B&G Foods' CEO Presents at Wells Fargo Securities Denver Food Symposium Conference (Transcript)

| About: B&G Foods, (BGS)

B&G Foods, Inc. (NYSE:BGS)

Wells Fargo Securities Denver Food Symposium Conference Call

January 22, 2014 01:20 PM ET


Dave Wenner - Chief Executive Officer


Bryan Hunt - Wells Fargo Securities

Bryan Hunt - Wells Fargo Securities

All right so we keep on schedule and make sure you all get to lunch on time. We’re going to get our next presentation; it’s B&G Foods and Dave Wenner. I have known Dave for a couple of let’s say a decade, since before they were public.

And what's interesting about this slide, their introductory slide in my opinion is that basket is too small. If I remember, when I first met Dave and he first gave a presentation I think that basket was about a third fold and now it’s bulging at the seams. So representing B&G is Dave Wenner, CEO. It has been a very successful acquirer our brands and hopefully he will talk a lot about that today and talk about innovation and distribution and consolidation. And then when he’s done with his prepared comments. We will all beat him up with questions. Dave?

Dave Wenner

Thank you, Bryan, good morning everyone. Bryan you’ve only known me for about half the time I was CEO, I’m finishing up my 21st year. So one of a comments I would make about B&G is there is tremendous stability in the management of the company. And we thoroughly understand our strategy and have been executing it successfully over the years, I will skip this.

This kind of illustrates the M&A that we've done. Over the last number of years, we've done a good number of transactions, some single acquisitions, some multiple acquisitions. Part of our power as an acquirer, when we deal with big companies is we are a company that's willing to buy a basket of products from a seller where other people want one out of the four or six brands for sale. So we’ll offer a one-stop solution, a number of times, but we've done a good number of acquisitions over the years. It’s a lumpy process. It’s not something that I sit here and guarantee you we are going to do x number of acquisitions a year. We’ve gone several years without doing acquisitions. And as you just saw in the last year, year and half we sometimes have a flurry of acquisitions. So it is indeed a lumpy process.

But I would say that we are very true to the strategy behind the acquisitions, in terms of what we are looking for. We are looking for brands that fit our infrastructure, our dry grocery infrastructure from the sales and distribution point of view, brands that have good margins in terms of EBITDA and free cash flow. And typically what we have bought is brands under $100 million in sales, not because we are specifically looking for that, but because what we find is, and this has been true for a long time, what we find is that when you get over $100 million in sales the price goes up, the multiple goes up and we really get to a point where we start questioning why the acquisition is accretive to our business. So our sweet spot has been brands, businesses under $100 million in sales. But ones that have the right margin structure or that have the right free cash flow structure.

The other thing that we have sort of added on to this chart in the past number of years is right now the current financing environment is allowed you to -- it certainly has expanded the multiples paid, but the cash flow solution at the back end tends to be the same because your financing costs have gone down even as the multiples have gone up. And perverse twist, if you do the arithmetic on one of these asset deals that creates tax write-offs, you actually get more free cash flow out of the backend the more you pay for the acquisition. It’s crazy and it certainly doesn’t influence our decisions, but it’s a phenomena and that’s interesting to note given the financing environment.

Once we get the brands and I'm going to just skim right through this, once we get the brands we really have ordered the brands in different tiers, depending on what the priorities are in the business. Tier I accounts for about 50% of our sales and about 60% of our EBITDA. Ortega happens to be our largest brand and a Tier I brand. And we do a decent amount of new product activity around these brands, they get their lion share of the marketing. The one notable one here in terms of our new product launches is that one in the top left, the Fiesta Flats just covered by the Today Show, Better Homes And Gardens, put out their top ten new food ideas in 2013 and they had a Today Show segment on it. Fiesta Flats was the number two item. So that's rocking and rolling for us, it's a very interesting twist on a taco shell. But this is what we typically do.

We are not a organic growth company. We have always said, we're trying to grow somewhere between 1% and 3%. So far through the first nine months of 2013, we have not even achieved that given the environment in the grocery business these days. But we're not counting ourselves as a significant organic growth company in our dry grocery business. I'll talk a little bit about how we outfit the strategy some in the last year or so.

