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Hain Celestial (HAIN) remains on the Consumer Staples Best Ideas list as a SHORT.

Three issues crept up on the company this quarter and they will likely not go away any time soon:

  • Increased competition from bigger brands that are household names
  • Across many categories in the grocery store HAIN is being forced to lower their price points to drive volume
  • Outsourcing critical sales functions to cut costs is a big risk 

HAIN issued a disaster of a quarter and management did their best job trying to make the issues the company faces seem to be just one quarter issues.  A closer looks suggest that the landscape is changing and HAIN is going to struggle to defend itself across multiple categories and channels, competing against significantly bigger competitors. 

It’s well documented that the food landscape has changed dramatically. Fresh, organic and natural products continue to take share from conventional brands and products and every retailer and foodservice operator is expanding into this space.  HAIN’s efforts to be all things to all people by having food for sale at every cash register is an impossible task to manage.

How is it that a company whose G&A expenses are less than half that of its bigger competitors, could be expected to effectively compete in the market.  As Irwin Simon loves to say, “Hain is increasingly becoming more and more channel agnostic. Today our products may be found in many different channels and many different places around the world, illustrating customers' heightened awareness of overall health, wellness and their desire for Farm to Table organic natural products wherever they shop today. Where there is a cash register, as I said many times, or e-commerce, I want a Hain product and I want to sell a product.”

This business philosophy could actually be the company’s downfall.  Unfortunately, the company’s product lines are focused on the center of the store and that is not where the consumer is going. 

Increasingly, many consumers are moving towards more fresh products and Farm to Table product offerings, whether it's at home or eating out. Unfortunately, HAIN is lacking in that area.  Most of HAIN’s products come in boxes or bags and are sold in the center of the store.  The parts of the business that make up that type of offering, fresh juices, antibiotic free and organic protein and the meat-free and plant-based products are insignificant to the total company. 

HAIN missed 1Q16 on the back of a disappointing performance for Hain U.S.  Hain Celestial U.S. Q1 net sales of $331.2 million were down 4.6% versus a year ago.

The Q1 net sales shortfall was driven primarily by:

  • Natural channel consumption softness
  • Unprofitable year ago baby and nut butter club programs that they chose not to repeat
  • Lost sales and inventory from a distributor and account shifts
  • Currency on Ella's Kitchen UK

These four factors cost approximately $16 million in 1Q16 net sales.

HAIN U.S. 1Q16 adjusted operating income of $46.6 million was down 11% YoY.  Adjusted operating income margin was 14.1% down 100 bps YoY.  The 1Q16 income and margin declines resulted from:

  • Top line shortfall
  • Higher YoY nut butter cost
  • Partially offset by productivity savings of $7.6 million

IRI 1Q16 consumption for the top 13 brands (which account for over 80% of MULO sales) were up 6% YoY.  The increase was led by double-digit gains on:

  • Sensible Portions
  • Greek Gods
  • Terra Chips
  • Alba Botanica

On the positive side of HAIN U.S., personal care, yogurt, tea, snacks and Ella's delivered high single-digit sales growth and double-digit operating income growth for 1Q16.

Management boiled down the issues at HAIN U.S. to two products - MaraNatha and Spectrum.

According to the company “MaraNatha is still recovering from last year's voluntary recall, specifically in regard to the loss of almond butter sales velocity, peanut butter distribution and private label losses, which was a business that totaled $20 million in annual sales for MaraNatha prior to the recall.”

Here is managements strategy to fix MaraNatha:

  1. Strategically reducing the product on shelf to eliminate or reduce competitive price deltas and increase MaraNatha sales velocity
  2. Offsetting peanut butter losses with innovative new products like no-added sugar or added salt almond butter
  3. Recapture our lost private label customers
  4. New see-through labels on MaraNatha packages

Here is managements strategy to fix Spectrum:

  1. Spectrum is getting attacked by lower price competition in coconut oil, which accounts for about 40% of HAIN’s business
  2. Crisco has introduced an organic coconut oil that competed with Spectrum.  Management said on the call “Easy for us to take Spectrum down to that level and get that price, but Spectrum does not stand for that quality and we won't to it”
  3. But then they went on to say – “strategically lowering prices on shelf for key customers to eliminate or significantly reduce competitive price deltas.”
  4. Work to communicate particularly on shelf, Spectrum's superior product quality

There are many instances in the organic space where HAIN is the premium product and bigger name competitors are introducing “organic” products at much lower price points.  The fix for HAIN is to lower price and/or invest in building awareness of the brand.  Given that many of HAIN’s brands have very little household awareness; this is going to be an expensive proposition.  Part of the 2H16 recovery story is predicated on “very optimistic” assumptions of MaraNatha and Spectrum which carry high risk.

Another opportunity for HAIN is to improve "Retail Mix Optimization" or said another way focus on the top 500 brands SKUs which “are significantly outperforming” the total business.

