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General Mills, Inc. (NYSE:GIS)

Barclays Back to School Conference Call

September 13, 2013, 12:45 pm ET

Executives

Donal Mulligan - Chief Financial Officer, Executive Vice President

Analysts

Andrew Lazar - Barclays

Andrew Lazar - Barclays

We are pleased to once again have General Mills here with us today at the Back to School conference. If the past several years have been more notable for the company's pronounced expansion within international markets, through Yoplait International and Yoki acquisitions, FY'14 is shaping up to be a more typical year with annual sales anticipated to grow for the key cereal and yogurt platforms, HMM driven margin expansion expected to fund the reinvestment and shareholder returns planned to be augmented by the increased dividend and high-yield share repurchases. So here to discuss these plans in more detail are Executive VP and CFO, Donal Mulligan and Senior VP, Investor Relations, Kris Wenker.

With that, I will pass it over to you, Don. Thanks for being here.

Donal Mulligan

Great, thanks, Andrew. Good afternoon, everybody. It is my pleasure to be here in Boston with you today. I appreciate the opportunity to provide an update on General Mills. As Andrew noted, I am joined on stage by our Senior Vice President of Investor Relations, Kris Wenker and in the back, running the slides, by Bob Houghton, our Director of IR.

Let me quickly remind you that my comments today will include forward-looking statements that are based on our current views and assumptions. As this slide points out, numerous factors could cause actual results to differ from our estimates.

At General Mills, we are committed to delivering consistent, high quality sales and earnings growth over time. We target low single digit growth in net sales, mid single digit growth in segment operating profit and high single digit growth in earnings per share. We expect this business growth allows an attractive dividend yield to result in superior returns to General Mills shareholders over time.

Over the past five years, we have delivered financial performance, consistent with this model. Since fiscal 2008, our net sales have grown at roughly 5.5% compound rate, segment operating profits have compounded at 6% and adjusted diluted earnings per share have increased at 9% average annual rate. Over the same time period, shareholder dividends increased at an 11% rate outpacing growth in earnings per share.

This five year period comes out with a sharp increase in commodity cost volatility and very weak economic terms, particularly across developed markets. So ultimately this represents a strong financial performance.

We are expecting another year of quality growth in fiscal 2014. We are targeting low single digit growth in net sales, fueled by product news and innovation across our base business and incremental contributions from new businesses. We expect operating profit to grow faster than sales reflecting a robust pipeline of productive initiatives and stronger profit contributions from new businesses. We expect to deliver high single digit growth in adjusted diluted earnings per share to a range of $2.87 to $2.90.

Beyond the sales and earnings growth, we are targeting returns to General Mills shareholders in 2014 will include the 15% dividend increase effective with the recent August 1 payment. We see dividend growth as an important component of our value creation for shareholders.

We will be reporting our 2014 first quarter results by September 18. So we will give you a full update at that time. But I can tell you today that the business is off to a solid start. We expect to deliver good sales growth in the quarter, including contributions from new products and three months of incremental contribution from Yoplait Canada and Yoki in Brazil.

We expect first quarter gross margins to be lower reflecting input cost inflation and the changes in our business mix. We expect first quarter segment operating profit to be up despite a foreign exchange headwind and higher levels of advertising and media investments.

Just a quick snapshot. We will give you the detail sales report in two weeks. Our confidence in General Mills' growth outlook is really the strength of our business portfolio. We are focused on five global product categories.

These are the ready to eat cereal, yogurt, convenient meals, snacks and super premium ice cream. These categories are on trend with consumer demand for great tasting nutritious and convenient food at a good value. As a result, retail sales for these categories are projected to grow at mid to high single digit rates in the years ahead. Our brands hold leading positions in these advantage categories.

We have a $4 billion global cereal business. including our 50% share of cereal partners worldwide sales. Cereal continues to be one of the biggest and best growth categories in the food industry. With nearly $3 billion in net sales worldwide, we are the world's second largest yogurt company. With more than $900 million in sales outside of North America, Häagen-Dazs is a leading brand in the global ice cream category. Our sales in convenient meals products total nearly $3 billion worldwide and growing. Our snack brands generates another $3 billion in worldwide net sales. This portfolio includes a number of better-for-you snacks options, including our leading wholesome snack bar brands.

