J.M. Smucker: Transformational Growth Story or Stagnating Food Business?

By Markets Fool.com

Image source: J.M. Smucker.

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After reporting earnings on Aug. 23, J.M. Smucker (NYSE: SJM) shares dropped 9%. It was the first reported quarter after the investor presentation back in June that highlighted the company's transformational growth of the last decade and plans going forward. How is the company executing on those plans so far?

SJM data by YCharts.

Highlights from the last investor presentation

The presentation on June 14 started with a review of Smucker's last decade and a half. Though packaged consumer foods may not be a hot investment topic, Smucker has driven strong investor returns with a growing stable of brands. Acquisitions included Jif peanut butter in 2002, Pillsbury baked goods in 2004, and Folgers coffee in 2008.

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As a result of the purchases, net sales have grown 10% a year in the last five years. Free cash flow, or cash left over for the company after paying for normal operations and expansion efforts, has expanded from $211 million in 2011 to $1.3 billion last fiscal year.

Turning to the future, the company said it plans to build on the last decade and a half of transformational growth by refocusing attention on the arsenal of food brands it has amassed. The brands are broken into three segments: consumer and natural foods, coffee, and its latest acquisition consisting of pet foods and snacks.

Within consumer foods, standout areas of potential growth are Jif and Uncrustables ready-made sandwiches. The company plans to grow Jif to a billion-dollar brand; sales were $625 million last year. The plan to get there is through synergies with the company's fruit spreads business and new product releases, including high-quality and specialty nut spreads outside of traditional peanut butter. Smuckers is also the fruit spreads leader, but growth is still being driven by Uncrustables. The company has reported 17 quarters in a row of double-digit sales growth.

The coffee brands -- including Folgers, Cafe Bustelo, and the distribution agreement with Dunkin Donuts -- continue to be an area of growth. K-cups especially have helped drive sales for Smuckers over the last few years, and the company sees its various coffee names in K-cup form continuing to be the biggest opportunity going forward.

Pet food, the latest addition to the company's stable with last year's buyout of Big Heart Pet Brands, has thus far struggled. While the purchase has contributed to total sales for the company, sales for the segment have declined since J.M. Smucker took over. The company expects that to continue for another 12 to 18 months as the new operations are fully integrated and new advertising starts to pay off, with as much as 5% annual sales growth expected over the long term.

In the years to come, Smuckers sees sales growth at a 3%-a-year average with pet food leading the way. That is a much more modest figure than the 10% a year in the last five, but cost savings and streamlining operations are expected to be a much bigger part of the figure as the company transitions to managing all of the purchases made since the early 2000s.

Eight percent profit growth as measured by earnings per share is also expected from not only cost cuts but also decreasing the amount of debt. Currently, the biggest debt expense is from the pet food and coffee divisions, and the plan is to aggressively pay that down.

All that being said, 2017 was forecast to be a slowdown year with a 1% drop in sales yet increasing profits. How did the first quarter since the investor day pan out?

What we learned from the last quarterly report

Smucker notched a 7% drop in sales, led mainly by a planned 12% price decrease in coffee product prices and lower pet food sales once again. Despite cost reduction, profit from the coffee segment remained intact, as customers responded favorably to the lower prices.

Consumer foods were mostly flat, and Uncrustables sandwiches had their first quarterly decline in sales in five years. This was mostly due to timing of shipments, though, so management expects growth to resume through the rest of the year.

The drop in sales was more than offset by a decrease in basic food costs and synergies between the company's different brands. Tax rates also fell as compared to the previous year, and as a result earnings per share grew 16%.

The company also made good on its promise to reduce debt to drive long-term profit growth. In addition to that, the quarterly dividend was boosted a cool 12%. While sales fell short of long-term projections, the EPS increase exceeded expectations.

Overall, with one quarter now in the books post-June investor presentation, the company is delivering on the plan to streamline the existing food brands and increase profitability.

Investor takeaway

While growth at J.M. Smucker is starting to slow, the company is far from stagnating. Investors shouldn't expect the same type of sales growth seen in the last decade as the company switches from being an acquirer of other brands to a manager of what is already on the books. Smuckers is now focused on dialing in all the moving pieces and increasing profitability.

Shareholders shouldn't be alarmed by this development, but an adjustment in thinking about the company may be in order. A plan is in place to continue growing, and the first quarter since that new plan was laid out shows management's ability to deliver results.

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Nicholas Rossolillo has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.