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Brown-Forman Corporation (NYSE:BF.B)

F4Q10 (Qtr End 04/30/10) Earnings Call

June 9, 2010 10:00 am ET

Executives

Ben Marmor – Director, IR

Don Berg – EVP and CFO

Paul Varga – Chairman and CEO

Analysts

Viviane Azar [ph]

Lauren Torres – HSBC

Ann Gurkin – Davenport & Co.

Thomas Russo – Gardner Russo & Gardner

Kevin Dreyer – Gabelli & Company, Inc.

Lindsay Drucker Mann – Goldman Sachs

Operator

Good morning, my name is Junell and I will be your conference operator. At this time, I would like to welcome everyone to the fourth quarter fiscal 2010 year-end conference call. All lines have been placed on mute to prevent any background noise. After the speakers' remarks, there will be a question-and-answer session. (Operator instructions)

Thank you. Mr. Marmor, please begin your conference.

Ben Marmor

Thank you. Good morning, everyone and thank you for joining us for Brown-Forman's fiscal 2010 earnings call. This is Ben Marmor, the Director of Investor Relations at Brown-Forman. Joining me today are Paul Varga, our President and Chief Executive Officer; Don Berg, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, and Jane Morreau, Senior Vice President, Finance. Don will begin our call this morning with a few remarks about recent trends and other factors affecting our performance and guidance. Paul will provide additional strategic commentary about our performance.

As always, this morning's conference call contains forward-looking statements based on our current expectations. Numerous risks and uncertainties may cause actual results to differ materially from those anticipated or projected in these statements. Many of the factors that will determine future results are beyond the Company's ability to control or predict. You should not place undue reliance on any forward-looking statements and the Company undertakes no obligation to update any of these statements whether due to new information, future events or otherwise.

This morning, we issued a press release containing our results for the fiscal 2010. The release can be found on our Web site under the section titled Investor Relations. We have listed in the press release a number of the risk factors that you should consider in conjunction with our forward-looking statements. Other significant risk factors are described in our Form 10-K, Form 8-K and Form 10-Q reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. During this call, we also will be discussing certain non-GAAP financial measures. These measures and the recent management believe they provide useful information to investors regarding the Company's financial conditions and results of operations are contained in the press release.

And with that I will turn the call over to Don.

Don Berg

Thanks, Ben and good morning, everyone. This morning we issued our fiscal 2010 earnings release. That also included our current expectations for fiscal 2011. Fiscal 2010 was a record year for Brown-Forman with earnings per share of 5% to $3.02. Given the difficult environment we are quite proud of the success.

Looking forward, we expect to build on this success with another year of underlying operating income growth in fiscal 2011 which will result in growth through portfolio expansion, innovation, investment in our brands and the capabilities of our strong route to market strategy.

During our fiscal 2010, we had a strong total shareholder return of 28% but importantly, over the two year that encompass the recession we were among the top performers in the industry and outpace the S&P 500 by delivering a 6% compounded annual total shareholder return while the index declined 5% per year.

We’ve long had a theme that Brown-Forman continues to be a great long-term investment for our shareholders and we believe that both our performance in fiscal 2010 and our expectations for fiscal 2011 continue to uphold that tradition.

Our earnings release was fairly extensive in recapping our record year so let me spend some time this morning discussing more recent trends including pricing, premiumization innovation, business conditions in the on-premise channel and trends and various regional operating environments. I will also provide some color around how we think about the brick markets, our route to market strategy, foreign exchange sensitivities and our tax rate.

With these comments and recent trends, and how we think about the business, alongside our earnings release we believe you will be confident in the continued health of our business and our position to realize a significant opportunity for growth that exist in the world today.

Let me start with pricing and premiumization trend. Our fiscal 2010 was a difficult and challenging year for pricing. Consumers trading down and aggressive discounting of our competitors significantly reduced our ability to increase prices. When compared to the prior few years, we were more limited in our ability to take price in fiscal 2010. And we ended the year flat on an underlying pricing basis.

While we did continue to seek opportunities to increase price, we also increased discounting in a targeted way during the year as we felt that important for our consumers that were hit hardest by the recession to continue to participate in our brand franchises. We look at this approach as investing in our consumers which we felt added to our overall brand building efforts.

We are planning for fiscal 2011 to remain competitive in terms of pricing. But are hopeful that discounting in the industry will be less pervasive. For the longer-term, pricing will remain a key tool of ours as we believe consumers will continue to want to enjoy premium products.

On a similar note, fiscal 2010 was marked by consumers trading down to lower price brands, particularly, earlier in the year bucking in the prior few years trend of higher price categories growing the fastest. Syndicated data throughout much of our fiscal year show that lower price categories experience the fastest growth rate while brands with high price points experienced decline.

On a positive note, the NAFTA data from March and April shows that all price categories have returned to growth and are all growing at somewhat similar rate. We believe this trend is occurring to some extent on a global basis.

While many of the industry superior premium brands have suffered during the downturn our super premium line extensions of Jack Daniel's, Gentleman Jack, and Jack Daniel Single Barrel each had an excellent year and significantly outpaced the parent brand. This speaks of the power of the Jack Daniel's franchise and their premiumization can occur even during the most difficult environments.

Most of our other super premium brands grew nicely as well during this period suggesting their portfolios well positioned for the consumers return to premium products which we believe will accelerate once the on-premise channel begins to recover.

