Pitching the brands; Hormel discusses brand diversity, splits stock at annual meeting

Published 10:44 am Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Shareholders filte into Austin High School Tuesday night for the annual Hormel shareholders meeting. -- Photos by Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Shareholders file into Austin High School Tuesday night for the annual Hormel shareholders meeting. — Photos by Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

In describing the state of Hormel Foods Corp. to thousands of investors Tuesday night, Refrigerated Foods Vice President Thomas Day compared the company’s many brands to several colors in a crayon box that will illustrate the company’s future.

“Just imagine how beautiful a picture we’ll be able to draw as this box gets bigger and bigger,” he said. “Our company, your company, has a bright and colorful future.”

As Hormel Foods finalized a 2-for-1 stock split during its annual shareholders meeting in Austin High School’s Knowlton Auditorium, the Fortune 500 company told its investors that its diverse offering of brands have them primed to continue growing.

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“Today, we have a box of bold colors and our strong core portfolio is growing,” Day said.

In recent years, Hormel has bolstered its colors by acquiring new brands. Day and company leaders talked a lot about its latest on Tuesday night: Applegate Farms, an organic meat producer Hormel acquired for about $775 million in 2015.

Day described Applegate as giving Hormel a presence in the fast-growing market of organic and natural meats, which brings Hormel brands to a new type of consumer.

“We now have the opportunity to offer more choices to meet the needs of today’s consumers,” Day said.

Applegate will continue to be run by its own management team as largely a separate business, but Hormel leaders say Hormel’s research and development capabilities and expertise will help Applegate grow and overcome challenges.

“I do believe this acquisition will be transformational for our company,” Day said. “Applegate is poised for growth.”

CEO Jeffrey Ettinger noted Hormel’s four most recent acquisitions — Applegate, Wholly Guacamole for about $140 million, CytoSports Holdings for $450 million, and Skippy for $700 million — represent four of the largest five acquisitions in the company’s history, with the fifth being Jennie-O Turkey Store in 2001.

“As our company has grown, we look for bigger scale opportunities to have an impact on the overall business,” Ettinger said.

Along with Applegate adding healthier, more holistic offerings, Ettinger said the company’s recent acquisitions have allowed Hormel to grow on a global, multicultural scale.

“We really were excited about these franchises because they enable us to grow our portfolio in the areas that are more global, more multicultural,” Ettinger said.

In recent years, Skippy and other brands have expanded Hormel’s reach into Asia, and one investor asked if Hormel is considering expanding into Africa. While Hormel President James Snee said expansion into Africa is on the company’s priority list, there’s no timetable or immediate plans as the company has been focused on Asia.

Brands like CytoSports’ Muscle Milk and new products like Skippy’s P.B. Bites have helped bolster Hormel’s on-the-go offerings, Ettinger noted.

Ettinger said the company has the financial means for future acquisitions and is always on the lookout, but such things can take years to develop and nothing is imminent.

Snee, who was named Hormel’s 10th president last October, noted that 30 of Hormel’s brands hold a No. 1 or No. 2 marketshare.

“We all know how important strong brands are to the future of our organization,” Snee said. “And we know that we have to support these brands.”

A look back at 2015

That brand diversity helped Hormel weather challenges in 2015.

Ettinger was excited for a strong year, even though the company saw many challenges like the avian influenza outbreak in Jennie-O Turkey Store, and the company saw some effects from the pork markets as in Refrigerated Foods and its International division.

Hormel Foods CEO Jeffrey Ettinger and President James Snee answer questions Tuesday night before the annual shareholders meeting.

Hormel Foods CEO Jeffrey Ettinger and President James Snee answer questions Tuesday night before the annual shareholders meeting.

From a sales standpoint, Hormel was flat in 2015 compared to 2014, doing about $9.3 billion in sales both years, but the company still met its five-year goals. Ettinger said adjusted net earnings increased 19 percent over 2014, and all five of Hormel’s segments registered earnings growth.

The company raised its annual dividend by 16 percent to $1.16 per share, marking the 50th consecutive year of an increased dividend.

Hormel reported 2015 earnings of $686.1 million, or $2.54 per share, on revenue of $9.26 billion.

Though stock market hasn’t been off to a hot start in 2016, Ettinger said they can’t control the market but will continue to strive for growth.

Ettinger and Snee said Jennie-O is recovering from the effects of avian flu and they don’t foresee any major challenges in early 2016.

“We feel like 2016 is setting up to be an even better year,” Snee said.

Stock split

Hormel finalized its stock split, which was first approved by the board of directors last November.

The move splits the stock from $.0293 to $.01465 per share and increases the number of authorized shares from 800 million to 1.6 billion.

Stockholders of record at the close of business on Wednesday will receive one additional share of common stock for each share owned on that date. Under the rules of the New York Stock Exchange, where the company’s common stock is traded between Jan. 26 and the distribution of the new shares planned by Feb. 9, 2016, the selling stockholder is responsible for delivering the new shares received to the buyer.

The annual dividend rate, when adjusted for the two-for-one split, will be $.58 per share.

Ex-plant worker speaks again

Former Hormel plant worker Rod Huinker once again spoke at the shareholders meeting and again asked Hormel to pay workers more and bring Quality Pork Processors Inc. under the Hormel umbrella once again.

Huinker spoke for about the 29th consecutive time. Though he praised Hormel for its growth and charitable practices once again, he also asked Hormel to be more concerned about income inequality.

Huinker also repeated his request to give the $1,128 a year taken out of his pension, because he was fired during the 1985 strike, to various charities.

Ettinger thanked Huinker once more for attending the meeting. The company has previously said addressing Huinker’s claim could set a precedent for others with complaints over the last 25 years.