These five global categories account for more than 70% of our worldwide sales, including our share of joint venture revenues. We have strong product news and innovation on each of these businesses right now. I would like to review these with you today, starting with our largest global business, cereal.

This is a great food category. Cereal is nutritious. It is convenient, affordable and it tastes great. In the U.S., more than 90% of households buy cereal and annual sales exceeds $9 billion in measured channels alone. We have been asked, what will get this category growing again at its historical low single-digit rate. There is really no mystery to that. Ready to eat cereal grows based on the collective product news, innovation and marketing that the branded players bring to the category. Our 2014 cereal efforts are just getting started.

Let me share a few examples with you. Cereal is the largest franchise in the U.S. cereal category. By far, today one in eight boxes of cereal sold in the U.S. is a variety of Cheerios. We are particularly excited about our 2014 advertising efforts behind this business. We have recently launched new advertising that reminds consumers of the heartfelt benefits and emotional connections of our iconic original Cheerios. Baseline sales trends are improving these results up 240 basis points calendar year-to-date.

Honey Nut Cheerios is the best-selling cereal in America. Our new flavor variety, Honey Nut Cheerios, Medley Crunch continues to be the single largest new item in the cereal category in calendar 2013. So we have a lot going on in our Cheerios business.

We have product news and innovation across many other established brands too. For example, gluten-free is a key product attribute for our Chex cereal line. We have just launched a vanilla Chex variety. Cascadian Farms cereal sales are up 10% in the last year. This brand now generate over 1% of cereal category sales and Cascadian Farm is the number one granola cereal in America, organic or otherwise.

Lucky Charms turns 50 years old in 2014. Adults account for nearly half of this brands total consumption. So we have expanded our advertising efforts to this group. Result been terrific. Since the new campaign started in January, baseline sales have increased 17 percentage points. We will share the details behind Lucky birthday celebration later this fall.

New products are important to cereal growth too. Our first half new product lineup includes Nature Valley Granola, with 10 grams of protein per serving. Launched in June it's already among the top turning granola brands. Our new BFast breakfast shake provides busy consumers with balanced nutrition of a bowl of cereal and milk in a convenient shelf stable, drinkable format. Distribution on this product is just getting started. We have additional new product innovation in the second half of this fiscal year.

We are supporting our U.S. cereal business with strong levels of advertising. While total cereal category spending has declined over the past couple of years, our cereal advertising increased 6% and today it represents 41% of total category measured spending. This share of voice well exceeds our share of category dollar sales.

In total, we are very excited about our U.S. cereal product news and innovation in the first half the year, with more to come in the second half. We have a strong slate of advertising and marketing plans. While last year our in-store merchandising activity was back half weighted, we have a more balanced promotional calendar for cereal in 2014. Added up, our U.S. cereal business is off to a good start this year, including 30 basis point of market share growth through the first two months and expected net sales growth in the first quarter. We will have more details for you later this month.

Today, the majority of cereal category sales actually occur outside of North America. While category growth slowed recently in Southwest Europe, we are seeing good performance in a markets like the U.K. where category sales have increased at low single-digit rates. The categories expanding at strong levels in emerging markets with Central Europe, Asia and Latin American markets generating mid to high single-digit growth.

Cereal partners worldwide, our joint venture with Nestlé is a clear number two serial company outside North America with 22% value share. In calendar 2013-to-date, CPW sales are up 2% in constant currency with faster growth in earnings. In developed markets, we recently launched Chocapic Hazelnut in France. In the U.K., we are supporting our Shredded Wheat brand with new Heart Healthy advertising campaign. Across Europe, we are supporting our Fitness brand with new advertising too.

In the emerging markets, we are highlighting cereal as a great fuel for school for kids. We are bringing new product innovations to these markets, including the current launches of Nesquik Pillows in Russia and Fitness Fibre in Mexico. Today CPW holds leading share positions in many emerging markets and is a number one cereal company in key markets like Russia, Turkey and Southeast Asia. Our emerging market performance in calendar 2013-to-date includes strong sales increase in the Latin America and Asia, where CPW accounts for more than half of category sales.