With the on-premise channel depressed this past year we introduced many innovations in fiscal 2010 to make our products more convenient for consumers. Some examples include our Southern Comfort Hurricane and Sweet Tea extensions released last summer. They were entirely new creation and they are ready-to-pour category.

We also introduced existing products into new markets such as Jack Daniel's in Poland, Mexico and the UK. These and other product introductions serve the purpose of allowing consumers to conveniently purchase their favorite cocktails premixed.

We plan to continue our innovation efforts into fiscal 2011. And in fact, we are rolling out Southern Comfort line right now. This product will not only be great for home consumption, but allow bar tenders to easily pour the perfect cocktail for on-premise consumption.

Looking at the on-premise channel, which accounts for approximately 25% of total distilled spurious volume globally. This is a very important outlet for the development of brand equity and the trial of more premium price brands. This channel struggled around the globe throughout our fiscal 2010.

In fact, only recently the channel shown some signs of stabilization and while that appears the consumers are returning to restaurants and bars, their spending seems to be greatly reduced. Over time, we believe the on-premise channel will rebound as unemployment decreases and the global economy improves as we believe consumers want to be social and they want to drink premium.

In terms of the global economy and regional operating environments, based on published economic outlook, it appears the recovery is not necessarily uniform as certain economies are slower to emerge from the recession than others.

For Brown-Forman, the source of our earnings growth in fiscal 2010 has come mainly from developed markets around the world. We saw a significant year-over-year gains in net sales in markets such as Australia, Germany and France. Other important markets such as the U.S. and the UK saw mix sales results, but benefited from operating cost reductions.

Innovation also supported the Company’s growth around the world as consumers eagerly accepted convenient line extensions such as Jack Daniel's & Cola, Jack & Ginger, and our various Southern Comfort ready-to-drink and ready-to-pour offerings.

While our growth came primarily from developed markets we have now less focus in our in our emerging markets, especially three of our largest. The vodka category in Russia and Poland and tequila category in Mexico experienced some very difficult conditions. However, in spite of this, Finlandia grew double-digits in Russia and while depletions declined in Poland, Finlandia grew market share in both markets.

In Mexico, syndicated takeaway data show that el Jimador volume declined in the low single-digits trailing the tequila category. However, in value term, the brand grew takeaway in the low single-digits and outperformed the category. In addition, Herradura and Antiguo outperformed the overall tequila category in value growth as well.

The Jack Daniel's family also did very well in each of these three emerging markets, posting double-digit gains. The brick markets continue to occupy everyone’s minds, particularly, since they are among the fastest growing economies. During fiscal 2010, we made recent route to market decisions in both Russia and Brazil that we believe will better position us for future growth.

In Russia, we plan to work with Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company expanding the geographic reach of our creative distribution model with them beyond the Ukraine, Hungary and a couple other markets. We expect their broad coverage of Russia to help us develop our portfolio throughout the country. In Brazil, we will be developing our own distribution capabilities. We believe we can best drive growth in this growing market through this specific focus on our brand.

As for India and China, we will continue to develop our capabilities in these markets. Overtime, we believe brick along with other emerging markets will continue to be an increasingly important part of our long-term growth story as we work to cater the world of opportunities available to us.

Now that I discussed two markets we are making distribution changes. Let me provide a little color on other route to market announcements we have made this year. In Germany, our sixth largest market in terms of net sales, we have elected to build our own distribution capabilities we are getting in fiscal 2011. Given the market structure and our position we believe we can appropriately service the market and continue to grow our current offerings while expanding our portfolio in the country. With the right focus there is a plenty of opportunity to grow both our super premium brand and our tequila portfolio.

While we have recently announced a number of route-to-market changes, we also announced that we are renewing contracts with our distributors and several European markets. We continue to assess our route-to-market strategy on a market by market basis.

While we have significantly increased our presence and trading consumer interface in various ways over the years partnering continues to be a key component of our strategy. We believe this flexibility and how we approach individual markets and our ability to be strong partners has served us well and has enabled our growth in international sales to surpass 50% of the company’s total.

As we have grown the portion of our sales outside the United States foreign exchange rates have played an increasingly larger role in our year-to-year results. Fiscal 2010 was a bit of a roller-coaster year in terms of exchange rates. The volatility of this past number of weeks would indicate that fiscal 2011 may not be any smoother. Because of that let me comment briefly on our hedging objectives.

We do not engage in specula trade with a goal of creating financial gain. Our objective is to mitigate earnings volatility, the results from foreign exchange fluctuations. Our hedging only delays the impact of changes in rates is not a permanent deferral.

During fiscal 2010, we formalize a rolling hedge program in which we plan to hedge approximately 50% of our exposure, one year out on a rolling basis and 20% for the next year. We believe this will serve to better reduce volatility as our hedging will be more regular and spread throughout the year.

Based on this program and assuming recent rates, our EPS guidance includes a $0.15 unfavorable impact from the recent appreciation of the dollar. As you think about how further changes in foreign exchange rates might affect our EPS a 10% move and overall foreign exchange rate versus the dollar would lead to a $0.15 impact on our EPS which would be favorable if the dollar weakens but unfavorable if it strengthens.

Moving on to our tax rate. Our fiscal 2010 effective tax rate was 34.1%. This was higher than our guided range of 33% to 33.5%. A few discrete items recognize during the fourth quarter including the impact of the Healthcare Reform Bill on the medical subsidy benefit increased the rate and effectively reduced our earnings per share by $0.03. Looking forward, we believe our fiscal 2011 tax rate will be in the range of 32.5% to 33.5%.

