BATTLE CREEK, MICH. — The first half of 2019 will remain an “investment phase” for Kellogg Co., with a focus on producing further improvement in organic net sales growth and consumption, said Steven A. Cahillane, chairman, president and chief executive officer. He added that the company remains committed to investment even if it holds down profit over the next few quarters.
“We’ll come out of this investment phase with a streamlined and more growth-oriented portfolio, a set of revitalized brands, both power brands and challenger brands, a stronger innovation pipeline and more competitive capabilities for today’s marketplace,” Mr. Cahillane said during a Feb. 7 conference call with analysts.
He said Kellogg will continue to build out RXBAR, noting the brand not only gives the company a new growth platform that goes beyond base bars, but provides an opportunity to take the brand beyond the United States.
New brands that fill in white space also are high on Kellogg’s agenda. Specifically, Mr. Cahillane mentioned the areas of natural foods and digestive health.
“We are in the process of divesting our cookies, fruit snacks, pie shells and ice cream cones businesses in order to help us focus resources,” he said. “The outcome of all these actions is a more focused, growth-oriented portfolio.”
Mr. Cahillane said Kellogg will continue to revitalize brands in 2019, an effort that really took hold in 2018 as the company ramped up investment behind better ideas. As examples of the revitalization efforts, he pointed to the flavor stacking campaign in the United States with the Pringles brand and the launch of more single-serve offerings in the Cheez-It and Rice Krispies Treats brands.
Finally, Kellogg plans to enhance capabilities in 2019.
“We’ve invested in and improved our innovation capabilities and pipeline,” Mr. Cahillane said. “And in 2019, we have our strongest innovation pipeline in years, much of which hit the shelves in January and are off to strong starts.
“We’ve also been investing, as you know, in new pack formats, particularly around on-the-go offerings that can meet a growing occasion for us and one that we still under-index in our categories. Our e-commerce business is growing, and we are developing capabilities to keep up with the growth and set us up for sustainable growth well into the future.
“We’ll continue to invest in all of these key strategic capabilities in 2019 because we know they can give us a leg up in the marketplace. We even have changed our organizational structure to execute these capabilities better than ever.”
Mr. Cahillane’s comments about 2019 came against a backdrop of solid financial performance in fiscal 2018. Kellogg posted net income of $1,336 million in the year ended Dec. 29, 2018, equal to $3.85 per share on the common stock, up 6.5% from $1,254 million, or $3.61 per share, in fiscal 2017. Net sales in the year increased 5% to $13,547 million from $12,854 million.
In the fourth quarter, Kellogg sustained a loss of $84 million, which compared with income of $417 million, or $1.21 per share, in the same period a year ago. Net sales improved to $3,317 million from $3,185 million. Kellogg said fourth-quarter earnings were adversely affected by a sharply negative swing in mark-to-market adjustments and higher restructuring charges. Adjusted earnings per share were flat.
Operating profit at Kellogg North America increased 12% in fiscal 2018 to $1,397 million, up from $1,246 million in fiscal 2017. Net sales edged up to $8,688 million from $8,673 million.
Within the division, U.S. Snacks operating profit rose sharply to $446 million from $138 million, while U.S. Morning Foods profit fell 16% to $478 million from $567 million. Sales in both segments were lower year-over-year, with U.S. Snacks sales falling 5% to $2,957 million and U.S. Morning Foods sales easing a little more than 2% to $2,643 million.
“The overall U.S. cereal category moderated its decline in 2018, as did we,” Mr. Cahillane said. “And if you excluded the impact of Honey Smacks, whose supply chain disruption kept it off-shelf for most of the second half, we held share in the United States (and) we also gained share in Canada in 2018. There’s also progress behind these results.
“We know that when food beliefs change, what always brings this category back to stabilization or growth is amplifying its wellness attributes, especially in the adult segment. Kellogg did more of this in 2018, and these efforts were effective in stabilizing key brands like Raisin Bran and Mini-Wheats. Expect more of this wellness emphasis in our innovation and communication in 2019, including the launch of a new brand that plays squarely in digestive health.
“Meantime, in the Taste/Fun segment, which grew for the category in 2018, we continue to innovate, and this resulted in share gains for our key Frosted Flakes and Froot Loops brands. Expect this to continue in 2019 with a strong lineup of new products hitting the shelves now and communication that also taps into the rapidly growing portion of cereal consumption that is out of breakfast for snacking.
“And we’re particularly excited about the progress we’ve made on Kashi cereals. While we have been performing well in natural channels for some time, Kashi consumption in the xA.O.C. (extended all outlet combined) measure channels turned positive in 2018, thanks to strong innovation and effective messaging. Innovations like Kashi by Kids and new offerings under the GoLean line are gaining traction.”