ST. LOUIS — Competing in the ready-to-eat cereal category has become an “ongoing process of identifying and executing against opportunity,” said Robert V. Vitale, president and chief executive officer of Post Holdings, Inc.
Speaking with analysts during a May 7 conference call to discuss second-quarter results, Mr. Vitale spoke of the changing makeup of the RTE cereal category and what Post is doing to stay competitive. In the past, Post was able to stand out due to its focus on indulgent and value bags. Now, many cereal companies have ramped up their indulgent offerings, leaving Post to reassess its positioning.
“If you go back to 2019, when we were very early in the licensing of some more indulgent flavors, we led with Oreo and then extended it into some other similar brands that has led to a proliferation, if not saturation, of that segment,” Mr. Vitale said. “So I think when that happens, it opens up other segments in which to try to identify opportunity in. So it's an ongoing process of identifying and executing against opportunity.”
As a result, he said the presweetened segment of the category has become more competitive than it was two or three years ago.
Mr. Vitale said the RTE cereal category is sitting precisely at the moment of the highest noise in comparability. Offering his prediction as to what might happen moving forward, he said he anticipates that when the noise declines we will see a category that is slightly elevated from pre-pandemic levels and continues that elevation for a protracted period of time.
“Now within that category, I think like any big category, it requires a constant process of renovation in order to stay competitive,” he said. “And we are doing the same thing that we’ve always done whether it’s indulgence, whether it’s value, whether it’s protein or whether it’s extending our brands in other categories, we need to do all of those things to maintain our competitive position and to hopefully expand that competitive position vis-à-vis the other players in the market. … We certainly can’t rest on our laurels and say what we did pre-pandemic is a playbook that will permanently work. We have to recognize that the category changes and so must we.”
Net income at Post Holdings in the second quarter ended March 31 was $109.9 million, equal to $1.71 per share on the common stock, which compared with a loss of $191.4 million in the year-ago period. The loss in the year-ago period included loss on extinguishment of debt, expense on swaps and equity method losses.
Net sales totaled $1.48 billion, down narrowly from $1.49 billion.
Post Consumer Brands segment profit decreased 0.1% to $91.8 million from $92.4 million on net sales of $479.9 million, down 5.6% from the year-ago period. Post said volumes decreased 11.6% (including a 400 basis point benefit from Peter Pan), with the decline driven by lapping increased purchases in the prior-year period driven by consumer pantry loading in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, declines resulting from the decision to exit certain low-margin private label business and broader softness across value and private label cereal products.
Weetabix segment profit fell 7.5% to $25.9 million in the quarter as net sales were flat at $113.4 million. Volumes decreased 8.5%, with the decline driven by lapping increased purchases in the prior-year period driven by consumer pantry loading in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, a pull forward of sales to the first quarter of 2021 ahead of the completion of Brexit and continued declines in bar and drink products resulting from reduced on-the-go consumption in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the Foodservice segment, which includes egg and potato products, segment profit plummeted 62% to $8.8 million while net sales eased 2.5% to $369.2 million. Volumes for the second quarter decreased 11.1% (including a 330-basis-point benefit from Henningsen and Almark), driven by lower away-from-home demand in January and February in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic in various channels, including full-service restaurants, quick-service restaurants, education and travel and lodging, Post said.
Refrigerated Retail segment profit fell 20% to $24.2 million while net sales increased to $239.5 million from $237.6 million.
Segment profit for BellRing Brands, which includes protein shakes, powders and nutrition bars, declined 56% to $15.6 million, reflecting higher marketing expenses and incremental public company costs. Net sales increased 9.5% to $282.1 million, benefiting from RTD shake distribution gains for both existing and new products, planned incremental promotional activity and favorable product and customer mix, which were partially offset by lapping an increase in customer trade inventory levels in the prior-year period driven by consumer pantry-loading in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic.
For the six-month period, Post Holdings had a net income of $191.1 million, or $2.94 per share, which compared with a loss of $92.2 million in the same period a year ago. Net sales decreased to $2.94 billion from $2.95 billion.