Cream of Wheat happens to be another Tier I brand and it has three new entries here in the last year as well. So we do a lot of activity around that tier. And then we're also not a brand builder, we're not the guy who is going to create a brand out of nothing, spend $30 million to tell you why you should go run this brand new innovative product. But what we do is try and use licensing to kind of make it a no brainer for the consumer. So, in this case we've licensed the Crock-Pot name for slow cooker meal solutions. It is a seasoning mix that you mix with water, add your ingredients into the slow cooker, walk away for six hours or so when you have a meal. This has been a great new product launch for us, it’s already around 1% of sales and doing very, very well. It’s a great solution for today’s consumer who’s looking for how do I spend as little time as possible preparing food and still have a very good meal for my family.

That basically -- that’s our acquisition strategy, that’s what we try and do with the brands when we buy them on the grocery side. One of the questions I always get asked is what’s going on with cost. 2013, cost definitely calm down in 2013. We had a slight cost decrease overall. We anticipate the same kind of solution in 2014. What we do, we’re not a company that uses commodities of tremendous amount. We don’t have a single commodity except maple syrup that is an inordinate cost to us. What we do is take positions to purchase things like wheat and corn 12 months out. So I can tell you exactly what we’re going to pay for those kind of commodities throughout all of this year.

The idea there is we have a known solution that we’ve been managed to from a pricing point of view and we need to promote and things like that. We know what our costs are going to be. Given the volatility in commodities in past years, we’ve really -- I sleep a lot better at night knowing that answer. In some cases you forego profitability you really might otherwise have, but given the fact that the categories we compete in are not commodity intensive. It doesn’t represent a chance for a competitor to do something crazy with their pricing where we wouldn’t be able to and it certainly insolates us when the prices go up.

So, we have shifted gear slightly and that we’ve had an initiative here in the last 15 months or so where we have bought a number of snack businesses. The initial reason for doing this was as obviously most of you know the dry grocery business has been very challenging for about two years, for pretty much everybody in the business Heinz is probably the single example of somebody who is growing consistently.

And I really believe, that there is a consumer trend here in terms of -- not a huge trend, we are talking single digit, low single digit movement of consumers away from that center of the store, where you have to prepare meals and everybody sits down and gather and has dinner or whatever. And into more snacking and you certainly see that in terms of where the sales are going in the grocery business more towards snacking.

So we decided, we needed to participate in that in some way. And we actually did it by doing these four acquisitions, the first two of which really gave us a wonderfully economical way to enter snacking. We actually owned our New York Style about dozens years ago and sold it, bought it back. And when we bought it back it came with the Old London business which we have been looking at as an acquisition back then. And a great manufacturing solution, the business was broken and that the prior owners really didn’t know what they were doing selling product in the United States, but we saw a business that we could fix. Same with TrueNorth, very underdeveloped brand that we bought very economically and I will talk about the others in the second.

That has changed the profile of our business to some extent. As you can see snacks now represents almost 25% of our sales pro forma and very meaningful. And what it has done in long term for us, I think is given us a growth story to go along with the cash flow yield and return on investment story for the shareholders. Because I anticipate that as rates increase when they increase, the yield story will be a little less compelling than it is today. And to the extent we have a growth story that still rings true in terms of free cash flow and distribution to shareholders; I think we’ve got the best of all solutions.

So that’s what we are trying to execute here by entering the snack business. Obviously we need to actually do it, but we were off to a good start. And part of that good start was to take the New York Style brand really reinvigorated. So, we repackaged the product entirely. This has been very, very well received by retailers and early returns since this went out in early fall, early returns from consumers are quite positive as well.

We’ve taken the line and done considerable display activity against this product line. This product line sells typically in deli sections of supermarkets. Display is everything in the deli section of the supermarket. That’s what you see as you go into various delis in those stores. We have a vigorous display activity going on out there that we will spread throughout the country, but we did it in the core northeast mostly here this fall. In one case it increased sales over 50%. So where we’ve executed this packaging and display, it’s been a very, very compelling success story on this brand.

And then we are launching new products in the brand as well. This happens to be two sweet products. We have a lot of savory products with garlic and things like that. We now have -- we’ve licensed the Cinnabon names. And it’s easy for you to figure out what it’s supposed to taste like. And chocolate variations of the products under the Sweet Swirls name in New York Style. So, we've done a lot of work on that particular brand that we've now owned for over a year. And we're also doing the same kind of work on TrueNorth as we speak.

