The Simply Good Foods Company (NASDAQ: SMPL) reports first-quarter fiscal 2019 earnings on Jan. 3, before the markets open. I've labeled the provider of packaged wellness snacks, protein bars, shakes, and other foods a "sticky-note investment" that investors should keep tabs on. Indeed, the stock has appreciated 25% year to date against a troubled backdrop in the broader stock market. Below are four key themes for investors to watch when the company releases its results for the 13-week period ended Nov. 24, 2018.
1. Revenue to land above the mid-single digits
The Simply Good Foods company finished the fourth quarter of fiscal 2018 with a year-over-year revenue advance of nearly 11%. But for the 2019 fiscal year, management expects total revenue growth to slightly exceed its long-term annual growth objective of 4% to 6%. This is due to near-term supply issues related to rapid volume growth and a high comparison hurdle against 2018's double-digit top-line growth. Investors will thus anticipate a first-quarter year-over-year revenue growth rate in the ballpark of 7%, based on management's full-year target.
2. Marketing investments are likely to climb again
As I discussed last quarter, Simply Good Foods has recently utilized higher marketing spending to increase brand awareness and drive sales. In the fourth quarter of 2018, the company introduced updated packaging, drove awareness of its "clean ingredients" throughout its product line, and continued to enlist actor Rob Lowe to promote its Atkins lineup as a wellness brand (versus a former emphasis solely on weight loss).
Total marketing spending in the fourth quarter rose roughly 8% against the prior year to $41.2 million. As the company's marketing investments are producing tangible results, look for similar growth in this expenditure in the first quarter of fiscal 2019, the revenue challenges discussed above notwithstanding.
3. Check in on "retail takeaway" growth
While revenue will decelerate this year, sustained marketing investments should help the company continue to widen its potential market for Atkins products by positioning its frozen meals, ready-to-drink shakes, snack bars, and meal kits as wellness items in addition to their potential to aid weight loss.
To provide context for the top line, management is likely to share metrics for retail takeaway, that is, the rate at which consumers buy the company's products from grocery stores and other retail outlets.
Last quarter, The Simply Good Foods Company relayed to investors that its retail takeaway increased by 10.1% year over year in the 52-week period ending Aug. 25, 2018. This is due to both higher Atkins product movement and growing awareness of the company's Canadian SimplyProtein snack bar line, which is expanding its awareness and market share in the U.S.
Shareholders should note the reported revenue growth rate and compare it to retail takeaway, which, if the current trend holds, will almost certainly be higher and thus should bode well for future top-line expansion.
4. Expect detail on the potential for shareholder rewards
Last month, Simply Good Foods announced a stock repurchase program in the amount of $50 million while maintaining that it will continue to pursue a merger-and-acquisition (M&A) strategy to build its brand portfolio.
The organization received something of a cash windfall in September and October through the cash exercise of 9.9 million public warrants after the end of the fiscal fourth quarter of 2018. According to management, this has doubled Simply Good Foods' cash balance to $240 million.
The company is already cash flow positive, having generated roughly $61 million in operating cash flow during the last fiscal year. Thus, Simply Good Foods appears to have enough cash between its balance sheet and operations to fund a small acquisition while returning the entire $50 million to shareholders within the next year should it choose to do so.
The company did not convey a time frame for its buyback program in its press release other than to confirm that any repurchases would begin in 2019. Investors can expect to hear detail on the timing and amounts of repurchases from management on the company's postearnings conference call on Jan 3. The program represents a potentially beneficial impact on shares that have already enjoyed an extremely successful calendar year 2018.
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