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Executives

Jerry S. G. Fowden - Chief Executive Officer and Director

Cott Corporation (COT) DbAccess Consumer, Retail, Gaming & Lodging Conference March 6, 2013 8:40 AM ET

Unknown Analyst

We're going to start it here with Cott. It's my great pleasure to have Jerry Fowden, the CEO of Cott, with us today. Let me just refer you to Page 2 of the handout, if you have it, which is the typical blow-by-blow discussion on forward-looking statements. With that, I think, we're going to start.

So, Jerry, if I look at the company sort of 2008 versus now, kind of what's changed? The leverage is way down, the EBITDA multiple, however, is actually lower than it was in 2008. So can you just give your thoughts on kind of what's happened from 2008 to 2012 and why you think the business can improve from there?

Jerry S. G. Fowden

Okay. Happy to do that. I mean, I think for those of you that might have known Cott back around 2007, 2008 compared to the Cott of today, in 2008, we had, I think, cash generation of around $11 million. Leverage was in excess of 4x, and Michael can check which page in the book if anyone wants to look at this, our leverage was in excess of 4x. Our credit ratings were, at least across the board, 1 notch lower than they are today. Our interest coverage was up in the mid-to-high 3s. And as you look at the close of 2012, that cash generation had moved from $11 million to about $100 million. The interest coverage had come down from the mid-to-high 3s to the 2s. Our leverage had dropped from over 4 to 2x on a net-debt basis, but our overall EBITDA multiple had slightly declined by about 0.2, 0.3 of a multiple. And our GAAP to the average multiple of the S&P had actually widened over that period of time. And I guess if I were still left after several years with the management team, working to make the business more stable, more robust, more cash generative, have a very clear strategy, I still think the front-of-mind view of Cott in a number of people is perhaps still that Cott of 2007, 2008. And I'm perhaps a little surprised that after 4 years of $100 million a year cash generation, that people haven't seen that greater stability within the business, because $100 million of cash a year is just north of $1.00 a share transfer of value from debt to equity each year. And as we look ahead to the end of 2013, we get the first chance to put all of that greater stability and cash generation to work because, in effect, we can redeem our 2017 notes but [indiscernible] over 8% interest on. And we can swap that from extra cash, which we all know today you're getting nothing on, but sat in our accounts, and use of our ABL that we have no drawings on, and the interest on that is about 2.5%. So we're swapping 8% debt from [ph] blended 1 1 on a bit percent with cash in ABL and that will add another $12 million to $15 million to our cash generation for next year, even if the entire rest of the business just stays flat. So we're starting to get to a period of time that certainly, financially, some of the benefits of making the business more stable will come through in our ability to refinance. But I always struggle with that, on [ph] Cott, the other [ph] people that lost their Walmart exclusivity, and we still supply 100% of their CSDs now 4 years later after that without goals ending of that exclusive supply agreement. But we now know we're doing it on quality service because they have the freedom to do what they want.

Unknown Analyst

Okay. That's actually a good segue into capital allocation. So how did your capital allocation plans change and how do you view the dividend and maybe even share repurchase now?

