Hormel Foods Corp.'s fiscal fourth-quarter profit slipped 3 percent as weak sales and higher ingredient costs hurt the maker of Spam, Dinty Moore stew and other packaged food brands.
It's a struggle playing out regularly for food makers these days: they need to raise prices to cover higher costs but risk losing cost-conscious shoppers.
Hormel said Tuesday that its total sales volume fell 7 percent, but higher prices helped nudge its revenue up and protect some of its profit. As a result, the company was able to deliver earnings per share that beat analyst expectations and it issued 2012 guidance above estimates, which sent its shares higher in late morning trading.
The company, based in Austin, Minn., said its net income fell to $117.3 million, or 43 cents per share, for the period that ended Oct. 30. That's down from $121.1 million, or 45 cents per share, in the same quarter last year. It also beat the 42 cents per share that analysts surveyed by FactSet forecast.
Its earnings per share were adjusted to account for a previously announced 2-for-1 stock split. There was also one less week in the current quarter.
Revenue edged up 2 percent to $2.1 billion but missed Wall Street's $2.13 billion estimate.
It was the second quarter in a row that the prepared foods maker dealt with slower sales volume as a result of higher prices. Like many food makers, Hormel has raised prices on its products to offset rising costs for everything from grain to packaging.
On Monday, Tyson Foods Inc. reported that its fourth-quarter net income slipped as higher grain costs offset better prices and revenue, particularly in its chicken business.
Hormel reported that its operating profit rose in four of its five operating segments: grocery products, Jennie-O turkey, specialty foods and other products. The biggest drag for Hormel came from its refrigerated foods division, where its operating profit fell 19 percent because of declining pork operating margins and increased commodity costs.
The company reported that revenue rose in all but one of its segments but sales volume fell across the board.
"Clearly, in the long run, we're looking to grow volumes of our value-added franchises," Hormel CEO Jeffrey Ettinger said. "But as long as we continue to be in this kind of pricing environment, you will continue to see larger net sales increases; then you will see volume increases. "
Hormel's full-year earnings rose 20 percent to $474.2 million, or $1.74 per share, from $395.6 million, or $1.46 per share, in the prior year. After adjusting for costs tied to the closure of a plant and other one-time items, the company earned $1.51 per share for the year versus $1.46 a year earlier.
Annual revenue increased 9 percent to $7.9 billion from $7.22 billion.
The company said it expects to continue to struggle with volatile raw material costs, higher grain costs and potentially a decline in its meat processing margins in the coming fiscal year. Hormel said it will continue to take strategic and modest price increases as needed to offset rising costs.
Hormel said it anticipates 2012 earnings in a range of $1.79 to 1.89 per share. Analysts had been expecting earnings of $1.77 per share for the year.
The company expects its grocery products, specialty foods and its international business to drive its fiscal 2012 profit growth. Ettinger cautioned that comparisons will likely be more difficult in the first half of the year, getting more favorable later in the year.
Late Monday, Hormel increased its annual dividend by 18 percent to 60 cents per share from 51 cents per share.
Hormel's shares fell 1 cent Tuesday, to close at $28.82.
Michelle Chapman contributed to this report from New York. Sarah Skidmore contributed from Portland, Ore.