General Mills' Plans to Emphasize Sales Growth Carry Risks
Some of General Mills' new products.

General Mills Inc.'s (GIS) is counting on new products ranging from cereals to power bars to yogurt to boost growth in the coming year, an approach one analyst says risks narrower margins and profits.

The packaged goods maker outlined the strategy at its investor day on Wednesday, July 11.

Among the new products are two new flavors of Dippin' Dots cereal: Banana Split and Cookies 'n Cream; Epic Performance Bars made with an egg-white base, and YQ yogurt, which touts lower levels of sweetener than the company's other brands.

"While they outlined an impressive lineup, their increased cost and complexity adds to the already accelerating inflation pressure versus fiscal 2018," wrote Jonathan Feeney of Consumer Edge Research in a note on Wednesday after the investor day meeting. "With CEO Jeff Harmening making it clear sales is the most important 2019 metric, we see risks to margins and earnings per share."

Overall the company expect 5% of its sales growth to come from new product offerings in the year ahead, up from 3.8% in the previous year, according to the analyst.

Consumer Edge lowered its earnings per share estimate to $3.01 from $3.20 in the note, based in part on uncertainty surrounding the sale of an entity generating roughly $800 million in sales. Management hasn't identified the asset it plans to sell. The consumer packaged goods sector has seen a great deal of consolidation in recent months putting pressure on asset prices.

Feeney noted the J.M. Smucker Co.'s (SJM) agreement on Monday, July 9, to sell its U.S. baking business to subsidiaries of Brynwood Partners, in a transaction valued at $375 million, a relatively low price. Consumer Edge believes that in this environment General Mills could also be low-balled on any divestiture it makes.

Feeney also voiced concerns about how the company will effectively distribute pet food products of Blue Buffalo, which General Mills acquired in April for $8 billion. The natural pet food company had a 7% market share last year in the burgeoning category.

David A. Katz, the founder of the $790 million value investment firm Matrix Asset Advisors Inc., told TheStreet post-meeting Wednesday, that he sees the pet food operation walking a tightrope between increasing distribution and maintaining its niche. To do so, it is courting specialty areas where the products are sold.

Billy Bishop, group president, pet segment, said Wednesday at the meeting that the brand aims to sell to younger pet owners, make its products more readily available and increase its share of wet foods and treats offerings.

Separately, Katz noted that yogurt sales were a plus for the company again, a trend that is likely to continue. "The 'yogurt body language' is positive [from management]," said Katz.

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