TORONTO — SunOpta, Inc.’s new chief executive officer may only have been on the job for 120 days, but he already is moving quickly ahead on developing three priorities for the company: portfolio prioritization, speed of customer-centric innovation, and productivity and pricing realization in frozen fruit.
Regarding portfolio prioritization, Joseph D. Ennen, c.e.o., said the company is homing in on categories where it can excel.
“We’re taking a more focused approach toward evaluating what businesses we want to be in and what businesses we don’t want to be in,” Mr. Ennen said during an Aug. 7 conference call with analysts. “We are developing clear, long-term points of difference for how we’re going to win in each of our businesses. We are taking action on these opportunities with increased speed and decisiveness, while prioritizing capital and human resources to focus on the opportunities that deliver the best return first.”
As an example, he listed SunOpta’s recently approved 2020 capital investment project that will expand its plant-based extraction capabilities by four times. The initiative will allow SunOpta to further capitalize on the rapid growth of oat-based beverages, he said.
“Plant-based foods and beverages are an on-trend category and a category where we have a history of leadership, strong assets and technical know-how,” he said. “We will leverage our innovation capabilities and expanded capacity to lean into oat-based beverage opportunities. While running a portfolio business, there’s a natural tendency to place disproportionate focus on the red numbers or the parts of the business that are underperforming. I want to assure everyone that while we’re focusing our efforts toward fixing fruit, we’re being just as aggressive investing time, energy and financial resources in our plant-based beverage portfolio to drive long-term value.”
Mr. Ennen also said SunOpta recently completed an expansion at its Allentown, Pa., beverage facility. The processing and filling expansion has increased the plant’s capacity to package large-format, aseptic, plant-based beverages that are well suited to food service customers.
“Converting food service customers to 64-oz will free up much needed capacity on our high-volume 32-oz line, enabling us to keep up with growing demand for plant-based beverages that serve the retail channel,” he explained. “The incremental Allentown capacity also allows us to rebalance and optimize our national production network to drive greater cost efficiencies and support our continued growth in product.”
A second priority for SunOpta is speed of customer-centric innovation. Mr. Ennen said the company is accelerating innovation in a number of categories, including oat-based beverages, bone broths, plant-based creamers, ready-to-drink smoothies, frozen novelties and innovative juices.
The third priority for SunOpta is improving productivity and pricing in fruit. Mr. Ennen said this priority is focused on increasing gross profit in fruit, which he noted is the company’s greatest near-term opportunity to drive improved EBITDA performance.
“While you may be feeling fruit fatigue, I can share that some of the elements of our fruit margin optimization work focused on cost reduction have performed as expected,” he said. “While not a key feature of the previous fruit recovery plan, during the last 60 days, we have undertaken the difficult task of rebuilding rational pricing architectures with our customers. As a result, we have made significant progress in creating sustainable pricing positions for the future.”
SunOpta sustained a loss of $11,056,000 in the second quarter ended June 29, which compared with a loss of $5,148,000 in the same period a year ago. Revenues totaled $293,004,000, down 8% from $319,308,000 in the comparable period a year ago.
In the six months ended June 29, SunOpta posted net earnings of $12,598,000, equal to 14c per share on the common stock, which compared with a loss of $11,478,000 in the same period a year ago. Six-month sales were $598,279,000, down 5% from $631,960,000.