Jerry S. G. Fowden

Okay. Really the goal, and you always have to be careful in these kind of things because -- we'll just go sidetrack to a story. There was a friend of mine, Seamus McBride, he was CEO of Bacardi, some of you might know, for a while. He was my Marketing Director when I was back in Bass Brewers. And we launched the first of the alcopops, Hooper's Hooch. We made GBP 40 million profit on it in the first year. It was one of 29 different new products we chucked out there and it really worked. And afterwards, I saw various presentations from our marketings team showing the strategic rationale and all of the research behind the successful launching of this ready-to-drink alcohol sector. Now the reality was, I was staying with a friend out in Sydney, I saw a little bit of Two Dogs lemonade, but someone had rotting lemons so they turned into an alcopop. I bought a case of it, we had it at a barbecue, I loved it. I brought a case back to the U.K. and gave it to R&D and said, copy it. And out of that was this great strategic presentation of how we worked out where the market gap was. So I could sit here now and say our strategy in Cott has always had 3 phases. And that was to stabilize the business and then put in a combination of our capital deployment strategy, which includes an element towards driving future margin improvement and growth. That would probably be, because we're all realists, a little bit of an overstatement, but in reality, it is the theme of what we have been following. We perhaps might not have written it out as crisply 3 or 4 years ago when we set out on this path. But now, having lower debt, high consistent cash generation, the opportunity to refinance, we felt we were in a position to put out our balanced capital deployment strategy, which really says we will allocate about 30% of our free cash flow, and we broadly generate plus or minus $100 million a year, that's after EBITDA or after interest expense, that's pure free funds from the operation. We'll allocate about 30% of that as return of funds to our shareholders. We will continue to allocate about 40% of that to debt reduction, because while the net debt is down to 2x, the gross debt is still 2.5x or a bit more, and this refinancing will be a big step of that towards the end of '13, and we have another opportunity there in '14 that we can come back to. And then we will allocate 30% of our free cash flow towards the further diversification of the business, broader products, packages, so that we can become an even better one-stop shop for our customers. And that should help drive further margin restoration and a better top line position as we look forward. So that kind of means about $30-odd million back to shareholders, of which we've said the staple element will be an ongoing dividend around the 2.5% to 3% level. It was 3% and a smidgen when we put it in place. The stocks ran up a bit, so 2.5%, 2.6% maybe as it stands today. That still leaves about another $7 million to $10 million a year that we could use on an opportunistic share repurchase program. And if we're honest, we announced one of those last year and just in the 2 weeks of doing the admin after announcing it, our stock went up $1.50, so we never bought much. We got back together as a board and we set a different level for that. The stock ran up another $1.00. So we didn't buy much against that matrix. But I don't think our shareholders should be unhappy that we haven't -- some have said, why haven't you put more of that stock repurchase to work while it was $6.70 when we announced the stock buyback. And that was the bargain of the century to be buying our stock at that price. And I just ran up. We've put the dividend instead to stick to our commitment of buying that stock back. But we still do have in that 30% money to opportunistically buyback stock.

Unknown Analyst

Got you. And so, just looking at the business a little closer, your business is 40% carbonated soft drinks now. What do you think that will be in 5 years?

Jerry S. G. Fowden

Now while we do have a pretty good strategic planning process, we don't set targets at that level. But to try and pick up on something that's close to that question, I think, and I'm not trying to avoid the answer, I'll try and answer it in a slightly different way. If you take our position today, we have excellent manufacturing infrastructure for 2-liter soda pop, for 12-ounce cans of soda pop, for family-size fruit juice, for single-serve hot fill products, whether it be vitamin water, sports drinks, or fruit juice. But despite our scale as a manufacturer of beverages for others, whether it be private label, contract manufacture, brand owners, distributors, whatever, we don't have any pouches. We don't have any Tetra Brik cartons, we don't have any glass lines, we don't do liquid enhancers, MiO-type products. And therefore, I think people should expect in no mad panic, in no big rush, in no massive tons of CapEx because I think you've seen our conservative, constrained approach to these things, people should expect that, as time passes, we will continue to add those more diverse product and packages to our manufacturing makeup so that we can be an even better one-stop shop for our customers. So often, our customers say, "Look, you're our largest kind of supplier, we'd like to launch a pouch product or a MiO-type product. Can you supply it?" And over the last year, we've been saying, "No." Since we're at the first point of call quite often for these retailers, we would like to better be a complete one-stop shop solution. So on some of these examples, we already have some concrete plans, but we'll take it step-by-step. We've already bought our first 2 pouch fillers. We got them from someone, because we try and be frugal on these things, that went into bankruptcy a few months ago. We'd spoken to them a year before bankruptcy, they wanted to sell. We said, "You're going into bankruptcy," they said "No, we're going to do great. Our business is going to grow like that." Six months later, it still wasn't growing, willing to sell for a lower price, no, we'll just kind of wait and see. So we bought their fillers, they're back with the manufacturer now, they'll be fully refurbished and made the equivalent of new. We're buying the other pieces of equipment and hopefully, on shelf by the back-to-school market at this time of this year, which is September-ish, we will have pouches on the shelves of a number of our customers. We are installing, and it will be ready in May or June, our liquid enhancer line. In fact, Michael?