In closing, in fiscal 2010, we improved our already strong financial position by delivering strong results in a difficult environment. Our net sales and gross profit trend improved throughout the year and we expect their more recent momentum to continue into fiscal 2011.

We are confident that over time more favorable consumer trends will return to the industry and that we are well-positioned to capitalize in substantial growth opportunities that exist. Despite recent foreign exchange headwinds, we expect on balance to grow our earnings again in fiscal 2011 through continued innovation, market expansion and brand development. And we project underlying operating income to grow in the mid-single-digits for the coming year.

At this point let me turn the call over to Paul for some thoughts on our growth looking beyond fiscal 2011.

Paul Varga

Thank you, Don, and good morning to everyone. We were happy to report this morning what we consider to be strong fiscal year '10 financial results in very tough global conditions. And we are also pleased that our forecast for FY '11 anticipate the continuation of solid underlying growth assuming we have sufficient cooperation from the global economy.

While the implementation of our FY'10 plan and the development of our FY'11 plan occupied a considerable amount of our time over the last year. Many of us at the company poised to reflect on our longer range performance and as part of this we look both backward and forward.

As many of you may recall I reviewed highlights from the company’s last ten years during our third quarter earnings call back in early March. If there was one financial metric I would reference to sum up the past ten years it would be Brown-Forman's total shareholder return relative to the S&P 500. Updating that metric to the end of FY '10 reveals the Brown-Forman provided investors with a 13% compound annual growth in total shareholder return while the S&P 500 actually declined very slightly over the same time period on the same metric.

During the decade, these excellent returns were accompanied by the important strategic progress such as the repositioning of our portfolio and the development of our route-to-market globally. So as we celebrate a successful FY'10 our longer-term strategic progress, our historically strong return, and the excellent conditions of our balance sheet, we also acknowledge the very good health of our enterprise today.

And despite the challenges of the current global environment, we believe Brown-Forman is a healthy company with a very bright future. It is from this strong position that we have looked ahead to the next ten years and set some new aspirations for our company.

First and foremost, we believe an enormous opportunity to remain within the industry. While we have grown our company steadily over the last ten years, Brown-Forman still only commands in their 1% of the global spirits market today. And because we are in, in my view, relative new comers, the global drink business, our largest growth opportunities remain and developed and emerging markets outside the United States. This is no slight of the opportunities available to Brown-Forman in the U.S. but rather it is the reality of the upside we still see in many, many countries for our whiskey, vodka, tequila, liqueur and ready-to-drink brand.

We see the brick markets continuing to offer huge opportunities and route to market investments such as the one Don mentioned in Brazil enable Brown-Forman to take a significant step forward in these important markets. We envision brick becoming increasingly more important to our earnings over time led by the development of the Jack Daniel's trademark but accompanied by the development of Finlandia and other brands over time.

As attractive as the brick consumer proposition is we believe the countries such as Poland, Mexico, Australia, France, Germany, the UK and the U.S. to name a few will continue to hold promise for Brown-Forman.

In summary, there is a multi-brand multi-country opportunity that we aspire to see from the strong and healthy position we are fortunate to occupy today. Looking ahead to Brown-Forman's 150th Anniversary, in the year 2020, we have organized our highest level ambitions along four lines. Specifically, we aspire to first continue the significant expansion of the Jack Daniel's family and in doing so, make Jack Daniel's the fastest growing brand trademark in retail sales amongst the world largest premium spirit brand.

Second, from their smaller base, we aspire a growth of sales of the rest of Brown-Forman's portfolio at a rate faster in Jack Daniel’s. Third, we aspire to continue to grow the important U.S. market. And in doing so, grow our share of dollar sale. And finally, we aspire to continue to grow Brown-Forman's international market at a faster rate than the United States.

You can tell from my use of the word “continue” that we believe that much of what has worked for Brown-Forman in the past remains very important to our future. And while I have already touched on the huge international expansion opportunity which we believe remains for the company, let me touch on these other three ambitions very briefly, starting with our Jack Daniel's ambition.

Already one of the world’s premier trademark and largest premium distilled spirit in the world; we believe Jack Daniel's continue to have abundant expansion potential across countries, price segment, channel and consumer group. Today, we see consumers increasingly seeking our brands with genuine quality, heritage, authenticity, and down to earth value. In our view, few brands in the world offer these attributes strongly and consistently as the Jack Daniel's brand.

As successful as Jack Daniel's black label has been, this single expression occupies a relatively small share of the global whiskey segment today, leaving plenty of opportunities for growth in the years ahead.

While we believe the Jack Daniel's black label will lead the brand’s growth we also envision other trademark expression. Gentleman Jack being just one example, playing a meaningful role in growing the overall brand.

Current and future line extensions have the potential to meet more consumer needs than is available to black label alone. And when they do it increases the aggregate growth of the trademark. Our FY'10 performance that benefited from this phenomena and we will be working to continue to positive outcome over the next ten years.

As excited as we remain about Jack Daniel's and the Jack Daniel's family of brands, we are also quite enthused about the potential for growing the rest of our portfolio. While brands like Finlandia, Southern Comfort, Herradura, el Jimador, Sonoma-Cutrer, Chambord and Woodford Reserve are each much smaller than Jack Daniel's. Their growth potential in many cases is just as great or even greater.

And similar to the Jack Daniel's line extension, these brands enable the company to more readily pursue some of the world’s most attractive growth segments that will be possible with Jack Daniel's black label alone.

