sales for the Meals division grew 5%. The division reported strong growth of Progresso ready-to-serve soups and Hamburger Helper mixes.

Net sales for Pillsbury USA and the Baking Products division each grew 3%. Big G cereals posted a 2% sales increase and reported strong performance from the market-leading Cheerios franchise and new cereals introduced during the year.

In the International segment, net sales jumped 16% in 2007 to exceed $2.1 billion. Unit volume grew 8%, and favorable currency exchange contributed 4 points of sales growth. Operating profits rose 11% to $216 million despite double-digit growth in consumer marketing expense.

In the Bakeries and Foodservice segment, net sales grew 5% to exceed $1.8 billion. Unit volume increased 1%, and pricing, favorable sales mix and productivity boosted operating profits 28% to $148 million.

After-tax earnings from joint ventures totaled $73 million in 2007, an increase of 6% led by strong earnings growth for Cereal Partners Worldwide (C.P.W.). These results include a restructuring expense of $8 million after-tax in both years related to the C.P.W. plant restructuring under way in the United Kingdom.

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