Michael heads up Investor Relations but we're going to give him an important job, open my briefcase down there. I'm going after this meeting, Walmart's year beginning meeting is in Orlando on Thursday and Friday, 4,500 store managers, every one of their senior managers. And it's a great place to touch base with 5 to 10 Walmart buyers and commercial people in the big main area all at once. And well, I thought, let's take a mockup of our new family size. No one has done liquid enhancers in a family size. So 4x as much as MiO for about the same price. 100 servings from this kind of container, we do have the same 1.5 ounce MiO one. This is a 6-odd ounce, just put a couple of drops in it. MiO is what I would call a handbag product but actually what about the gym bag, what about the office drawer, what about the fridge at home for all the kids, et cetera? So we'll have this available to be sold from around July this year and our smaller size starting around May. We pack things like Jim Beam & Cola, Bacardi and Cola, Palm Bay, alcohol products in Canada. We do the same in Mexico. Diageo is just spending [ph] some capital in our Mexican plants so that we'll produce some products for them, we already do Pernod, we already do Jim Beam. We do them in the U.K., we've not done them in the U.S. We'll start up with the ability to do alcohol products in our Dallas-Fort Worth facility around May, June this year. So they are 3 live examples of trying to continue this diversification away from those large mainstream package formats, that we want to defend and carry on doing, but there is not growth or margin expansion opportunities in those areas. So if we can keep that business, defend it, solid cash generative there and progressively add on to it, these pieces of business, and I've given you a flavor of this year's editions but there'll be more over the next 1, 2, 3 years, that's how you can see, slowly and progressively over time, we should be able to improve the mix and the margin and the growth opportunity of the business.

Unknown Analyst

Got you, that's a good answer. So I think you said you think that volume is going to be flat in the back half of 2013?

Jerry S. G. Fowden

Yes. I think we all know commodities ran up at a heck of a rate in 2011, especially resin. Resin now, in terms of resin purchase is equal for us to aluminum. In the past, it was always much smaller but with the juice business, which is all resin based, and the fact that hot fill containers are twice as heavy as cold fill soda containers, it made resin a much larger piece of our business. Resin ran up in 2011 and in the single year, was just under $50 million higher than we had budgeted and put into our pricing plans. And there's only so many times you can enjoy going back and knocking on the door of Walmart and saying, resin is up again, we need to talk about price. After a few of those experiences, you kind of think, I'll leave it until next year even if it's painful for shareholders. I'm sorry, we're all kind of -- we're all human beings in that sense. So we have a job to do to try and correct our gross margins. And we set out, in 2012, to substitute what had been reasonable volume and revenue momentum for some restoration of gross margins knowing that, as part of that process, we would walk away from some low margin business, which we identified in 2 categories of some case pack water, which we find a relatively unattractive area, and certain dollar channel business. So last year, we saw our gross margins improve on a full year average by 110 basis points. But we did see our revenues down some 4% to 6%. As we go through this year, we obviously overlap those exits that tended to be in quarters 1 and quarters 2 last year. Therefore, as we overlap that exiting, getting back towards volume and revenue, stability becomes much easier in the back half of the year, plus a number of our new initiatives will start to come on stream. Those are the niche ones I've spoken about but also, we are launching this year, and it's already in, I think, H-E-B, and in a month's time, goes into our largest retailer, our version of the candlestick bottle. Some of you might have seen a product called ICE from Talking Rain. We're launching Clear Choice ICE. We're launching Aqua Mist. These are different versions of that purified water, antioxidants, green tea extracts. A nice flavor profile across things like orange and mangoes, strawberry and kiwi, et cetera, well received. That product will be in 60%, 70% of our customer base by the time we get to the middle of this year. So a combination of lapping the exits, the strategic exits of last year plus new product development, should get us more back towards that stable position on the top line by the second half of the year.

Unknown Analyst

Got you. And do you think market share in carbonated soft drinks will be stable for private label?

