VIDEO: Hormel sees net growth

Published 10:39 am Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Hormel Foods is holding its own with 9 percent net growth in a time when other large corporations are faced with layoffs and bankruptcies, stockholders learned at their annual meeting Tuesday at Knowlton Auditorium.

Jeff Ettinger, CEO, president and chairman of the board, gave a cautiously optimistic report about the Fortune 500 company, explaining they are still “keeping our eye on the recession effect.”

And Hormel is not immune to that effect — Ettinger said the company has implemented a hiring freeze at its plants and corporate offices, and will “closely scrutinize” positions when employees leave or retire.

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Layoffs would be a “plant level decision,” and Ettinger confirmed that possibility as “nothing that would affect the city of Austin now.”

Ettinger pointed to other major players in the meat industry — Tyson Foods, which has pledged all its assets to creditors to stay in the business, and Pilgrim’s Pride, who declared bankruptcy — as companies who are seeing the downside of the failing economy.

One advantage, he said, is that Hormel produces essential items for consumers, unlike the auto industry, for example.

“Food is a fundamental item,” he said. “You don’t need financing for food items.”

Ettinger credited Hormel’s growth on its fiscal integrity and “value” brands.

“We continue to be one of the most conservatively financed companies in the industry,” Ettinger said.

Production of Spam, which has garnered widespread publicity for its renewed interest among consumers, is still “pretty busy,” Ettinger said, and four of Hormel’s five operating segments have shown growth.

“Consumers are looking for value,” he said. “Our portfolio is balanced enough.”

Hormel continues to branch out in Natural Choice sliced meats, dried sausage and deli meats as well as its variety of “convenience meals.” The CEO also announced a “major roll-out” in mainland Japan and continued expansion into China.

One of the top challenges posed for Hormel is Jennie-O, whose profits have sunk for the past three years but “still out-performs all its peers,” Ettinger said, although the segment plummeted 43.7 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008. When Jennie-O took a hit last year, the unexpected increase in the cost of meat hurt the company; shares at Hormel also fell 22 percent in the fourth quarter.

With their growing portfolio of convenience meals and natural products in addition to their “heritage” area of value-added protein products, like Spam and Hormel Pepperoni, Ettinger said he’s “happy to be part of a company that places such a strong value on tradition.”

Cindy Cunningham, the assistant vice president of communications for the National Pork Board, explained Tuesday that more consumers are buying pork, which can be attributed to its low cost and a marketing strategy aimed to show customers “this isn’t the same old pork your mother used.”

More restaurants and meat departments are offering pork, Cunningham said, and the National Pork Board has adopted a “Don’t Be Blah” campaign to defy the stereotype that pork is a dry and useless meat.

“We know we have to get out there and tell our story,” she said. “Domestically, the consumption of pork continues to climb. It’s a better value in the meat case.

“Hormel plays a significant role in pork production,” Cunningham added.

Ettinger said Hormel’s strategy includes increased advertising and reaching $2 billion in new products by 2012; their $1 billion goal was reached two years early, in 2007.