Austin, Minn. – Hormel Foods Corp. executives don’t want the company to be viewed as a stuffy old meatpacker, and they have the portfolio — or at least the foundations of one — to show why.
Still one of the country’s biggest meat suppliers — and the proud parent of Spam — Austin-based Hormel in the past three years transformed through acquisitions from a commodities-only organization into a packaged-goods one. With a new chief executive, the company has created an internal goal to stay on a growth path.
The goal: Every year, make sure that 15 percent of revenue comes from products introduced in the past five years. For the fiscal year that ended in October, it hit 12 percent on that mark.
“The 15 percent is a very aggressive number,” says the new CEO, Jim Snee, a 27-year company veteran who started in the top job this month. “It’s a stretch goal for our organization.”
Hitting the gas on growth — Hormel’s long-term goal is for regular annual gains of 5 percent in sales and 10 percent in profits — isn’t easy for a firm that’s already large and whose best-known products, like Spam and Black Label bacon, are well-established. Indeed, Snee says the company simply cannot hit those marks with its existing stable of products.
“Some of our brands, they are great, but they are legacy brands. They will grow, but not at that rate,” Snee said. “We have higher expectations for the organization, so we do need to continue to find growth companies to supplement our portfolio.”
At the company’s headquarters in Austin, Snee and other Hormel executives outlined to the Star Tribune four key categories of companies or products for additional acquisitions: multicultural, healthy, international and on-the-go or snacking. Each category nods to different trends being shaped by long-term changes in the how and what people eat.
And during its fourth-quarter earnings call with investors on Tuesday, company leaders said they have a “robust and full” pipeline of acquisitions targets in the short term.
Snee said he will continue leading the company down the path started by the leadership team under former CEO Jeff Ettinger. He made deals that were bigger and more diversified than previously seen at the traditionally conservative Hormel.
People at the company were nervous in 2013 when Hormel agreed to pay $700 million for Skippy peanut butter, Snee said. The company had bought several smaller brands, like Provena Foods and Valley Fresh, in the preceding years, but nothing close to the size of the Skippy purchase.
“Skippy was our breakthrough deal that gave us the confidence that we can write a big check,” Snee said. “We wrote a $700 million check and we had never done that before. And then … we realized we were good at it.”
Hormel was able to quickly integrate Skippy into its system and boost sales and profits. So the company kept going. Hormel acquired CytoSport, maker of Muscle Milk products, the next year followed by the $775 million acquisition of natural and organic meats company Applegate Farms in 2015.
“They’ve done a really good job over the past several years of acquiring meaningful, relevant brands that are either No. 1 or No. 2 in their category,” said Brittany Weissman, an analyst with Edward Jones. “As the company gets bigger, they need bigger acquisitions.”
The company is comfortable with the big deals now, Snee said, but won’t overlook a smaller one either. Earlier this year, Hormel bought Justin’s, a maker of specialty nut butters and organic peanut butter cups, for $286 million. Wall Street may have scoffed at the deal initially, he said, but it aligns with their healthy and holistic growth pillar while putting them on the leading edge of a growing product in the center of the grocery store.
“You also can’t walk away from the Justin’s of the world. It’s $286 million that gives you thought leadership in the nut butter category,” Snee said. “The billion-dollar deals are fun and attractive, but we are still going to have the $300-, $400-, $500-million deals.”
Hormel will look to sell off underperforming brands to fund future purchases, like the sale of its Farmer John and Saag’s brands for $145 million, which it announced last week.
The company is also looking beyond these four U.S. growth categories to international markets. Snee spent four years heading up the company’s international business, which accounts for 5 percent of sales, and said Hormel’s global position is “underdeveloped.” Hormel has more aggressive projections for this business unit with 10 percent sales growth and 15 percent profit growth long-term.
“It’s taken us awhile, but we finally have some great scale in China,” he said, where the company is completing construction of a multimillion-dollar plant in Zhejiang province that will make Spam.
Skippy, with global name recognition, gave Hormel a stronger foothold in China — where the company had previously struggled against government bans — and helped accelerate its momentum in the world’s most-populous country. But, Snee said, “Beyond Asia, we aren’t really well developed and we need to look to the next region.”
Hormel will next look to Latin America and then to Africa for future growth, said Larry Vorpahl, president of Hormel Foods International. It will likely do this through acquisitions of brands within a target country that have a similar profile to those being bought in the United States. These won’t be megadeals, but bite-sized transactions that allow Hormel to get accustomed to a new culture and commerce system.
“We are trying to build internationally the same way that we have here,” Vorpahl said. “We are really moving more toward being on the ground where we can” rather than exporting to a country.