The really exciting proposition for us in snacks and the acquisition that we actually did pay a respectable multiple for was the Pirates Brands. Pirate’s Booty, which I continued to be amazed with the response from consumers on. You put this in front of teenage girls and stand back and hope you don't lose any part of your hand.

It's a very, very popular snack that is truly under developed in terms of distribution of Pirate’s Booty, even though it is successful and also it's a very extendable brand. We feel like we can take the Pirate's name and have a lot of fun with it and build the theme of healthy kid snacking out of that name. And that's the idea behind this brand. It flushed out the infrastructure and utilized the infrastructure much more strongly, obviously adding almost tripling the size of the snack business.

And then finally here -- having trouble with this, bear with me. Rickland Orchards was added here this fall. Rickland Orchards took us into the bar business and Rickland Orchards has a very strong warehouse club business. And in the snack business, warehouse clubs are critical part of the equation.

We really have a very modest club business outside of snack that we're hoping this will now start building our business with the other snack brands and with our -- there are grocery products to some extent. So Rickland is a great property in and of itself with the Greek Yogurt and rolled product lines and bars and bites and things like that and also a way for us to enter the warehouse club business which obviously is one of the growth vehicles in the food business these days.

So, by executing our strategy and really doing what I think is a very good job over the years, we have superior growth, both from a sales point of view and even more so from an EBITDA point of view, very pleased with that track record.

When you look at our margin structure, top of the line margins, both from EBITDA point of view and when you sit down and dissect the free cash flow coming out of this business. And that’s really -- here I’m at a [debt] conference, who knows cash flow better than you guys. That’s really a part of the story that a lot of investors do not get is how much free cash flow comes out of this business.

Our ratios are right at the top of the pack in terms of free cash flow coming out of the business. That lets us continue to do a great job in terms of a dividend yield. Again, head and shoulder is above almost everybody in the food business and consistently increasing dividends. And if you were to do one of the one-on-ones, I said if you were to do a regression analysis of our M&A activity versus our dividend increases, you would find that as we buy more free cash flow through M&A, a certain proportion of that goes to dividends and that’s where you see most of the dividend increases we do. We really believe in returning a good proportion of free cash flow to shareholders, roughly 50%, 60% as the guideline.

So, if you’re a shareholder for B&G, and I’m kind of cherrypicking here because most of you recall that early 2009 was the end of the world. If you own B&G stock or bought B&G stock in early 2009, your five year shareholder return would be over 700%. So those of you that made that great move, congratulations. But we are very proud of the fact that we are focused on shareholder return and we’ve done a great job of achieving it.

And then lastly, we did a lot of work on our capitalization here this year and then did a great job of putting in place $700 million in high yield at four and five eighths, if that can be called high yield. And we are really positioned as a company to continue to execute the strategy very well and ready and willing and able to do it.

I will now submit myself to question.

Question-and-Answer Session

Bryan Hunt - Wells Fargo Securities

Thank you for joining us, of course. And you’ve touched on some of my topics of innovation and distribution, as well as consolidation, but let’s dig a little deeper. If you look at -- you mentioned the snacking culture and acquisitions you have made; can you give us examples of innovations, both on the acquired, as well as the legacy portfolios to really capitalize on the snacking trend?

Dave Wenner

One of our problems is that the legacy portfolios really don’t lend themselves to snacking. A lot of our products are ingredients around meal preparation. Even something that’s quick and easy like taco shells, it’s less of a snacking occasion than it is to sit down meal. So that’s part of the problem you had when you’re looking at well, how do I follow the snack trend with the brands, in a great number of occasions, you can’t. It is about preparing food at home and meal. So we really needed to fill that hole by going outside the box from a snack point of view.

Now in the snack part, we are doing a lot of innovation. We are -- as I showed you with the New York Style, we’re doing that. We’re taking Old London and taking it into more relevant variations on the theme like multi-grain and ancient grains and things like that.

The thing about snacks is there is always a new hot button. Consumers are really looking for where is that next innovation. So one of the cultural changes we have to drive in the business is to be much more innovative, much more fast to market than we have been in the past with the grocery items. I happen to think we can do that better than the large food companies can do that. But even we have to push ourselves from that point of view if we’re going to really come out with innovation that is right on the cutting edge of where consumers are going.

