CHICAGO — Weak consumption trends in the recent quarter prompted executives at Conagra Brands, Inc. to lower the company’s full-year outlook. Management now expects fiscal 2020 organic net sales growth to be flat to 0.5 percent. The previous estimate was 1 percent to 1.5 percent.
Additionally, adjusted diluted earnings per share from continuing operations are expected to be $2 to $2.07, down from the prior forecast of $2.07 to $2.17.
“Consumption softness in the quarter first emerged in the food service industry, with holiday restaurant traffic weaker than last year,” said Sean M. Connolly, president and CEO. “Softness pivoted to retail in January and impacted numerous categories across food, including several in which we compete. While we planned for tougher year-over-year comparable results in the third quarter, we did not plan for this level of category softness. Accordingly, we are updating our fiscal 2020 outlook."
The company said it remains committed to achieving its fiscal 2021 leverage goal and fiscal 2022 financial targets.
During the Consumer Analyst Group of New York Conference on Feb. 18 in Boca Raton, Florida, Connolly provided additional comments on the unexpected headwinds experienced during the company’s third quarter.
“The encouraging piece to the extent you have to live through a dip like this is that we’ve gained share in the categories that matter most to us indicating our brand health, but that share gain was not enough to hold the year, and it’s impacted our guidance,” Connolly said. “But again, our recent data suggests that this is an air pocket, and it seems to be abating.”
The company’s performance was affected by broad-based softening, even in some of its key growth categories that have enjoyed consistent growth for an extended period of time, Connolly said, citing frozen single-serve meals, frozen vegetables and sides and canned tomatoes as examples.
He added recent data trends show the industry may be bouncing back.
“We see strength in the categories that matter most to us like frozen and like snacking,” he said. “And by the way, this aligns with what we're seeing in our own shipment data. So we believe we're on the upswing.”