We believe in the growth potential of cereal. The $26 billion global category is on trend with consumers. Cereal is nutritious, convenient, affordable and tastes great. Yet today, more than half of worldwide cereal consumption happens in just four countries, the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Australia. These markets represent only 6% of the world's population. With per capita consumption levels low but growing in many markets, we see a great opportunity ahead for this category and for General Mills.

Let me turn to yogurt. This is a terrific category too. As I showed earlier, global retail sales exceeds $76 billion today, and are expected to grow at a high single-digit pace in the years ahead. In the U.S., the Greek segment has lead category growth in the recent years. Sales for our Greek yogurt business are now significantly outpacing the segment. Over the last 12 months we have added almost 3 points of Greek segment market share.

We intend to build on this momentum with the launch of Yoplait Greek Blended. Available in six flavors, this strained Greek product offers the protein and satiating benefit of other great products with a winning taste profile. Distribution and dedicated advertising for this product are just getting started. So we expect our Greek yogurt sale trends to show continued progress moving forward in 2014.

Beyond Yoplait Greek, our new items include Yoplait Fruitful, with one-third a cup of real fruit in every serving, more than any leading national yogurt brand. We have added new varieties of our Yoplait Original, Light and Whipped product lines. Our core cup baseline sales per point of distribution are up nearly 10% in calendar 2013. We are supporting our core business with increased levels of advertising this year including two new spots that will air this fall.

We are also continuing the new regional expansion for Liberté Greek and Méditerranée varieties in the U.S. Over the past 12 months, our distribution has grown at a double-digit rate. Yet with nationally ACV at just 45%, we still have room to grow this brand.

Let me shift to Europe, where yogurt is our largest business, and the U.K. and France are the largest yogurt market in the region. We posted good sales growth and share gains in both of these markets last year. Our 2014 innovation efforts are just getting started. In France, we have expanded our successful Cal-in Yogurt which promotes bone health in the beverages. We have also expanded our line of Yop yogurt drinks for kids and we are introducing new varieties of Perle de Lait yogurt later this fall.

In the U.K., our recent launch of Liberté Greek yogurt is doing well. Consumer repeat purchases have been strong. We have also introduced new flavors of Weight Watchers yogurt. We are increasing our media investment including high levels of digital advertising on Cal-in yogurt.

In Canada, the yogurt market is growing at an attractive rate. With sales up nearly 9% in calendar 2013, our sales are growing even faster. Since acquiring the Yoplait license in September of last year, we have added a full point of market share and today our Yoplait and Liberté brands account for 30% of Canada yogurt category sales. Yogurt consumption is still concentrated in a fairly small number of developed markets today.

In Canada, per capita consumption is concentrated in Québec. The U.S. is still a developing market for yogurt. In China, India, and Indonesia consumers consume less than 4 kilograms per person each year. So we see great opportunities to expand yogurt consumption and build our yogurt brands in the years ahead.

Turning to snack foods. Our biggest business is grain snack bars. We are seeing terrific growth in our U.S. business. In fact, we have added nearly 10 points to our markets over the last five years. This business is off to a strong start to 2014 too. Retail sales are up almost 10%. We have added nearly 9 point of market share year-to-date. This performance includes strong early sales for Nature Valley Soft-Baked Oatmeal Squares, which contain at least 12 grams of wholegrain and 150 calories per serving. Launched in June, these great tasting bars are already turning in the top third of the grain snack category. Next week, we will start shipping new Nature Valley Greek Yogurt Protein bars with 10 grams of protein per serving.

Grain snacks are popular with international consumers too. Over the last five years, international sales for our Nature Valley and Fiber One snack bar lines have increased at a high single-digit rate. Our 2014 growth plans include new protein varieties for Fiber One and Nature Valley in Canada and new flavors of Nature Valley Sweet & Nutty bars in the U.K. We have only just begun to tap the grain snacks product pipeline we have built here in the U.S. So we like the prospects for international growth on our snack bar platform.

In recent years, we have added some great natural and organic items to our better-for-you snacks portfolio. U.S. sales for our Larabar all-natural fruit and nut bars are growing at a robust double-digit rate. The new ALT protein bars are off to a great start. All four varieties are turning in the top half of the nutrition bar category. We are currently adding several new flavors and we are starting to expand distribution beyond the natural and organic channel.

