MINNEAPOLIS — Even as the company is generating higher profits amid widening margins, General Mills, Inc. is determined to restore sales volume growth in its North America Retail segment, company executives said.
“As we pivot into fiscal 2024, we want to get back to growing not only dollars but growing pound volume as well,” Jonathon J. Nudi, group president of North America Retail, said in a call March 23 with investment analysts.
While net sales of the North America Retail business of General Mills rose 15% in the third quarter ended Feb. 26, the jump was entirely due to price/mix. Volume was down 1%.
Mr. Nudi said General Mills was pleased volume decreases were not even wider.
“Frankly, with the amount of pricing we’ve taken, historical elasticities would suggest much bigger declines,” he said. “So again, we feel comfortable with where we are.”
Asked about a “path to volume normalization,” Jeffrey L. Harmening, chairman and chief executive officer, said that absent a heightened inflationary environment (something he said the company doesn’t expect any time soon), General Mills believes the company will be able to achieve a mix of volume and pricing growth between 2% and 3%.
“In a normal environment, we would see some level of pound growth and some level, a little bit of pricing as dictated by the growth in our categories,” Mr. Harmening said.
Operating profit of the North America Retail business in the third quarter was $786.9 million, up 29% from $611.5 million in the third quarter last year. Sales were $3.23 billion, up 15%.
While volume fell by 1% in the quarter, Mr. Harmening said General Mills has performed respectably in fiscal 2023, holding or gaining share in 56% of the company’s “priority businesses,” year to date. The figure is adjusted for an “unusual competitive dynamic” in the cereal business, and considers that sector on a two-year basis, apparently referencing severe supply chain challenges and a subsequent recovery by the Kellogg Co.’s cereal business.
“And this is on top of holding or gaining share in roughly two-thirds of our priority businesses worldwide in each of the past four fiscal years,” he said. “Our share gains this year span a broad array of platforms in the US and internationally, including cereal, refrigerated dough, fruit snacks, soup and seasoning.”
Also positioning the company well this year and for the future has been aggressive marketing spending, Mr. Harmening said.
“We have grown our media investment at a 4% compound rate over the past three years, and we’re on track for a strong double-digit increase in fiscal 2023,” he said.
He said the marketing efforts have generated strong return on investment, including a “compelling, digitally enabled campaign” for Cheerios focused on heart health.
Investments in innovation also have been successful, Mr. Harmening said, noting that new product retail sales have been 30% higher than the category average.
“In North America Retail, we continue to lead innovation in the cereal category with our latest launch, new mini versions of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Reese’s Puffs and Trix,” he said.
Mr. Nudi said General Mills has no intention of taking its foot off the pedal with regard to new product introductions.
“Innovation is something that we haven’t pulled back on through the pandemic, and we’ll continue to press the advantage there,” he said. “And we think that we’ve got some great items coming in the coming year.”
General Mills net income in the third quarter was $557.9 million, down 16% from $662.6 million in the third quarter of fiscal 2023. Results a year earlier included a one-time gain of $170.1 million associated with divestitures. Net sales were $5.13 billion, up 13%. Adjusted earnings per share were up 17%.
Adjusted gross margin in the third quarter was 33.8% of net sales, up 240 basis points.
Year-to-date net income at General Mills was $1.99 billion, or $3.32 per share, up 4% from $1.91 billion, or $3.10. Sales were $15.06 billion, up 7%.
With one quarter to go, General Mills slightly raised its guidance for sales, operating profit and earnings per share. The company projected organic net sales in fiscal 2023 would be up 10% to 11% from the year before, up from previous guidance of 10%. Operating profit growth was projected at 7% to 8%, up from 6% to 7%. Adjusted earnings per share were forecast at up 8% to 9%, versus previous guidance of 7% to 8%.
In early trading on the New York Stock Exchange March 23, General Mills shares traded as high as $83.17, up $3.30, or 4%, from the March 22 close.