Bryan Hunt - Wells Fargo Securities

And you talked about struggling to grow, your target is 1% to 3% organically and you are not going to hit that this year, which we understand the whole industry is struggling as well. But when you think about new products, and you showed us again some of those new products from your legacy portfolio. How much of the -- of revenue is probably from innovation in the last three years is accounted forward by innovation?

Dave Wenner

It’s probably around 5% or so. It’s not really big number. And part of that is the brands tend to be smaller brands. So even if you have a new product that’s successful in a $30 million brand, how big is it going to be? It’s not going to really move the needle for the whole portfolio.

Similarly, we’re not -- again, as I said, we’re not the people who are going to spend $20 million, $30 million doing a TV campaign, and here is why you need to run out and might be able to [supplest]. We count on the internet and PR and things like that to put that in front of consumers plus we hear this on the shelf kind of thing.

Bryan Hunt - Wells Fargo Securities


Dave Wenner

And now you can work with retailers to use their social media and their in-house vehicles if you will to put it in front of consumers, so we do that as well. But again, we’re not going to do the TV to put that in front of you.

So it’s hard to make new products that really move the needle. Where you can do that with at least in snacks and hopefully with some grocery is in warehouse clubs. What’s amazing to me as you get into the world of snacks is Rickland Orchards did not exist less than two years ago. It’s a 50 some million dollar business today. And most of it came out of warehouse clubs because if you can find the right products and make the sale into the Costcos of the world, you can move that needle in a very meaningful way. So that’s part of what this whole proposition about is, is rather than the trench work where okay now I got to slot it into this guy and this guy and this guy and I got to wait for the category reviews and all of that, you can go to warehouse clubs and one (inaudible) get literally millions of dollars of business overnight.

Bryan Hunt - Wells Fargo Securities

Right. And you led in perfectly to my next question. You are acquiring new products. You see opportunities to enhance the distribution of something like Pirate's Booty. The company is focusing on new innovation more than ever before. When you look at the cost of shelf space and product launch cost, how has that changed in the last couple of years? I mean to get on the shelf, it seems like everybody is trying to get on the innovation path to serve the consumer….

Dave Wenner

I don’t know that it’s more expensive, it varies by category. I mean if God forbid, you are in the frozen business, it costs a forge to put new distribution in place in the frozen business. Dry grocery is not nearly as expensive, snack is more competitive. It used to be -- the deli was very attractive because there was no cost of entry even in the supermarkets, now there is, but it's fairly modest. So it varies by category, it varies by place in the store. We’re in a more expensive area with snacks, when you start going up against -- I want part of that space and the [DSU] guys are there or whatever. But at the same time, there is no cost of inventory in the clubs or mass. So to the extent you can do a lot of that business in those venues, you can do it fairly inexpensively.

Bryan Hunt - Wells Fargo Securities

Innovation can also include process innovation. In our past conversations, you’ve talked about trying to pull 4% of cost of goods out of the business year-after-year. Can you talk about any process innovations that occurred in 2013 and contributed to savings as well as maybe what you’re maybe anticipating for 2014?

Dave Wenner

A lot of what we do in cost savings is about how do we get more efficient, how do we run faster in our plants, how do we work with co-packers in terms of sourcing, what they are buying. It's all about overhead commodities and to some extent packaging, not a lot of what I would call ground breaking innovation. Although now as we're getting bigger, we're able to be more aggressive on the capital point of view in terms of identifying projects that are, okay here is a $4 million capital project we can do that can have the cost of making snack products in our North Carolina facility. Here is something we can do with this co-packer that will save us several million dollars.

So I would say that we're not groundbreaking in terms of multi-million dollar projects from that point of view but we are better off than we've ever been in terms of having the resources to start executing the kinds of projects we have never pursued before.

Bryan Hunt - Wells Fargo Securities

If you look at snacking and you definitely called it out the big way, 24% of your sales. The consumption is obviously more convenience oriented. It opens up new distribution to you all maybe in the convenience drug store and vending channels?

Dave Wenner


Bryan Hunt - Wells Fargo Securities

What other products in the portfolio might be able to capitalize on that? And how big do you believe those channels could be for the company next year?

