Friday, 18 November 2011

Strong Brands Win Again - Dairy Crest Outperforms Robert Wiseman

Half year profit results from Robert Wiseman and Dairy Crest once again show the perils of being a one product, one sales channel company operating in a commodity market.

Wiseman’s who sell only fresh milk saw pre tax profits drop by 42%, from £20.2m last year to £11.8m, on a turnover which climbed by 1%. The profit problems arose because the price they paid to farmers rose three times this year, and energy bills rocketed, but supermarkets, on whom Wiseman depends for nearly all their sales, refused to pass these costs on to consumers. Indeed many will recall that retail prices have been slashed of late.
By contrast, Dairy Crest who sell big brands such as Country Life butter and Cathedral City cheese alongside fresh milk reported a profits rise of 9% on a revenue increase of 2%.

Its just as well that Dairy Crest has these brands.  Profits in their dairy division which sells the milk saw profits plummet by 89%, from £10.9m to £1.2m, a shocking performance which puts the fresh milk supply problem into sharp relief.
By contrast profits in the cheese division jumped by 32% due to higher selling prices, and butters and spreads profits grew by 16.5%.

For whatever reason, Wiseman seems to have held a the difficult milk situation together better than Dairy Crest,  possibly because of scale (Wiseman supplies about a third of all fresh milk). But as previous blogposts have indicated, the Wiseman story continues to be a tale of erratic performance, and it is difficult to see how their current business model of one product and one sales channel can be made reliable and sustainable.
Some investors point to their strong cash position, and much has been made of their new venture with New Zealand company A2 which may deliver innovative products such as a more easily digested milk for those who think they have a lactose intolerance. Then again though, Arla seems to have solved this issue with Lactofree.

Dairy Crest with its brands, its presence in cheese, butter, and spreads as well as raw milk, and its sales through more than just supermarkets seems better able to deliver the steady, predictable performance that suppliers, customers and investors like to see.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Warning Call From EBLEX - More Must be Done to Boost Red Meat Consumption

Hard work is needed to keep consumers buying beef and lamb. That is the message coming from EBLEX’s recent conference, and it is an important one. Farm gate prices are strong just now, helped by a reduction in supply from UK farms, a reduction in imports, and a solid export trade due to the weak pound.

UK consumption though is just about stable for beef and dropping like a stone for lamb. Kantar Worldpanel figures show that in the 52 weeks to October 2nd, people ate 21% less lamb than in the previous year.

So what are the problems? Price is the big one of course. When asked why they do not eat more beef 32% say it is too expensive, and 27% say they cannot afford to. The comparable figures for lamb are 45% and 33%.
We know from other research that price in general has become more of an issue. %. In 2008 34% of consumers claimed to make a shopping list and stick to it. In 2010 this had risen to 44%. In 2008 28% said they worked to a strict budget when buying groceries. That figure now is 40%.

The other main problem on beef is that 17% of consumers think it is not very good for you.
Lamb has its own issues. 57% of consumers agree that lamb can be fatty, and 14% say that too much fat is left on the plate after eating. 15% say there is not enough meat and too much bone to offer value for money.

What can be done to boost red meat consumption?

No one thinks that consumers will become any less price and value conscious in the foreseeable future.
So as Richard Phelps, now of ABP, pointed out at the EBLEX conference, consumers must be given reasons to eat red meat. He believes that, despite continuing pressures on spend, consumers are becoming more adventurous with ingredients and recipes. They are staying in more rather than eating out, and are prepared to buy premium products, mixing these with value lines as budgets allow. So red meat marketers must respond with new cuts and new products.

Phelps says that quality has to improve. He specifically focussed on age of herds, but as anyone who has forked out for a joint of beef and found it tough and tasteless, or left most of their lamb because it was too fatty, much more attention has to be paid to the eating qualities and presentation of red meat. Nick Allen of EBLEX made the quality point also, particularly on lamb where he feels product must improve to combat consumer perceptions of fattiness and poor value.
The final question therefore is who has to take the lead in this. I would suggest it is the processor, ideally with the backing of the supermarket they supply. It is the processor who has the opportunity to set production standards, to reject the over fatty animal, and to ensure that good butchering means consumers get a product they feel is good value for the money spent.