Realizing the potential of the portfolio will require us to continue to be innovative of packaging, line extension, product formulation, and marketing communication and where it makes good economic and strategic sense we believe the new products and targeted brand acquisition can play a role in both our long-term growth and in a development of our global route-to-market just as they have in Brown-Forman's past. All of this will be pursued thoughtfully with the intent of making Brown-Forman's brands most desirable, appealing and responsible offering in the marketplace.

Lastly, we will continue our pursuit of sales in market share growth in the United States, our most important market in terms of dollar sales. In order to grow our share of the U.S. spirits market, we believe we will need to be more successful in a non-whiskey category and our tequila; vodka and liqueur acquisitions over the last decade have positioned us to do just that.

Further portfolio development and continued route-to-market creativity will be critical to U.S. success with an example of this being our U.S. alliance with Bacardi to secure more focus and distributor sales effort over the last couple of years.

In implementing the brand in geographic plans in pursuit of these overarching strategy, we will aim over the next ten years to produce financial performance metric that are similar and their relative attractiveness to those that have been produced at Brown-Forman over the last ten years. And we will stride to do this at acceptable levels of investment risk.

More specifically, we aspire to continue producing growth rates in underlying operating income and returns on invested capital. They are at or near the top of our industry competitive set over time while striving to produce total shareholder return that exceed the performance of the S&P 500 over the long run. In doing so, we believe we will continue to have the strong support of our long-term shareholders, thereby enabling us to perpetuate Brown-Forman as an independent thriving enterprise for generations to come.

Thank you for listening. And now Don and I will be happy to take your questions.

Question-and-Answer Session

Operator

(Operator instructions). Your first question comes from the line of Viviane Azar [ph].

Viviane Azar

Hi, good morning.

Paul Varga

Good morning.

Viviane Azar

My first question has to do with your focus long-term on the brick market. I think it's terrific growth opportunity for you guys, but can you help us think about kind of the flow of investment spending and the margin profile for those markets, just as you ramp up and try to build up your scale there?

Don Berg

I can do them in more I think broad brush terms I think with great specificity or granularity and often times what we find when we have great ambitions for the market, some of the most initial investments that we place are the people to go help us whether they are in go-to-market investments or just the initial people to build a base of knowledge in the market. And I think what we referenced here both Don and I relates to Brazil is a nice example of after many years of trying a wide variety of models down there. We are making some pretty significant move in our view longer-term investments related to the potential of that market by setting up basically our own operation down there.

And I think the first phase usually in a lot of these brick markets but also I think in a lot of markets where you have ambition come through people and then I think it varies market by market depending upon what portfolio strategy you have for that market and where there maybe immediate short-term opportunity for brands that exist in Brown-Forman's portfolio versus some of the longer-term opportunities. I don’t mean to give the implication since the day that we haven’t been in places like Brazil or Russia or China or India for some time.

It’s just that they really are attractive consumer opportunities with all kinds of complexities and we have been very committed to them. We also continue though to have to weight our investments there relative to these other great markets that have similar great opportunities. So I don’t know that I can give you a percentage margin in the first three years and then you would expect to have different margins in later years. We do I think typically when we have real high ambitions through for a market and willing to invest more of the gross profit back into brand expense and SG&A in the early years and with the host that over a longer period of time now produce similar margins to Brown-Forman overall has a consumer appeal growth in the market.

Paul Varga

I have a kind of little bit on the margin structure. There really isn’t a fast rule about how to think about margin in any of the markets outside the United States. There’s a number of variables to get factored into it. One certainly is pricing and while pricing generally outside the United States tends to be higher than the U.S. in particular, Asia tends to be one of our higher price areas in the world. The other thing that (inaudible) pretty dramatically our exchange rate. And its exchange rates fluctuate; you can see some significant differences in margins as a result of that.

The other thing that can change the way that you think about from a margin standpoint has to do with what our route-to-market strategy would be in a market. In a market like Russia, that we’re just talking about where we have an agency relationship with Coca-Cola Hellenic their margin would come out of our margin and so you would tend to see a lower margin in that type of a market compared to a place like China where we pretty much our own distribution system and so you’d end up having a higher margin structure where you also have a higher SG&A structure. So like I said there’s really no hard and fast rule as to how to think about it. You almost have to look at a market by market basis but generally, when the dollars the weakest or margins are the best outside the United States and vice versa.

Viviane Azar

Great, thank you very much.

Paul Varga

Thank you for the question.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Lauren Torres with HSBC.

Lauren Torres – HSBC

Good morning, everyone.

Don Berg

Hi, Lauren.

Lauren Torres – HSBC

Hi. To the extent that you kind of I was curious is there is any commentary behind quantifying this investment spend. It seems like you are being some more aggressive this year so how do we think about the increase spend year-over-year. And also it does seem like there’s obviously a lot of international growth opportunities but once again for fiscal '11 how do we think about the split be it from portfolio expansion, things like that going more into the U.S. market versus international?

Don Berg

Yes, on the investment posture side, we are looking at taking our A&P investments up next year. We haven’t disclosed, we traditionally not disclose when we have done our guidance, the specific line items within the P&L, though we are looking to increase it modestly next year. I think as you think about the split of that investment, there will be more of it going into the international markets and there would be in the U.S. markets. We also tend to look at in addition to A&P, is Paul was talking about earlier, the kinds of investments we’re making in terms of people investments and certainly as we think about that next year with some of these distribution changes that we’ve talked about, when you think about our SG&A line, most of that increase can be attributed to the investments we’re going to be making in a lot of these markets what we are setting up around distribution.