Dave Wenner

Well, just in the snack area, and we would sell literally nothing in convenience stores, we’re just breaking ground there, literally nothing in vending, so we’re just diving into that as well. They do have Pirate’s and some of the other brands we do have some drug store business. So it’s tough to say that convenience is going to do a lot of our grocery business or certainly vendors are going to do a lot of our...

Bryan Hunt - Wells Fargo Securities


Dave Wenner

I haven’t seen anything like pancake makes out of a vending machine or anything. But drug stores, we have a history of selling products in drug stores. Drug stores are kind of trying to go where the dollar stores have gone in terms of some of the grocery product. So we sell (inaudible) so several of the drug chains. And that is very similar to dollar stores in terms of okay you need to format it in a way that they want to make that sale and we’ve been very successful of changing the format of the products how many are in the package or something like that, so appeal to what the drug stores are looking for. So that channel is probably the best prospect in terms of not just snacks, but grocery as well.

Bryan Hunt - Wells Fargo Securities

You called it out and again I told you, you become very popular because of course you drove out the day and many other conversations with investors about the lack of growth in core grocery. Several package food companies have adopted direct-to-consumer sales models online. There is more and more attention to Amazon, as well as other online fulfillment. What is your opinion to this model and maybe what percent of your portfolio goes to this channel today?

Dave Wenner

We used to do direct-to-consumer with our Maple Grove line. We had a catalog; we had an internet presence and all that. We do a little bit of it still, but we walked away from it because it’s an incredible amount of work. I mean receiving all those orders for every individual, packaging those things, shipping amount and all that that takes a considerable infrastructure to do it. So, it’s very easy to argue that you’re better off watching the guys who know how to do that stuff than do it on your own as an individual food company.

So it makes sense for me to sell stuff to Amazon, so they can do it. Amazon with the snack -- with the snack acquisitions, we actually -- we are doing about a $1 million a year with Amazon right now. That’s six times what we were doing before we did the snacks. So clearly snacks sell through Amazon, as well as anything does. There is actually an outlet called My Brands, that’s an internet company that’s one of those companies where okay, I used to live in New England and loved B&M baked beans; now I moved to L.A. and there is no B&M baked beans; I want B&M baked beans, you can go on My Brands and they have it and they will ship it to you. We do quite more business with them than we’ve done with Amazon on the grocery side, most certainly more business.

So there are several venues that you can do that kind of stuff. How big is it going to get? I don’t know. I have always discounted the value of convenience to the point where I finally figured out I’m stupid to discount the value of convenience. Certainly as there is some income level where people don’t care what the cost is, they just don’t want to go to the grocery, so they would rather have it delivered to their door. So to the extent that that is a compelling proposition for those people, Amazon may have a great business there. But right now, I’d rather sell it to them and let them use their expertise to get it to the consumer than to try to do that myself. That's very ambitious.

Bryan Hunt - Wells Fargo Securities

And again talking about distribution, you’ve noted on past conference calls as well as today that retail volume growth is very much focused, discount, club, dollar. In your opinion in the last year has this become more pronounced? What do you think maybe the drivers are behind that?

Dave Wenner

Well, I think it has with club. I mean I think the clubs are on a roll. I don’t know if you go into a Costco or not, it doesn’t seem like it matters what time of day you go in it. It’s packed with people and their piling to step-up in the carts and I just think that that's just -- that's a hot button for people for a lot of reasons.

Dollar stores have been growing very nicely. The problem with dollar stores is even though you have great breadth in terms of number of stores, you don’t have great depth in terms of how much can go into those stores, because it’s a fine item on a space. To some extent I have heard dollar stores talking about now we’re going to do frozen and all that. So that kind of detracts from the grocery opportunity.

So even though we work hard at growing the dollar stores, I don’t think that's nearly the proposition clubs are in terms of growth and in terms of scale. Drug stores are still figuring it out, I’m not sure where that's going to go, but that's kind of a similar to dollar stores proposition I think.

But the bottom-line is all these other people are trying to figure out how to sell food. They’ve discovered the food is a high velocity item with decent margins, maybe some of their personal care stuff has higher margin, but it doesn’t move nearly as fast as the food does. So what's the profitability for that shelf space at the end of the day between the two variations there?