Jerry S. G. Fowden

Private label has been losing some share. It's actually priced up more than the market in general, so that's pretty easy to understand. Our goal, our strategic plan builds in about a 3% decline in that traditional standard carbonated soft drink market. We believe that with our diversification and innovation, we can get ourselves in a position that, that volume ought to be broadly flat. Now sometimes, this is a complicated one to try and explain as we report in standard industry 8-ounce cases, sometimes our 8-ounce volume might be down a bit even if our shipped cases is flat. And that's because if you ship 1 case of standard 2-liter soda pop, it counts as 2.7 8-ounce cases. If you ship 1 standard case of an energy drink, like a Red Bull-type product, that counts as 1 8-ounce case. You sell it for about 33% more than the big 2.7 in 8-ounce equivalent 2-liter soda pop, so it's better business. So we might start to introduce, in some of our reporting as we go forward, our 8-ounce cases and our raw cases to try and get that better understanding of the business. But it also means, look at the revenue line because as we change the mix, you can sell a whole ton of this and it counts for hardly any 8-ounce cases. But each single one of these is about the price of a case of 2-liter soda pop at our wholesale level, but it wouldn't count for 1/10 of 1 8-ounce cases that are 2.7. So as we manage the mix, the revenue line probably becomes, slowly and progressively over the following years, a little bit more relevant than the standard industry 8-ounce equivalent case volume metric.

Unknown Analyst

Sure. And do you think there's an opportunity, I know the big branded players are now changing their pack sizes just quite a bit, trying to move from the 2-liter to the 1.25-liter and try to move down to 8-ounce cans a little bit. I mean, is that something you guys would be interested in? are you sort of committed to sticking with what you have right now?

Jerry S. G. Fowden

We can do most things. I just think we need to be -- you need to be a little bit careful and cautious. The reason the national brand players are introducing things like 1.25 or 1.5 liter is they no longer want to sell their national brands at $1 or $0.99 for 2-liter. Because they can't, with inflation, make the kind of margins they need. Therefore, seeing their 2-liter up much more than in the $1.25 to $1.50 mark with private label next to it at $0.84, I don't think is a bad comparison compared to $0.84 versus a promoted $0.98. So I can see exactly why they are going for hidden pricing through opaque pack proliferation. That's a good strategy for their business. I would support it but I'm not so sure that's something today we need to follow, because there is an advantage in seeing 2-liter private label versus a more expensive 2-liter national brand in terms of very easy consumer price comparison. If we do need to do more small pack and other pack sizes, we can. We did put a load of 8 packs into our largest customer at $1.97, I think, retail just to hit that sub-$2 retail last year. I'm not so sure all of our post-event analysis shows we've really gained anything out of that, other than we've given less space to both SKUs. So some of those, we're going to convert back. Some of those, we're going to leave. But we have the capability to do it, I just don't think we should rush anything.

Unknown Analyst

Got you. That's fair. And then it seems like you're a lot more bullish on the juice business. I know you had massive commodity inflation over the last sort of 1.5 years. What do you think is driving that? Is it just the pricing rolling off?

Jerry S. G. Fowden

I think there's a number of factors. I mean, there is no doubt, and we all know hindsight is a wonderful sight, if we could have bought Cliffstar 2 years later, after the apple concentrate cost doubled, which led to significant increases at retail, between 30% and 50%, we'd have probably gotten the business cheaper. Now whether the owner would have been selling it, completely different thing if he wasn't getting the value he expected. So we have to kind of recognize that Cliffstar has been kind of 2 steps forward and 1 step backwards. I think in the juice business, it's probably past its low. There was a lot of price increases at the time, the consumer was still rather stretched and fragile. Those higher prices have been around for a couple of years now. While that was going on, no retailer wanted to promote juice, because you've taken a promotion that you might drop $1.70 to $1.50 and they'd say, "But last year, I was selling at $0.98. I don't feel comfortable about advertising and displaying that as a great price." So everyone's desire to drive that category kind of waned. The consumers didn't want to buy it as much because it was expensive, retailers didn't want to get behind it. And you've seen in the entire U.S. shelf stable apple juice market, the entire market has lost over a quarter of its volume in the past 2, 2.5 years. Now apple prices are starting to fall. They're continuing to lower. Producers in China are still producing at the moment, so we have some opportunity to either take that lowering price towards gross margin or, which I think would be our preference on this occasion because apple is such a big part of our juice business, to put some of that lower concentrate price back into promotional efforts and promotional pricing to try and reinvigorate the market. You can never quite tell in a Cott-based product what next year and the year after is going to be on grape, cranberry and apple. But I think the consumers absorb the higher pricing. I think the market declines are bottoming them out and I think there are some, towards the back end of 2013, more favorable commodities that's going to allow activity to be driven. And that activity should restimulate some consumer interest within the category.