Paul Varga

Lauren, I might add to it as well. One of the complicating factors in it is that one of the most in my view important incremental bits of activity that will influence F11 are primary packaging changes, which actually show up in cost of sales and then therefore because it affects a brand on a global level that any investments you make and primary packaging basically have an impact across the whole globe we tend to have global packages. So it’s hard to pinpoint what will be the actual dedicated influences when you do some of these things like packaging, but I think drawing back to my longer range ambitions that I’ve talked about because we see so much of the incremental opportunity being in markets for Brown-Forman’s still relatively new or haven’t reached anywhere near what we consider to be a developed stage for our brand and our company. We would anticipate having more investment outside the United States going forward in general versus the U.S. market where we’ve been established for so long.

Lauren Torres – HSBC

Right. And if I could also ask last year fiscal '10, your sales and cost of goods sold were impacted by price promotion and value-added packaging. You made a comment in your remarks that obviously you’ll kind of see what the competitive environment is like, but as you start to plan out this year and you think about how to work your pricing, I mean, do you have certain price objectives in place or is it truly just following what some of the bigger competitors are doing?

Paul Varga

I think it varies by brand. We’re obviously in a very different circumstance with a brand like Jack Daniel’s which occupies such a leadership position compared to one of our smaller brands or a brand like Finlandia, so it does vary by brand, also varies of course by location around the world. I think when we talk about it, a good way I think for those of you who get institutional data is to look at it over longer periods of time and look at in the end all of the ways that any of the brands are Brown-Forman and the competition, ultimately you are trying to have the best in that sales performance you can have and I think what we tend to after a fiscal year-end we sit back and look at what happened over the last year or so and our balancing act of pricing and how it affected volume and how did it all roll up into a net sales figure.

And when we look at the syndicated data in the United States, we get really encouraged that we’re doing that balancing act amongst the top five companies I’d say very well and this doesn’t mean it’s conditions are always great because whether it’s discounting or the ability to take price increases, but if you all were to look at the same data and usually this is the Nielson’s dollar sales or NADCA dollar sales, you’ll see a consistent picture where Brown-Forman is continuing to get moderate pricing usually and doing it without a significant sacrifice in volume.

Lauren Torres – HSBC

Okay, great. Thank you.

Paul Varga

Thank you.

Operator

(Operator instructions). Your next question comes from the line of Ann Gurkin with Davenport & Co.

Ann Gurkin – Davenport & Co.

Good morning.

Paul Varga

Hey, Ann, morning.

Ann Gurkin – Davenport & Co.

I think in your comments you talked about growing your portfolio worldwide at a faster rate than Jack Daniel’s, is that what’s correct? If you look at 10 years, can you comment at all what you see the mix to be between Jack Daniel’s and the rest of the portfolio, any comments on that?

Paul Varga

No, we don’t typically disclose that, but I don’t call what we’re aspiring to do on one level to, we don’t want to certainly confuse you that we will be taking our focus off of the great potential for Jack Daniel’s would be one point I want to make. I think the second one is that the other brands that I referenced, many of them are just so much smaller than Jack Daniel’s and earlier in their stage of development that it would be natural to assume that building distribution and initial trial of building those the process of consumer adoption. Jack Daniel’s in parts of the world has already been through some of those stages and some of our other brands just haven’t. So you would expect to have from those lower bases in their earlier stage development, many of these brands to have higher growth rate expectations and that’s all we’re really recognizing there.

And it’s also just the recognition, I mean I do want to always use such a basic common sense when I think is that we could go after the great many Vodka occasions that exist around the world with Jack Daniel’s or you could have Finlandia do it and there are just increasingly so many superb growth opportunities in segments around the world related to non-whiskey occasions that we feel like Brown-Forman needs to participate in those and some of our past acquisitions, some of our marketing, a number of our activities over the last many, many years, that actually I think positioned us well to do some of that in the next decade, so that’s really what that ambition is about.

Ann Gurkin – Davenport & Co.

Right. That helps a lot. And then can you just remind me in developed market, outside of the U.S., kind of how operating margins stack up for on versus off premise sales?

Paul Varga

Actually we have to sort of look at that.

Ann Gurkin – Davenport & Co.

Does it vary market by market?

Paul Varga

Of course, it will. I mean all of them individual margins by brand will vary somewhat. From the standpoint of Brown-Forman, clearly, there are higher prices paid by the consumer often times in the on-premise versus their off-premise retail price. Brown-Forman’s wouldn’t have that degree of variability for sure, but I would say that because of the greater reliance and dependence and importance of price in the off-premise retail environment, many companies I think experience that their on-premise sizes have some of their best margins and we’ve experienced that in many of the countries around the world as well.

Ann Gurkin – Davenport & Co.

Okay. And last part, switching back to the fourth quarter, was the increase in SG&A spending in line which all are targeting internally. It was higher than we were looking for in our model with our issues that I was just curious if that came in line with your target?

Don Berg

Yes, it was pretty much right along what we’re expecting, Ann.

Ann Gurkin – Davenport & Co.

Okay, that’s great. Thank you very much.

Paul Varga

Thank you.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Thomas Russo with Gardner Russo & Gardner.

Thomas Russo – Gardner Russo & Gardner

Hi, good morning Paul.

Paul Varga

Hey, good morning, Tom. How are you?

