Picture: REUTERS/MIKE BLAKE
Picture: REUTERS/MIKE BLAKE

Atlanta — PepsiCo reported a stronger-than-expected spring as homebound consumers looking for comfort stocked up on snack foods — and its current-quarter forecast was even more bullish.

As Covid-19 raged across the US, Americans seeking familiar flavours filled their shelves with salty, crunchy treats, driving double-digit sales growth for brands such as Tostitos, Fritos and Cheetos. Even newer snacks such as fruit-chips line Bare and Off The Eaten Path, a maker of black bean and chickpea crisps, saw double-digit growth. Beverage sales were one weakness, as both in-restaurant and grab-and-go petrol station sales lagged during the lockdowns.

“Consumer eating habits continue to evolve with consumers spending more time at home, which benefits the at-home breakfast, snacking and dinner occasions,” CEO Ramon Laguarta said in pre-recorded remarks about the second quarter.

PepsiCo shares rose 2.3% in New York after an earlier gain of as much as 2.7%. The stock was little changed in 2020 through Friday.

As one of the first big packaged-food companies reporting results for the spring months, PepsiCo is being closely watched by investors for a look at how consumers are responding to 2020’s upheaval. The company is well-positioned because of its high global share of the market for snack foods, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.

And snack foods, it seems, carried the North American consumer through a difficult quarter. Ruffles potato chip brand saw high single-digit growth, while oatmeal line Quaker’s organic revenue spiked 23% in the quarter. The snack and beverage giant sees the trend towards more breakfast meals at home remaining strong after the pandemic subsides, and the company said it has marketing plans to retain any new Quaker customers it picked up during the quarantines.

With an increase in online grocery shopping, PepsiCo said its five-year-old e-commerce business is projected to have $3bn in sales this year, up from about $2bn 2019. While it’s not yet clear how much of the gains will be sustainable, CEO Hugh Johnston said on a call with analysts “we’re prepared for it to stay large”.

Other packaged-food companies have been pummelled by Wall Street after reporting strong spring quarters, since investors didn’t see signs they could hold on to the gains. But PepsiCo says it’s optimistic it can capitalise on these new buying habits.

In fact, after reporting a 0.3% slide in the latest period for organic revenue, a closely watched indicator of growth, the owner of the Mountain Dew and Doritos brands said that metric will turn positive in this quarter, predicting a low single-digit boost. The company said it still won’t make an outlook for 2020.

“As we look ahead for North America, we expect our overall business to perform well, assuming there is no large-scale disruption in economic activity or population mobility as a result of the recent surge in Covid-19 infections in many markets,” Laguarta said. “With this in mind, we expect our snacks and food businesses to remain resilient, albeit with some moderation in growth while our beverage businesses should deliver better performance during the second half of this year.”

Bloomberg

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