In theory, by putting increased emphasis on driving the top 500 SKUs, the retailer benefits because they'll get better velocity out of their slots on the shelf.  On the HAIN side, management is tying field sales incentive compensation to achieving specific top 500 SKU distribution gains at each customer.

Consistent with recent past call, HAIN management team focuses the street on on the increase of 100,000 points of distribution (POD).  Given that 80%-90% of these PODs are on the shelf as of 1Q16, it does not seem to be having much impact, given 4% decline in distribution. 

Lastly, management believes that the Celestial Seasonings restage will drive significant growth; the initiative is based on the new packaging graphics expanding the target market - millennials.  On the call management said, “The Celestial Seasonings brand has already started to get some traction here, because what we've seen is we've experienced an 8% increase in purchases by millennial households in the last 12 weeks.”

In an attempt to drive out costs, HAIN outsourced retail merchandising to Advantage in March.  Initially, this shift has caused some problems. Over time HAIN believes that the partnership will be a competitive advantage in regards to retail merchandising, promotional execution and distribution expansion in the natural channel, especially in 2H16.

In summary, none of what management said on the call makes me concerned about my SHORT thesis.

FINANCIAL COMMENTARY

Net sales for the first quarter this year were $687 million representing an 11% increase on a constant currency basis but coming in well short of consensus estimates of $703 million.  Net sales were negatively affected by foreign currencies of $24.4 million and reduced nut butter sales. The Mona Group, Empire, Kosher and Belvedere acquisitions represented $52 million of net sales in the quarter. Mona net income was $31.3 million compared to $18.9 million in last year's first quarter.

Gross margin on an adjusted basis were 22.4% as compared to 23.5% in the prior year quarter, coming in 110bps short of consensus estimates. This 110 basis point decline was principally driven by the composition of the sales mix, increased costs associated with improvement to preventive controls in the nut butter business and, to a lesser extent, higher inflation. SG&A expense for the quarter on an adjusted basis and excluding amortization of acquired intangible assets was 12.5% of net sales, a 120 basis point improvement from last year.

Operating income for the quarter was $57.5 million on a GAAP basis compared to $28.8 million last year. On an adjusted basis, operating margin was 9.2% of net sales at $63.2 million this year, increasing 7.5% from $58.8 million, narrowly missing consensus estimates of $63.6 million.  Adjusted operating margins improved across all segments on a constant currency basis except in the U.S. Operating margin improvement was driven principally by HPP segment, which realized improved sales mix and productivity gains and the UK from improved commodity pricing and productivity gains.

HAIN reported adjusted earnings per share of $0.37 compared to $0.34 per diluted share in last year's quarter, coming in line with consensus estimates. Earnings per share this year were negatively impacted by $0.01 due to FX and a dilutive effect of the Mona acquisition.

MANAGEMENT GUIDANCE

Management reiterated their full year fiscal 2016 guidance, expecting net sales to be in the range of $2.97 billion to $3.11 billion. And earnings per diluted share to be in the range of $2.11 to $2.26 for the full year.

MANAGEMENT COMMENTARY

“So as those get in and we keep driving against them for the second half, that's when we will see our strongest growth and we expect the second half, they rally us back to high mid-single digit growth or high single digits growth."

“Can you just remind us how much the natural channel is now as a percentage of either your overall U.S. sales or your total company sales?  - It's about 25% of our sales, the whole natural channel.”

“BluePrint needs to evaluate price and I think BluePrint, and that category, has become crowded. I think there is such a big opportunity, and there is some repositioning going on in that category too. We’re just going through something like that right now on BluePrint with them. How do we get the right price to BluePrint to drive volume, because you can sit there $10.99 and move one per store per day or bring it down to a reasonable price whether it's $6.99, $7.99 and you see numbers grow 30%, 40%. So hopefully you're going to get more efficiencies.”

“Focusing on the top 500 primarily for conventional because, as we've talked in the past, basically in an average grocery store, you'll find 300 to 500 Hain SKUs, and in the average mass merch, you'll find 100 to 175 SKUs. So that's where the greatest impact will go.”

“The natural channel prides itself on having more variety. And so we have to figure out what's the right number there, just like we found 500 for conventional. And the key there is just always – it's fundamental, get the right mix on shelf, show the retailer what your research shows the best mix to drive sales and profit on their shelves for them.”

“And that again – just to go back to what John said, part of the problem was distributors brought into supermarkets some of these SKUs that didn't have a chance of selling in grocery stores and belong in natural food stores. So either there was spoils and that's why you see some of the consumption numbers with SKUs out there that just never had a chance. They were priced wrong. It was a wrong product. And that's kind of some of the things going on with Safeway right now and Albertsons.”

“Good. First, I apologize if I missed this, but did you guys give U.S. organic growth in the quarter? Well, U.S. organic growth from the U.S. businesses were down.”

“Our Tilda rice business is strong and not so much bagged rice. It's the ready-to-eat as consumers – millennials today want to be able to heat it up and heat it up at home.”

Please call or e-mail with any questions.

Howard Penney

Managing Director

Shayne Laidlaw

Analyst