Thomas Russo – Gardner Russo & Gardner

I am just fine. Thank you for the increased disclosure especially the release to the ready-to-drink category and I would love it if you could just spend a second talking about how you see that category evolving and how you size it up as you roll without, I was a bit surprised by the new mix so often, and then just very impressed with the early numbers for Jack and Southern Comfort. Talk about that category.

Paul Varga

Yes, I will do a little and then Don you add some color as well. The way we have increasingly been thinking about it, I have referenced it before, is that it plays a dual role we think when these ready-to-drinks are expressions of apparent trademark. And they in one form may be some of the most efficient promotions of mix ability you can actually find and in the same way, you then study the economics of actually selling these in single serve in many instances or in no matter what the form and ready-to-drink format and over the last 10 years, we’ve just found that, and we’re actually becoming much more targeted where those opportunities might be.

Most people who follow the industry know about the major success of ready-to-drinks in Australia, but there are other countries around the world where we found that Jack Daniel’s expressed either, mostly with cola, but also with ginger ale, and then some of our other trademarks in Mexico being a prominent one you mentioned the new mix down there, but also Jack Daniel’s in cola and Jack Daniel’s in ginger is doing very well down there with just only a year or so under spell. The UK has been a market we’ve focused on here in the last 12 months for both Jack Daniel’s and Southern Comfort and we see other ready-to-drink markets playing an important role for both of those trademarks.

New mix in the past year is what I consider to be a stall for launch in the United States giving us the opportunity to expose to U.S. consumers particularly Mexican-American consumers, the new mix brand and it was one of the original thoughts we had going back was to be able to take some of the strong Mexican business that existed under the cost there of their company and bring some of those in a more assertive way into the United States. And in fact the introduction of Antiguo, tequila, the ready-to-drink is a significant expansion that’s going on el Jimador and here more recently, the good work is going on in Herradura, are really encouraging for the company. So does that help you with how we’re thinking about some of these around the world?

Thomas Russo – Gardner Russo & Gardner

It could quite scale, couldn’t it? I mean certainly watching the Jack franchise go through Mexico earlier on is quite exciting and I suspect you are planning for this scale?

Paul Varga

Yes, I think we want to be pretty targeted versus just we don’t expect to go out and just put any of these expressions in every market around the world just to fill up the pipeline. We really wanted to play a nice consumer role there whether it be a combination of marketing and good profits for the company or waited one way or the other to those two primary objectives, but where we’ve been placing it we’ll be getting very nice acceptance and reception, so, so far our roll-out plans are working and we’re going to continue to explore new arenas for them.

Thomas Russo – Gardner Russo & Gardner

Paul, you mentioned in North America the tequila efforts extend not only to the ready-to-drink but also Antiguo or el Jimador volumes moving well and then lastly good work on Herradura brand. Can you talk a bit about brand sales and how comfortable where it’s moving and how it’s moving?

Paul Varga

Sure, this is under a broader umbrella actually I think, I’ve mentioned earlier on all those packaging. Herradura in the last year went through a label change back probably when we started to ship some of it in late summer, early fall, back in last fiscal year and we saw an improvement, a pretty noticeable improvement in the trends in the second half of the year as consumers had a chance to experience it in market on the shelves and so when I make reference to the good work that’s going on there, that creates momentum and interest in the brand and then you can feel it with incremental investment which we have done

And so we’ve been preparing Herradura and el Jimador at different stages over the last couple of years and inside the company we’ve been talking about this thing a really important and potentially, really strong year for the tequila brand because of all the work that’s been going on over the last three years and so everybody I think across the company is pretty excited about tequila right now and it taken as to while because we were trying to be I think very correctly thoughtful about what kinds of changes we wanted to make, but with those changes you could become a better position to go build distribution and build trial with the consumer and we need a little cooperation of course from the economy, but if that’s there, I think the brand would do very well.

Thomas Russo – Gardner Russo & Gardner

Last question. Thank you, is for Don, who mentioned that the discount in North America was in part to allow your loyal customers to participate in the franchise and Don, I am wondering how much do you find the discounting is price realization as premium Jack Daniel drinkers drop back in terms of the category within the family or is it really discounts around the neck of the bottle for each category that drive the consumer or is the price reduction in effect dropped from Gentleman Jack back to Jack back to something else within the brand family?

Paul Varga

Yes, Tom, I’ll let Don answer one part of it. We always have that sort of I call implicit discount. I will give you one example which is when you have a 1.75 liter size in a market and a 750, I mean everyday on the shelf, there is a quantity discount per ounce available to the consumer for buying the larger size, so some of that trading around and within the size mix and within the actual other expressions within the Jack Daniel’s family goes on as well. And I for one, I’d just say this is wonderfully as Gentleman Jack and Single Barrel has done over the last couple of years. I am really pleased with how well Jack Daniel’s has held up because you have the potential to cannibalize there and Jack Daniel’s in my view in a tough environment, has done very well, while at the same time, we’ve seen Gentleman Jack and Single Barrel grow.

So I think it’s a real testament to the brand health of Jack Daniel’s and I’ll let Don comment on it, but, we really believe that at times, a price reduction in a difficult economy to a loyal consumer is a really important brand-building investment. When you have a franchise that spans a broad demography including socioeconomic class, you really, really want to make sure you pay attention to the whole franchise and we think it can be done in a quality manner, some of the harmful side effects that go on with just half hazards discounting, but through these last couple of years I have been pretty proud of the way that our people around the world have done that balancing act and I think it’s shown up in the net sales progress that Jack Daniel’s relative to many major competitors.

