ConAgra to sell private label unit

cf_color_double_lrgConAgra Foods Inc plans to sell its faltering business that makes store-brand packaged food just two years after spending $US5 billion ($A6.49 billion) to beef it up by buying the private-label foodmaker, Ralcorp.

The company on Tuesday said it wants to concentrate on improving business for its name brands, which include Chef Boyardee, Hebrew National hot dogs, Slim Jim meat sticks and others.

The company’s shares rose $US1.37, or 3.2 per cent, to $US44.80 in premarket trading.

“As I have intensely studied the situation in our private brands operations over the last few months, it has become clear that the time and energy the company is devoting to the private brands turnaround represent a suboptimal use of our resources,” CEO, Sean Connolly said in a statement.

The company has been under scrutiny by activist investor, Jana Partners, which disclosed a 7.2 per cent stake in ConAgra earlier in June.

It said the company’s results had been disappointing since it bought Ralcorp and threatened a proxy battle for seats on the ConAgra’s board of directors.

At the time of the purchase, ConAgra said that the Ralcorp acquisition would provide the company with a larger presence in the growing private label food segment. Then-CEO, Gary Rodkin, called it a “logical and exciting step” for the company in a statement before the acquisition.

On Tuesday, ConAgra also reported fourth-quarter earnings that met Wall Street expectations.

During the fourth quarter, the company reported profit of $US209.2 million, or US48 cents per share, marking a swing to a profit compared with a year ago. Earnings adjusted for one-time gains and costs, were US59 cents per share.

The results met Wall Street expectations. The average estimate of seven analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was also for earnings of US59 cents per share.

Revenue 3.7 per cent to $US4.1 billion in the period, falling short of Street forecasts. Four analysts surveyed by Zacks expected $US4.14 billion.

ConAgra shares have increased 20 per cent since the beginning of the year, while the Standard & Poor’s 500 index has stayed nearly flat. The stock has increased 43 per cent in the past 12 months.

AP

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