We are also quickly expanding the availability of our Food Should Taste Good savory snack business. Last year, total points of distribution grew to double-digit rate. These snacks are still only a small percentage of traditional retail customers today. So we see tremendous growth ahead for this business.

Net sales for our snacks and convenient stores have increased at a double-digit rate in recent years. This is part of our convenient stores and Foodservice business segment. In 2014, we have a strong lineup of new items here, including Chex Snacks Chips, Betty Crocker Brownies and Nature Valley Soft-Baked Oatmeal Squares, all launched during the first quarter.

Let us now turn to convenient meals. Every night, over one million U.S. households fix a Helper dinner for mix for dinner. Our efforts to help the next 100 million households discover Helpers are underway. We have launched a number of new flavor varieties and we are handing out product samples across the country. I am sure you have seen that our first quarter consumer takeaway is tracking below year ago levels. That's being driven by declines in our non-core SKUs including value, size and restaurant favorites. Meanwhile, distribution on our new products is building rapidly. So our first quarter shipments are outpacing the Nielsen data you see. Our comprehensive marketing play in support of this business is just getting started.

Soup is a great tasting and convenient meal option. We have lead growth in ready to serve soup over the last decade with great tasting flavors, the launch of reduced calorie soups and strong advertising. As a result, we have added 14 points of market share reaching 40% of segment sales in fiscal 2013. In 2012, we are adding new varieties of Rich & Hearty and Progresso Light soup. We have launched a new Progresso Heart Healthy line of soups that are bold, not bland. Next week, we are entering the premium segment with new Progresso Artisan soups, starting with a regional launch in the Eastern U.S. We will be supporting our entire Progresso product line with increased levels of media investment including a double-digit increase in advertising targeted to Hispanics and Millennial consumers.

Consumers outside the U.S. need fast dinner options too. In Brazil, Yoki has launched new Kit Fácil dinner kits. We are seeing terrific in-store display in this product line tied to the festa junina or June festival, a traditional Brazilian celebration that marks the beginning of the Brazilian winter. I would say that we are very pleased with Yoki's overall performance. Retail sales in Brazil increased nearly 20% during our first year of ownership of this business.

So with brands ranging from Progresso soup in the U.S. to Wanchai Ferry frozen foods in China to Old El Paso in over 60 markets, we see a terrific assortment of convenient meal choices around the globe. We are helping consumers everywhere answer that daily question of what's for dinner.

Turning to ice cream. Our Häagen-Dazs brand competes in the super premium segment of this category. China is our single largest Häagen-Dazs market. Our growth strategy there starts with entering new cities with our upscale Häagen-Dazs shops. Today shops make up the largest piece of our Häagen-Dazs business in this market. We now have over 260 shops in operation across China and efforts are underway to open 70 additional shops in 2014. Our shops build brand equity and that increases demand for Häagen-Dazs products in food retail outlets. We are on track to expand Häagen-Dazs retail sales into 28 additional cities across China this year.

The Mid-Autumn Festival is approaching, which means it is time for Häagen-Dazs mooncakes. This year, we are expanding this business into eight additional cities across China. With price points ranging from just over $25 for a 14 ounce serve up to $120 for 40 ounces, these products create positive sales and margin mix for us.

Our Häagen-Dazs innovation efforts are global. In Europe, we have just introduced pint size versions of our very successful Secret Sensations mini cups and a new tiramisu flavor variety. In Japan, we are launching new flavors of ice cream bars and sandwiches. We have also launched a new global Häagen-Dazs advertising campaign featuring the actor Bradley Cooper.

Well, that's a quick update on our five global platforms. But I would be remiss if I didn't also mention our U.S. baking products business. Our Pillsbury and Betty Crocker brands are the leading players in refrigerated dough and shelf stable baking products, categories that generate a combined $4 billion in retail sales. We delivered terrific performance on this business last year with growth in volume, sales and profit.

In the first quarter of this year, we have launched a strong new lineup of new products including a gluten-free line of refrigerated dough products and dessert mix items that feature the irresistible taste of Hershey chocolate. Customer response has been terrific, driving good net sales growth in the first quarter.