Don Berg

When we talk about price, it does have mix factors in there. So to the extent that Paul’s talking about things like trading from a 750 up to a 175, you will have some of the mix factor in these numbers, but I was referring to more specifically was if you looked at the activity throughout 2010, given the broad consumer base that Jack Daniel’s has, where there were areas of the country that were particularly harder hit and where our consumers were having a harder time staying within the franchise as much as they would like, we did do more discounting in the course of the past year than what we have historically done over a long period of time.

Thomas Russo – Gardner Russo & Gardner

Thank you. Good quarter. Thanks, guys.

Paul Varga

Thanks.

Operator

Your next question comes from the line of Kevin Dreyer with Gabelli & Company, Inc.

Kevin Dreyer – Gabelli & Company, Inc.

Hi, good morning. Just another question kind of around the pricing environment in the U.S. I guess a couple of weeks ago, Diageo pretty publicly said that they are going to be taking pricing selectively through the U.S., it sounds like you are a bit more positive on the pricing environment as well. Does that give you a better umbrella to raise prices on Jack and other brands?

Don Berg

Yeah. To the extent that we see competitive moves that are either staying stable or taking prices up, we will continue to keep our eye on opportunities, where we can take price going forward in the future.

Kevin Dreyer – Gabelli & Company, Inc.

Are you seeing that in the marketplace yet?

Don Berg

We haven’t seen a lot of it, rather we think we are starting to see a little bit of less discounting, but it’s just too early to really tell you what’s really going on out there.

Paul Varga

I think it varies to so much from promotional period to promotional period. It’s hard to get a feel on a short-term basis because you don’t get the sense of consistency and so I think all of our brands are well served to go out and do what they think is the appropriate thing for the environment, of course, having an eye on the competition, but also thinking about the consumer franchise, and then if we can measure it over a slightly extended period of time, you can see what the net effect of it is. And I haven’t seen anything yet in the consumer environment that tells me it’s really wise to go back to alcohol FY '05, FY '06 levels of planned price increases if that’s what your question was. I think continuing to be real smart about how we price both appropriate discounts but also price increases is going to still prevail during FY '11 and if environment improves sufficiently to permit more, we will take an opportunity to do that, but people are going to be very well rewarded for staying very on top of the pricing right now.

Kevin Dreyer – Gabelli & Company, Inc.

Okay, great. And just on Finlandia, you mentioned that Poland, I think you said decline the grew share if I remember right that’s the largest market for the branded level or just what’s kind of prospects for that market turning around? It had been a very strong growth a couple of years ago.

Don Berg

Yeah. We are seeing some positive signs there and we think that one of the biggest impacts to the brand in Poland over the course of last year have a lot a do with destocking and so on a year-over-year basis, we should be seeing some improvement just from that standpoint. It does appear within the market that things are getting slightly better, but how well that’s going to translate still remains to be seen. But like I say Finlandia has done an excellent job from holding its own within that environment and gaining share during this timeframe.

Paul Varga

I might add one thing. The estimates we have of consumer takeaway actually have been better generally than the depletion and so we find that encouraging sort of at the consumer level. The other thing is that the second half of our year there was better than the first half, so a lot of the things, destocking and sensitivity to that occurred mostly in the first half of last year, the second half saw better overall depletions, but underneath at all the consumer takeaway has held up pretty good for its toughness competitive with that environment out.

Kevin Dreyer – Gabelli & Company, Inc.

Great. And then just final question on the tequila brands in Mexico, specifically. That’s been a pretty difficult market ever since the acquisition really and just curious as to your thoughts on the market there this coming year.

Paul Varga

I’ll start. It was a very tough market this past year for a variety of environmental reasons I think. But having said that, I think our performance down there over the last 12 months against that backdrop was pretty good and looking ahead a lot of the new initiatives that we’ve been talking about related to packaging and innovation, people would have it in their head that you may only apply to the United States, the other side that is very much applies to Mexico as well.

So to the extent that some of the new activity and innovations and packaging and all that have an impact in Mexico, I mean it boards well for that country. So it’s been a place for we have I think right because the size of the business there has been the largest for us around the world in terms of the tequila business. We’ve treaded lightly with dramatic change and so a lot of the work we’ve been doing has been preparing us I think somewhat for FY'11 and beyond and so we will see how it goes, but if the innovation and creativity was implying to the tequila sticks and has a nice impact in Mexico, it would really board well for that country this year.

Kevin Dreyer – Gabelli & Company, Inc.

Great thank you.

Paul Varga

Sure.

Operator

Your final question comes from the line of Lindsay Drucker Mann with Goldman Sachs.

Lindsay Drucker Mann – Goldman Sachs

Hi, good morning, everyone.

Paul Varga

Good morning.

Lindsay Drucker Mann – Goldman Sachs

I just have a couple of quick questions. First, this quarter was the second consecutive quarter where you had a nice little boost from distributor inventories and as I recall, it comes against last year where you really didn’t have any drag or it was pretty flattish. Does this indicate perhaps that distributors are feeling a bit more confident about consumer takeaway and are sort of rebuilding inventories in anticipation of it or is this kind of just a general balancing out after all the reductions we went through for the past year or so?