Unknown Analyst

Got you. And then how about -- and this is kind of a loaded question, but the heightened regulatory scrutiny we're seeing for the industry broadly, much more in terms of anti-obesity concerns and even some of the environmental issues associated with PT and aluminum. Do you think we're kind of at a peak of that or how do you think this thing sort of plays out going forward?

Jerry S. G. Fowden

I guess I could be in danger of offending some people here not knowing everyone's kind of background, culture, dietary preferences and political leanings. I shouldn't say that there's a whole bunch of sandal-wearing history teachers out there that are anti the carbonated soft drink market, I shouldn't say that. But the reality is carbonated soft drink's contribution towards the calories in the U.S. public's diet has declined by over 14% in the last decade. That's very easy to understand because more than a decade ago, there were hardly any diet products. And now, it's 30%, 40% of the entire marketplace. So why is carbonated soft drinks driving the obesity of the U.S. public when its contribution towards the calorie intake has declined by over 14%? It's not. Fact, it is not. Now everyone's short of a little bit of money and you look at big national brands, big offices and large balance sheets and you kind of say, "Well, I can probably build a story here and the consumer will be anti these big corporations, let's try and get some of their money." So I won't deny that there is a bad PR going on in this area, and that's not helpful for the industry. I can be honest and say that the tail's not going to wag the dog. With our budgets and our position, we're not going to be the people spending all of the money trying to change this. And you do see that the American Beverage Association has worked very hard, clear on calories, front-of-pack calorie labeling. Coca-Cola has recently been doing some calorie-based advertising. All of the effort behind products, whether they be light, diet, Dr. Pepper 10, hybrid sweetened products that we do, but there's a lot of effort going into trying to address that. But I'd like to take this opportunity to remind people it's nothing to do with the increasing obesity in the U.S. Go and look up Millies Cookies or someone else. That's where the challenge lies.

Unknown Analyst

Yes, of course. And how about this sort of magic sweetener that Pepsi is talking [indiscernible] sweetener will be the sort of magic volume driver for the industry, if it in fact...

Jerry S. G. Fowden

I think when it comes, it will be a great success. I'm personally -- you never quite know exactly what everyone's working away on in secret, but just sit and having a chat 2 or 3 weeks ago with the CEO of Tate & Lyle's business, I don't think that magic, complete replacement, natural sweetener is here yet. I think we'll be on brands [ph] for a while and that these naturally sweetened products will continue to be line extensions, because as yet, there's nothing that is a complete, take Coke out, put new naturally artificial Diet Coke out, put new naturally artificial sweetener in it, they don't taste the same. And therefore, I think this will be an ongoing gradual development, new SKUs, new line extensions, new flavors, where the people that are really interested in that, yes with a different flavor profile, will have an additional option. I think we are a way off a "you can't notice the difference" all-natural artificial sweetener.

Unknown Analyst

Got you. And then how about sort of stevia and monk fruit? Is it does the taste profile doesn't work? Is that why it's been so long...

Jerry S. G. Fowden

Stevia or monk fruit, it's sweet and it's got an aftertaste. It was only last weekend -- my wife likes all sorts of natural products and she was drinking a stevia-sweetened tea product, slightly sparkling tea product. And her first comment was, "Why does this taste funny?" I said, "Because you bought an all natural and I bet you it's got stevia in it." And she looked at the back of the label and, oh, stevia. So there's a trade-off. We're going to get used to that but horses for courses, there are people that will be happy with that trade-off. Going back with the start of diet sodas, oh, they don't taste the same as regular and people are happy with that trade-off. But in terms of the magic bullet, I mean, it's a while away.

Unknown Analyst

Got you. And then last one before we open it up to the audience. Do you think there's room for a lot more consolidation in private label, in beverages but also private label broadly? It seems like there's still a lot of manufacturers out there.