We will kick off the fall baking season with a new advertising campaign that tells consumers how to make any occasion pop with Pillsbury. Products and marketing innovation is the fuel that creates category growth. We have a robot pipeline for doing our part to drive category growth in 2014 with more than 200 new items being introduced worldwide in the first half of the year alone. We are just trying to ramp up the distribution and brand building support on many of these items. So we expect our 2014 new product lineup to increasingly contribute to retail sales growth over the balance of the year.

That will wrap up my comments this morning. At General Mills, our brands hold leading positions in large and growing global categories. We believe our business portfolio is a source of competitive advantage for our company. We really like the prospects we see ahead for increasing our sales, earnings and market share position and delivering strong returns to our shareholders as a result. Generating superior returns for shareholders is our ultimate objective.

Here too, General Mills has established a distinguished track record, consistently delivering returns above the overall equity market's performance. This includes most recent five years which was a particularly challenging period for consumers and for the world's capital markets. In the most recent fiscal year, return to GIS holders was a robust 29%. We are committed to extending the company's record of shareholder value creation in the years ahead. We continue to be excited about our 2014 plans. We will give you a full progress report in two weeks.

With that, I will thank you for your time this afternoon and for your interest in General Mills. I believe, we do have time for a few quick questions. Andrew, do you want to get it started?

Question-and-Answer Session

Andrew Lazar - Barclays

Thank you. Just a couple from me. I think, maybe last quarter, you talked about your expectation for the full fiscal year for a modest gross margin expansion. So I just wanted to make sure the thought process around the first quarter gross margin that you talk about here is consistent with your expectation for the full year to expand modestly and what's the key factor driving the first quarter move?

Donal Mulligan

It is consistent. We expect to have higher gross margins this year. We expect inflation to be about in that 3% range that we have got to in July. We do see the inflation a bit more front loaded, though, as we rollover some of the cost that really start to spike about a year or so ago. So we expect higher inflation in the first half than the back half. We do expect inflation throughout the year, though, in each of our quarter. The first quarter is also impacted by business mix. The business that we brought, typically Yoki in Brazil, has a lower gross margin, so it dilutes our company gross margin, but again, that's a one-time impact that we will see in Q1 this year. For the full year, we have the same expectations that we shared in July.

Andrew Lazar - Barclays

Thank you. One of the concerns in industry backdrop concern is that, with more manageable input cost inflation, as volumes across the industry remains somewhat sluggish for the first time, does that drive higher promotional spending as we have seen it in periods of time in the past when we have these sorts of combination of situations. General Mills specifically did make some adjustments around some key price points last fiscal year, I think, in the meeting you had in New York recently, you said, we have made those, you have seen the kind of response in the business that you would be looking for and that you are pretty comfortable broadly speaking with where those price points were across the portfolio. I am trying to get a sense, is that still how you see it as you go through this fiscal year or has something changed, maybe more recent - we have a couple of months based on the volume being continually sluggish in the group, that maybe changed the thinking on what you may need to do around either promotional activities or some key price points.

Donal Mulligan

I think it remains consistent with what we talked about before. Again a year ago we made some particularly merchandise price point corrections and largely in our yogurt business. That was coming off of fiscal '12 when we and others took marked increases based on the double-digit inflation that we were seeing and some of those were out ahead of where the market was. So we brought those back. Our business did respond during the course of fiscal '13 the way we expected, that is we exited the year with stronger unit movement than we started the year. We have seen that continue as expected as we move into FY'14. If you look across our categories whether its over the past quarter, over the past August, now 52 weeks, we are seeing aggregate category unit volume growth. So that thesis about getting the pricing right and rolling over and seeing the units respond is playing out. So we don't see a necessity to move off the stance that we have talked previously which is our prices are really in line with where we want them to be and now it is really about making new products, our marketing, our increased media support behind our brands take hold and drive our top line.

Andrew Lazar - Barclays

As we think about fiscal '14, you have got a return to share repurchase and you have also got some contribution from some deal accretion that starts to come through this year from M&A that was done last year. So if you think about what those collectively add, seems that core business probably at this point grows closer to maybe 4% or 5% ex-those. I am trying to get a sense of whether you see that as somewhat conservative or does that just allow you to have some of the flexibility to invest behind the 200 plus new products that you talked about coming out just in the fiscal first half alone. So do you have more manageable input cost environment, though still inflationary and you have strong slate of H&M as well.