Don Berg

Yeah. I wouldn’t read too much into it, Lindsay. What you are looking out there is somewhere between probably one day to two days worth of inventory in general and I mean it’s not unusual to see those kinds of changes year-over-year. There are a couple of markets, France in particular that had a promotion change in terms of timing year-over-year where they put some inventory in there in anticipation of it and so some of it will have to do with timing or programming changes and what have you and so I just wouldn’t build too much in there in terms of thinking about what it means in terms of trends and confidence levels or what have you.

Paul Varga

We certainly hope the first thing you said is corrected. Actually, if you think about a lot of the things we’ve referenced is whether it relates to the on-premise environments and some of the other things where there has been some moderation of declining trends or a slight improvement in expectations, it makes sense that carries forward. It can show up in advanced inventories, of course, they can and I hope that’s some of what it is, but I think there’s probably a little of everything you said going on in the number that you’re referencing.

Lindsay Drucker Mann – Goldman Sachs

So are we exiting the year generally in balance or down to your point is there a bit of a reduction that we should expect in the early part of next year, fiscal '11?

Don Berg

It’s a little bit difficult to answer that. I think what you are asking for is on a relative basis because typically the inventories will fluctuate throughout the course of the calendar year. A lot of it having to do with the seasonality of the brand and they will fluctuate. Like what I was talking about before where if you have some of these programming moves, they will move in and out. I mean I think generally speaking, we feel that most of the restocking is behind us at this stage and so I would anticipate the kind of fluctuations that you’d see going forward would be kind of more of a normal level that goes with the seasonality of the business.

Paul Varga

With a few exceptions where you might actually, I mean with something that will go on probably in one market versus another could be some of these relative market changes where invariably you will see fluctuations, particularly, on a short-term basis, but from year-to-year, I think what’s coming on is year-end to year-end, I think we’re pretty close.

Lindsay Drucker Mann – Goldman Sachs

Yeah. And then to sort of sticking with the distributor theme, we have seen some changes whether it will be profits foray into the liquor distribution business, some big competitors on the wine side, trying to allocate more attention from their distributors and then the partnership you have with Bacardi and Remy, to gain some (inaudible) with your distributors. Can you just give us an update on the state of where you see the U.S. distributors at and as it relates to your business in particular?

Paul Varga

Sure. I mean I think the most important thing we have been with I think some regularity commenting on the U.S. has been the partnership of Bacardi which has intended to help us get some consistency of focus and presence around a more limited number of SKUs within a distributor. The markets where we have done that, I mean we are still very early, but we are pretty encouraged that the work is going on between our two companies in those local markets. I think the lessons from working in the U.S. business over the years is there is always something going on, as it relates to things that impact our U.S. distributors.

I mean it’s without fail something is going on between land changes or companies changing ownership between one state and another. You just learn to work with it and actually, because of all that expectation of constant changes, one of the reasons that Brown-Forman and Bacardi decided that it would be nice to work together and get some stability in a particular division where you can get real focused and that’s actually one of the reasons we’ve implemented what we have, but as it relates to where that goes and everything, we will keep you apprised as we have new information to share on it.

Lindsay Drucker Mann – Goldman Sachs

Can you just give us a bit more color on you said it was early days, but what you have actually been able to achieve with your partnership with Bacardi and what you hope to achieve and also what markets you are in together?

Don Berg

Yes, we’ve been coming at it. We’ve been introducing this concept into a number of different markets over the course of the last couple of years. As we’ve looked at our performance through 2010 in the United States with a couple of exceptions and those exceptions would be the ones that we’ve been at the later end of moving towards this Bacardi Rum form an alliance. The performance that we have seen on our brands in the markets with Bacardi alliance have generally been better than those markets what we have.

And again I think it really speaks to what Paul was talking about in terms of the focus that we’re getting in a dedicated selling division in those accounts that we think are the most important to our business and so when you got a salesman who’s got less than a 100 SKUs when he is walking into an account, it allows him to just put a whole lot more focus on your brands and as well it allows you to spend more dedicated time with your people training them on what your brands are all about and what your objectives are in the marketplace and so I think that’s what we have been seeing a lot of these benefits.

Paul Varga

Lindsay, if I could connect that to the one of the strategies that talked about for the longer-term, a sales person who was selling Bacardi and Brown-Forman brands before was probably going to pay a lot of attention to brands like Jack Daniel’s or Grey Goose or Bacardi, the biggest and most important brands in the market place. Where this could have a real benefit over a longer period of time is actually in building the brands beyond the most premier trademarks that our two companies have, because they can dedicate a little bit more focus to some of the developing brands or brands that were otherwise down the list in a prioritization when they were part of the portfolio that had many, many more SKUs. So one long range thing, we’re going to keep an eye on it to see if it helps some of our brands that maybe worth deficient in terms of amount of attention we’re able to get behind them.

Don Berg

Just to finalize the last part of your question, we’re in a number of markets. I don’t know the exact number right off the top of my head, but I can tell you when you look at the five largest markets in the U.S., the alliances in four of those five, so that would include New York, Florida, California, and Texas. And there is a host of others out there in addition to that.

Lindsay Drucker Mann – Goldman Sachs

Great. Thank you very much.

Paul Varga

Thank you.

Operator

There are no additional questions at this time. Presenters, are there any closing remarks?

Ben Marmor

No, we do not have any closing remarks today. Thank you, everyone, for joining us.

Paul Varga

Thank you, all.

Operator

That concludes today's conference. You may now disconnect.

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Source: Brown-Forman Corporation F4Q10 (Qtr End 04/30/10) Earnings Call Transcript
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