Bryan Hunt - Wells Fargo Securities

You all have obviously been a successful acquirer we saw your stock price chart. If I think about leverage what’s the maximum leverage that the company has taken on in the past to complete an acquisition and maybe with the financing environment and how you mentioned the tax benefits how was that changed or it hasn’t changed?

Dave Wenner

Well if you want me to go back to the [TE] days when the sponsor, there is no leverage they didn’t love. We were well over seven times, but the cash flow was there and that was comfortable even in the higher interest rate environment and all that. I mean today we’re in the low 4s, but our interest cost is less than 25% of our EBITDA and we’re putting another 20%-25% of the EBITDA on the balance sheet.

So from a comfort point of view, if we increase leverage 50%, would I sleep well at night, sure we would be very comfortable. But the bottom line is that kind of leverage has two problems. First is we now or as a public company have shareholders to worry about, an institution or shareholders really get (inaudible) when you start taking leverage closer to five times. There is probably some of them are not even allowing to own you once you take leverage up to a certain point. And secondly the M&A story gets harder to tell as the leverage goes up, you have that much less head space to do that next M&A activity.

So you really have to -- our job is to stay at a threshold that our shareholders are comfortable with and that we maximize the shareholder value out of and to the extent we can lower it, prepare ourselves that much more for that next M&A event. Now the good news is we’ve grown to a decent amount of EBITDA so we have a very good EBITDA base that has a relatively, a leverage that’s relatively far away from five so we have room to maneuver it, so we are happy about that.

The financing environment is obviously about the multiple to expand. But as I said, when our Chairman is the ex-sponsor owner and once upon time, he never believed paying more than seven times for anything. So, I did go through the demonstration for him, you know the free cash flow equation comes out the same back when we bought things for under seven times at high interest rates when we buy things at 9 to 10 times at low interest rates. At the end of the day, the cash flow coming out at the back end is exactly the same and he got a little more comfortable.

Bryan Hunt - Wells Fargo Securities

We've got time for a couple of questions from the audience. So anybody has one?

Unidentified Analyst


Dave Wenner

That's a very good question and I just consider that as my management challenge number one. I don't know where that is. It's very hard to convince to me that we can reach that point anytime soon. I look at companies that have vastly more complicated businesses than we have and managed to manage those businesses very well. I came out of Johnson & Johnson. Johnson & Johnson may have had untold number of companies in a 100 and some countries. You have to figure out a structure that lets you manage it. To me I'd rather challenge myself that way then ask, well what's too much?

Bryan Hunt - Wells Fargo Securities

Anyone else? Alright, I've got one last question for you and then you're free. You're free from me at least.

Dave Wenner

It is cold and snow in New Jersey, so I am good here.

Bryan Hunt - Wells Fargo Securities

Okay. And we had this quick discussion before you start your presentation. I would say the characteristics of your recent acquisitions have been very different, they’re definitely more growth oriented than most of the acquisitions the company completed prior to 2012. What’s been the driver behind this change other than the obvious snacking, has it been a desire to kind of change the profile of the company to the investing public or…

Dave Wenner

First off, I would argue with you on the difference in terms of still being true to the basic tenant underneath the story which is superior margins, superior free cash flow. These snack businesses are still in the 20 EBITDA margin range. And because except for the one acquisition is manufactured by us everything is co-pay. So you have low financing cost, no capital and asset structure deals that give you tax shelter, all of which means you have very good free cash flow coming out of the back-end. So we’re still true to that core tenant of the business that when we do an acquisition it has to be cash flow accretive in a meaningful way.

And as I said earlier what we’re trying to accomplish here is hedge our [VAT]. Well, first off follow the consumer, where the consumer is going from a eating point of view and a buying point of view. They’re buying snacks at warehouse clubs and other places. I don’t want to try and sale consumer stuff they’re not buying. I think it’s smarter to sale consumer stuff they are buying where they’re buying it, so we want to follow that. And to the extent that when you can put money in a money market and make a decent return, I don’t think a 4% dividend is going to be as compelling as it is today and I want to hedge that back for my shareholders that if I can bring in growth aspect to this company and still talk about free cash flow and yield and all that as well and still execute the M&A strategy. Well, hopefully I have created a company that just continues to enhance shareholder value.

Bryan Hunt - Wells Fargo Securities

Very good. Thank you for your time.

Dave Wenner

Thank you for your interest in the company.

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