Donal Mulligan

Well, the 4% to 5% is your number, not our number. But what I would say is, our base for this is going to grow well this year, certainly above some of the growth rates you have seen over the past couple of years. Again long-term, both our performance and our expectation is to grow our business organically in that mid single-digit range. As I showed you over the last five years, that's been closer to 6%. So we still feel good about the health of our core business.

New businesses will help and here forth we are returning more cash to shareholders. Again that is part of our long-term model as well, which is to buy back shares as well as increase our dividend. So our dividend has increased faster than our earnings per share over the last five years, as I mentioned. It will again this year with the 15% increase that we have already put through starting with August 1.

Basically we are, now with our share repurchase, getting what we call back on model. Again, if you look over that five-year period, except for where we reprioritizing some of our cash to acquisitions, we were taking 2% plus of the shares off the market each year. We will get back to that starting in FY'14.

Andrew Lazar - Barclays

Last one from me would be the obligatory sort of cereal category question. Certainly it seems like, as you mentioned, you are off to a solid start in your cereal business, Big G, starting off the fiscal year and market share through the first two months is up year-over-year a bit. From an overall category perspective, at least to the external view, it seems like we have had more activity category wide. Maybe not as much as we ultimately want to see. As you said, it takes collective new news in this category to get it moving. Have you seen category wide enough that we should be seeing the category responding a bit better or more quickly than we have or are we still not where we need to be to get the category where you expect it to be long term?

Donal Mulligan

Well our view is, we are not, from a collective standpoint, the category is not where it needs to be and I again, showed you, specifically some of the media support for the category. Our view continues to be that with the right product news combined with the strong marketing of the benefits of cereal broadly and brand specifically, as well as in the increased marketing support, the category returned to growth. We have seen this play out before overtime. If you look at the cereal category over any multiyear period, 10, 20, 30 years, it grows low single-digit, from a sales standpoint. All of the attributes that have allowed that growth are still in place and can be accessed by the branded players. I tried to outline it for you today what we are doing to help drive that. And as you alluded to, we are seeing some nice performance coming out of the box with that plan.

Andrew Lazar - Barclays

Let's see if we have got some out in the audience here. We have got time for a few more before we head to the breakout. So feel free to - all right.

Unidentified Analyst

Hi, this is a very basic question. If your five global platforms for growth are growing at what looks like, on average, at between 5% and 6%, is the balance of the business growing, not growing or in fact declining because I would think that if it is your aspiration to grow your growth drivers faster than the underlying category, which I assume is the case, it would seem that your long-term revenue model would be 4% to 5% rather than low single digits.

Donal Mulligan

Yes, it’s a great question and really what it points to is not so much the growth of that other 30%, because they are growing. I tried to outline for you what two of the major slices of that pie are with our baking mix and our refrigerated dough business. That really speaks to is the fact that we are still largely a U.S. based or developed markets based company and the opportunity for us is to get deeper in the emerging markets. So those global figures are weighted based on where consumers are around the world. So that equals the weighting of our business. That’s why moves such as continue to expand our China business, moving more fully into some emerging markets like with our Yoki acquisition in Brazil is fundamentally growth, not only because are they good investments, in and of themselves, but they help move us into those categories, those geographic areas, excuse me, where you are tapping into the growth in our categories. So our goal, over time, is certainly to continue to evolve our portfolio so that our growth mirrors that global growth of our categories or better, as you saw with market share gains. But as we said here today with still 65% of our sales in the U.S. and even more in developed markets, our portfolio can generate consistently that low single-digit growth, and actually because of our performance over the last five years has actually been north of that.

Unidentified Analyst

Thank you. Can you tell us how you see the anti-GMO channel sentiment impacting your cereals category going forward?

Donal Mulligan

There has been a lot in the press about that. We haven’t seen a dramatic impact from that. There is a long discussion that we had about GMO labeling and the science that supports GMO which is not just recognized by us and other food producers but also by regulators around the world. But we are also respectful of where consumers could be. So while we have GMO in many of our products, we also have line of products, Cascadian Farm, for example and others that are non-GMO, if consumers want to move in that direction. But to your specific question, we haven’t seen a large impact from our sales on anything that’s in the press around GMO.

Andrew Lazar - Barclays

Okay, if there is nothing further, please join me in thanking General Mills and we will take it for the breakout.

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