Convenience products propel Hillshire Brands

by Monica Watrous
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CHICAGO — Revamped lunchmeat and better-for-you breakfast sandwiches helped the Hillshire Brands Co. weather higher input costs to deliver a strong third quarter.

“The tremendous progress we have made in strengthening our brands and reducing costs is unmistakable,” said Sean Connolly, president and CEO. “Despite an unusually inflationary input cost environment, we meaningfully improved our core business fundamentals and have increased our operating margins. Underlying this performance is the work we have done to improve our capabilities in areas like innovation, pricing analytics and marketing, as well as our robust productivity programs.”

For the quarter ended March 29, income from continuing operations was $42 million, equal to 35 cents per share on the common stock, which compared with a loss of $15 million in the prior-year period.

Net sales totaled $955 million, up 3.4 percent from $924 million, reflecting positive price and mix in retail and food service segments that offset volume declines resulting from pricing actions. The timing of the Easter holiday also had a negative effect on results.

Retail net sales climbed 3.2 percent in the quarter, led by Jimmy Dean Delights breakfast sandwiches and double-digit growth from the Aidells brand. Hillshire Farm lunchmeat also performed well behind strong marketing and innovation support, the company said.

Net sales in the food service segment grew 4 percent, as commodity-driven pricing and favorable mix offset volume declines. Despite weather-related traffic declines, sales in the convenience store channel grew, driven by gains in bakery products under the Bistro and Luxe Layer brands.

Looking ahead, the company said it expects full-year sales growth in the low single digits and adjusted diluted earnings per share on the high end of the previously projected range.

“In addition to our base business momentum, we are beginning to leverage our balance sheet for additional value creation, with a focus on acquisitions,” Connolly said. “Overall, while I am pleased by another strong quarter, I am most encouraged that we have validated our original investment thesis and are well positioned to deliver strong returns over the long run.”
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