Despite tough conditions, the top fmcg companies have managed to grow top-line sales through organic strategies, says Liz Hamson

It’s been a tough year for Global Food and Drink plc. But despite the many pressures, the world’s leading fmcg companies have managed to grow their top-line sales, mainly through successful organic growth strategies.
The latest ‘50 FMCG Champions’ survey from OC&C Strategy Consultants shows that organic sales grew by 4.6%, compared with growth of 4.1% last year, which helped to push total sales growth (including acquisitions) up 6.3% compared with a much weaker 2.1% growth rate in the last survey. Luke Jensen, director of OC&C, says: “The consistent growth in the context of price pressure, and even deflation for grocery products, is impressive.”
Of the food players, Danone has been the most consistent performer, with an average organic growth rate per annum of 7% since 2001. But this is overshadowed by the beauty and household goods suppliers, with the likes of Reckitt Benckiser and L’Oréal topping the table of organic growth.
It has been much more difficult for the food manufacturers to boost their turnover - largely because the channels they sell through are more limited, says Jensen.
“If you are mostly selling through the supermarkets then you have to contend with an increasingly powerful customer base. For products such as tobacco and alcohol, with more fragmented distribution, this is less the case,” he says.
The top-performing companies in terms of absolute sales growth further underscore the greater freedom that the likes of SABMiller, InBev and Reynolds America have had to grow top-line sales.
SABMiller produced sales growth of 39%, which helped it enter the Top 50 index for the first time, at number 27. The company looks set to jump further up the table as it this month sealed the $7.8bn acquisition of Colombia-based brewer Bavaria.
James Crampton, media relations manager at SABMiller, says the company is able to “cross market and sell through more channels” than other manufacturers in different sectors. He attributed its strong performance to a combination of operating in both established and emerging markets.
“We get solid organic growth in emerging markets where we are able to grow volumes, while in developed markets we can grow quality by moving to the premium end of the market. Operating in both areas allows the company to grow both sales and margins,” he explains.
SAB Miller has been able to enter new markets thanks to the continued consolidation in the drinks industry.
The impact this consolidation has had on the industry in the past 15 years can be seen from the fact that the combined global market share of the top five brewers has increased from 17% to 40%.
During 2004, the number of acquisitions increased to 28 compared with 23 last year. This continues to run ahead of divestments, which numbered 14 for 2004, a decrease of two on the previous year.
Jensen says this is indicative of how merger and acquisition activity has slowed to a more steady pace compared with the heady days of the late 1990s.A hefty $73bn worth of deals were completed in 2000 compared with $33bn in 2004.
But with the recent $53bn P&G/Gillette deal and possibly a PepsiCo/Danone tie-up on the cards, he predicts this will change in 2005.
“It will bounce back because, as companies run out of cost-cutting opportunities and have divested their peripheral businesses, they will shift their strategic priority back to large acquisitions,” he says. “And the bigger deals will themselves set off another round of disposals of non-core businesses.”
Among those companies that have put
acquisitions on the backburner is Cadbury Schweppes. It stated after its purchase of Adams at the end of 2002 that it would focus on organic growth in order to pay down the debt that it took on to fund the deal.
Katie Macdonald-Smith, head of financial public relations at Cadbury Schweppes, says: “Adams was a huge deal and we said there would be no more acquisitions until the end of the 2007 financial year, apart from small bolt-on acquisitions such as the recent Green & Black’s purchase.”
The Adams deal gave the company exposure to emerging markets such as Latin America and this has helped it to grow its sales in such markets to 20% of total group turnover. These countries also provide greater growth rates than can be expected in developed markets.
The absolute sales figures of other big players such as Nestlé and Unilever have been adversely affected in 2004 by their stated disposal strategies.
The former has seen its sales drop by 1.8% while the latter has suffered a 6% fall, which led to it falling one place in the index to fourth spot.
What links all these fmcg majors is their continued concentration on their core operations rather than pursuing diversification strategies. And this looks set to continue, according to Jensen.
“The continued tendency to focus on the core has been constant over the past four years and the strategy statements show that there will be more of this. They expand the core and invest in it but do not look to diversify.”
