Updated from 10:20 a.m. with Jim Cramer's take.
On Tuesday, the maker of Yoplait yogurt and Cheerios cereal reported second fiscal quarter earnings, adjusted for one-time items, of 85 cents a share. Analysts were looking for 86 cents a share. Net sales fell 7% from the prior year to $4.1 billion, short of Wall Street forecasts for $4.2 billion. General Mills' organic sales, which excludes the impact of currency, acquisitions and divestitures fell 4% for the second consecutive quarter.
The sales drop could be traced to the General Mills' U.S. retail segment, where sales fell 9% primarily on the back of a 17% plunge in yogurt. Sluggish sales of Yoplait yogurt, mostly of the light variety, is nothing new for General Mills as sales declined 15% in the first quarter.
TheStreet's Jim Cramer, co-manager of the Action Alerts PLUS portfolio, said on CNBC's "Mad Dash" segment he was particularly concerned that General Mills' Yoplait yogurt line, which had been such a standout performer, is now "doing quite poorly," as is the Pillsbury refrigerated dough line.
Cramer sees too many "tired" General Mills brands. The company acquired Annie's in a move to become more natural and organic but that hasn't been enough to offset the slowing of other lines.
Something needs to be done, and soon, because the company's old brands are slowing too fast and General Mills can't go natural and organic fast enough, Cramer said. CEO Ken Powell is terrific but he needs to find a way to fix this company's problems now.
On a conference call with analysts, General Mills executives acknowledged that yogurt sales won't return to growth in its current fiscal year.
That has sent executives off to overhaul 60% of the yogurt product portfolio over the next 12 months, with a focus on improving packaging and flavor options. Still, the product renovation push for General Mills arrives amid a broader yogurt industry slowdown. Light yogurt sales fell 8.5% in the past year ending in late September to $1 billion, according to research firm Nielsen. The broader yogurt industry's sales declined 1.5%, the fourth consecutive year of declining sales.
General Mills went onto slash its fiscal year organic sales outlook, now seeing a decline of 3% to 4% from a prior view for flat to a decline of 2%. Operating profit, excluding the impact of currency fluctuations, is expected to increase by 2% to 4%. Previously, General Mills saw growth of 6% to 8%. Despite the weaker than expected sales trends, executives maintained their outlook for full year earnings to increase by 6% to 8% in large part due to a lower than planned tax rate and more stock buybacks.
Shares of General Mills fell as much as 4% in early trading to $60.88.
Nevertheless, Wall Street now has good reason to be concerned on whether General Mills could achieve its full year financial goals. Keep in mind that back in September the company surprised investors by issuing a rare sales warning for the first fiscal quarter, citing a challenging food industry and troubles in yogurt. That commentary has pushed General Mills' stock down about 7.5% to $61 over the past six months, lagging the S&P 500's 8.6% gain.
The commentary from General Mills didn't seem to improve much from a couple months ago:
"Although we posted disappointing net sales performance in the second quarter, we delivered good growth in adjusted diluted earnings per share, driven by significant expansion in our adjusted operating profit margin," said General Mills Chairman and CEO Ken Powell. "Our organic sales declines reflect the actions we've taken to optimize our spending and prioritize profitable volume, as well as weakening food-industry trends in the U.S," he added.