The maker of Oreo and Ritz crackers reported yesterday a slowdown in organic net revenue growth and volume/mix in its fourth quarter, including a 5.5 percentage point drop in volume/mix in North America, which offset gains in Europe and Latin America for an overall drop of 0.4 percentage points. The drop in North America is particularly notable given it was up 4.6 percentage points in the previous quarter.
The drop comes as prices in the region rose 7.4 percentage points with additional pricing slated to come in North America. The increase is “already agreed” upon and will help offset rising prices for cocoa and expected increases hazelnut and sugar costs, CEO Dirk Van De Put told investment analysts Tuesday after the market closed during the company’s fourth quarter earnings call.
“We are trying to offset the dollar impact of the inflation that we are seeing in our input costs and we’re not pricing for percentage of margins … which, yes, we believe is a reasonable position,” he said.
He also was quick to add that he does not believe price increases to be a significant contributor to the drop in volume in North America. Rather, he attributed the decline to a softening in the US biscuit category, tight inventory management and build up in Q3 ahead of some price increases for Clif products as well as to minimize potential disruption ahead of a system transition planned for early October.
“We expect to return to good volume mix growth in North America in the beginning of next year,” Van De Put added. “It is really a one-off situation in Q4. So we don’t really necessarily feel like there is a slowdown in North America. It’s not going to be massive volume growth, but it is going to be positive volume growth in the beginning of the year.”
North Americans continue to hold back on spending
His prediction comes against a backdrop in which many North American consumers continue to tightly manage their budgets due to prolonged inflation that has touched almost every aspect of their lives, including food consumed at home.
In response, Van De Put acknowledged many North American consumers are not buying with the same frequency, preferring to wait until products are on sale. And when they do buy, they gravitate towards smaller formats as well as from more value-oriented channels, including club and e-commerce.
Further, he acknowledged that reductions in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, commonly referred to as food stamps, means there is less disposable income for a select group of consumers.
Nonetheless, he said, he expects gradual improvement as North American consumers become more confident and are expecting the economy to improve so that “better times are ahead for them.”
In the meantime, Mondelez is investing more heavily in advertising and commercial, which was up 21% in the fourth quarter to help “drive consumer and customer loyalty to both our iconic global brands and our local jewels,” Van De Put said.
“Our best year ever in 2023”
Looking forward the company expects organic sales growth at the upper end of a 3% to 5% range and high single-digit adjusted earnings per share.
The company’s confidence reflects an overall strong delivery in 2023, which Van De Put characterized as “our best year ever.”
In 2023, organic net revenue grew 14.7% or $4.6 billion over the prior year and adjusted gross profit dollar growth was up 18.8% to $2.2 billion – significantly lapping the last several years, Van De Put reported.