The survey found that of the acquisitions completed in 2004, a whopping 90% of their value was spent on strengthening the purchasers’ existing market positions.
This reinforces the fact that acquisitions are being driven by the ability to cut costs out of the target rather than finding new sources of growth.
Cost-cutting remains the key to driving return on capital (ROCE) improvements as shown by the fact that a mighty 68% of companies in the index mention cost-cutting strategies in their annual reports compared with 59% last year and 43% in 2002.
Despite these efforts, the average ROCE has for the first time failed to show any growth on last year - remaining at a touch less than 23%.
The companies that have grown ROCE at the greatest rates are SABMiller at five percentage points higher than in 2003, Unilever at 4.1 points higher and Diageo four points higher than last year.
Isabelle Thomas, head of corporate media at Diageo, says the company is helped by the fact that the drinks industry is less capital intensive than the food manufacturing sector. Diageo requires annual capital expenditure of only £350m.
Diageo has successfully grown its margin, from 34.6% to 35.5%, over the past year and outperformed the average growth rate of the index. This average profit margin growth has stayed pretty much at the same level as last year - with a minor uplift of a mere 0.2% to 16.6%.
Again, the non-food manufacturers have performed the best.
Thomas says operators such as Diageo have higher growth than food businesses. “We manage premium brands, which are already positioned at a premium price. Their positioning enables them to take price increases, which further help maintain their premium status.”
From the food companies, Cadbury Schweppes has also managed to maintain its price points and margins.
Macdonald-Smith says this helps in negotiations with retailers because they want category leaders.
The company has a stated margin growth goal that forms part of its ‘Fuel for Growth’ strategy and it achieved this over the past year - when stripping out currency fluctuations.
This has helped it to fend off the growth in own-label products. Own-label penetration has now achieved 22% in Europe and 15% globally. With the exception of the US, this is increasing around the world.
Jensen says this growth is strongest in emerging markets and areas where retailers are broadening their own-label offerings beyond just value and into ‘good, better and best’ ranges.
While this places some pressure on manufacturers, Jensen believes it also provides an opportunity for global operators to supply these products on a worldwide basis, especially since the likes of Carrefour, Wal-Mart and Tesco all have ambitious international development plans.
This growth in own label is now an accepted part of operating in the food industry, according to David Hudson, communications and corporate affairs director at Nestlé.
“It’s been an issue for years, but there have been no significant developments recently. It’s still very competitive. We’ve not noticed
any change in relation to brands versus own label in the past 12 months,” he says.
Helping fuel this growth are the hard discounters, which stock such products in preference to the branded goods.
The survey shows that the discounters have a market share of 9.1% within Western Europe, which compares with only 4.6% in 1991. And the main retailers in this part of the market certainly have ambitious growth plans, with 1,133 new stores due to be opened in Germany and 854 in France in the period up to 2009.
The question for manufacturers is whether they want to enter this market and develop dedicated products and in some cases secondary brands specifically for the purpose.
Nestlé is among those companies that supply products to the hard discounters and has stated that 5% of its sales are now gained through this channel. The company has also been driving sales through innovation and it tops the table for the growth in spending on R&D, at 0.2 points above last year. It is among the 60% of companies in the index that grew their levels of spending in this area.
Hudson says: “In absolute terms we’ve spent heavily and are now very focused on healthier eating.
“We’ve re-formulated existing products by reducing salt and sugar and we’ve also introduced new products.”
PepsiCo has also recognised the need to develop healthy propositions and now generates 40% of its sales from products that it includes in its classifications ‘Good for You’ and ‘Better for You’. It has the objective of increasing this to 50%.
The added benefit of moving in this direction is that the pricing is typically 20% to 50% higher than for the less healthy alternatives.
For Cadbury, the level of sales derived from new products has increased from 6% in 2003 to 9% and it aims to hit 15%.
The company has brought in the experts, hiring science and technology specialists for new product development.
Around 1% of sales are now spent on R&D and Macdonald-Smith says this is likely to increase because the company’s peers typically commit between 2% and 2.5%.