Jerry S. G. Fowden

First, I'd like to say our goal increasingly, over the coming 2, 5, 7, 10 years, is to be a manufacturer of beverages for others. We currently manufacture products for Nestlé, here in the U.S. and Mexico, for Diageo and Pernod in Canada, Mexico and U.K., for GlaxoSmithKline, for Coca-Cola Enterprises, as well as doing private labels, and then we contract manufacturer Ziants [ph], Energy [ph], et cetera, et cetera. We have an extensive manufacturing network, low cost, high service. We do Monster in Mexico for the Hansen Group. We do some fruit juices for them out in our Fontana plant in California. Our goal, as part of this diversification, is to be a manufacturer of beverages for others. So is there opportunity for consolidation in the manufacturing of beverages for others space? Yes, I think there is. Some of that might be contract manufacturing, some of that might be other private label businesses, some might be value branded businesses. I mean, our brand portfolio in the U.K. are value brands, because if you're a small chain retailer, you don't have the volume to justify a private label range. We want minimum runs of 10,000 or 20,000 cases. So having a controlled brand range that's a value proposition that smaller chains can buy is important. In the U.K., that's now 12% or 13% of our U.K.'s product mix. And that accounts for 25% of our U. K.'s gross margin. So that value brand, might be between private label and the national brands, is a relatively nice space to be. And we would see ourselves, again, slowly, progressively doing more of that over time. So value brands, contract manufacturing, private label, yes, there is the opportunity. Back to that capital deployment kind of question where we started and we started with the shareholders, it's 30% of funds back to shareholders, 40% towards debt reduction that has a real opportunity in '13 and '14 from redeeming our 2017 notes in '13 and saving $12 million to $15 million in interest and refinancing our 2018 notes in '14, probably saving another $6 million of interest. But the last 30% of our capital deployment is towards accelerating our organic or bolt-on investment in the business, really behind this diversification of product, package and channel. So we don't do much in food service. And I think we have the capabilities and the desire to do more in food service. And as I say, we don't do pouch, we don't do glass, we don't do Tetra, we don't do cups, we don't do cuplets, we don't do freezables. There's much more that we can add to our one-stop shop. And that last 30% of our free cash flow is designed to drive that diversification, some of which would will be through bolt-ons where there should be synergies, but there should be diversification of formats allowing us to cross-sell and upsell and be a better one-stop shop.

Unknown Analyst

Perfect. You're not going to relaunch dog water though, right?

Jerry S. G. Fowden

No.

Unknown Analyst

Okay, great. Are there any questions here in the audience?

Unknown Analyst

Jerry, you seem to be an intersection for the beverage industry. You know all the manufacturers, you work with them and you also work with the retailers. So you probably have a lot of information and you really sense the pulse of the industry. Now the speaker after you is going to be from SodaStream. I'm curious what you think, what you hear from the marketplace, retailers and other manufacturers, about the legitimacy of that platform, the home soda making platform?

Jerry S. G. Fowden

When I was 13 or 14 and lived in Canonbury in Islington in London, we had a SodaStream machine. So I'm probably a user of that product way before anyone in this room. My personal view, and I like SodaStream, we had a number of conversations with them, is that there is an opportunity in that convenience area for that kind of product. I know -- I think the IPO was done by some of the people in this room and what a successful IPO that's been. But I would -- my personal element [ph] , and I don't want to offend anyone either, is I think the opportunity is even bigger as and if they can move towards smaller serving sizes and single serve. The concept is there, the consumer willingness is there, we've all seen what's happened with coffee, but the benefit with coffee is you stick a cup under there, you press the button and, boom, you got a coffee. You don't have to wash anything, you don't have to recycle anything. So I think, no doubt, they are the market leader, they're in the pole position and I think there's further innovation on product development to come in that space. And back to diversification, I would love to be the contract packer for any of those kind of products as they grow in the marketplace. Anything else?

Unknown Analyst

Anyone else besides the CEO of SodaStream? All right, we have 15 seconds left, so I think we're good. Thank you very much, Jerry.

Jerry S. G. Fowden

You're welcome. Thank you.

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