Jensen says food companies are just waking up to the fact that they should be increasing R&D investment and, as a result, are enjoying some good organic growth.
This is something that personal care and household product manufacturers have known for some time and the likes of Colgate-Palmolive in 2004 generated 40% of its sales from products that have been launched within the past five years.
Innovation and new product launches have undoubtedly driven the increase in advertising with the survey showing a number of companies now spending around 10% of sales on such marketing.
Gillette is the biggest spender, with 11% of its sales spent on advertising, which represents an increase of 34% over the past three years.
Although advertising expenditure has been increased by many companies in the index, they are being more specific about which products they decide to spend their money on.
At Diageo, for instance, there is a strong focus on supporting the company’s Global Priority Brands, since between 70% and 80% of the growth is generated from these brands.
“They are reallocated behind a high-performing brand in order to accelerate growth and maximise opportunities behind that brand,” says Thomas.
Such examples highlight how the industry continues to utilise its assets and resources in reaction to changes in the marketplace, which will undoubtedly position it well to counter the many changes and challenges that it will face in the coming years.

Top 50 Global FMCG Companies by turnover
CompanyGrocery qsalesOp. Margin %ROCE %
name2004 - $bn+/- %2004200320042003
1Nestlé 65,643 -1.812.612.516.716.4
2Altria Group 63,568 5.525.526.727.929.9
3Procter & Gamble 51,407 18.519.418.326.226.7
4Unilever 50,210 -6.015.415.834.630.5
5PepsiCo 29,261 8.520.320.235.038.5
6British American Tobacco plc 24,207 9.721.423.122.622.6
7Coca-Cola Company (The) 21,962 4.431.129.629.631.9
8Sara Lee Corporation 19,566
9L’Oréal 18,078 3.616.917.019.323.7
10Groupe Danone 17,041 4.313.413.419.716.7
11Japan Tobacco 16,691 0.011.910.012.49.6
12Archer Daniels Midland 16,435
13Conagra 14,522 -
14Asahi Breweries 13,359
15Kirin Breweries 13,211
16Heineken Holding 12,445 8.113.914.15.316.9
17Cadbury Schweppes 12,349 4.617.217.115.914.1
18Anheuser-Busch 12,161 4.625.225.134.435.5
19Diageo 11,630 -1.735.534.624.920.9
20Kimberly-Clark 11,318 5.817.517.623.522.5
21General Mills 11,070 5.419.319.115.515.0
22InBev 10,657 21.617.714.611.312.8
23Colgate-Palmolive 10,584 6.921.
24Dean Foods 10,512
25Tyson Foods 10,048
26Kellogg Company 9,614 9.117.617.723.723.6
27SABMiller 9,225 38.917.716.617.612.1
28Gillette 9,111 12.823.721.939.536.1
29HJ Heinz 8,415 2.216.614.520.018.2
30Johnson & Johnson 8,333 12.128.427.138.936.6
31Nippon Meat Packers 8,214
32Avon 7,748 13.916.315.865.969.6
33Georgia Pacific 7,727
34Henkel 7,580 18.111.811.416.120.5
35Gallaher Group 7,304 9.416.317.224.427.4
36Campbell 7,109 6.515.816.326.627.9
37Reckitt Benckiser 7,095 4.320.018.541.339.0
38Scottish & Newcastle 6,897 16.712.114.614.715.3
39Kao 6,636 3.613.213.123.623.0
40Ajinomoto 6,570
41Reynolds America 6,437
42Yamazaki Baking 6,281
43Arla Foods 6,231
44Carlsberg 6,017 3.99.610.312.215.0
45GlaxoSmithKline 5,889 -1.431.731.353.05.7
46Estée Lauder Companies 5,790 13.611.210.428.425.3
47Shiseido 5,537
48LVMH 5,514 3.219.318.415.714.4
49Meiji Dairies Corporation 5,510 -
50Imperial Tobacco 5,436 -5.340.235.530.027.5
Source: OC&C Strategy Consultants. For more information, contact Luke Jensen, director, at the OC&C Building, 233 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, WC2H 8EE. Tel: +44 (0)20 7010 8000. Fax: +44 (0)20 7010 8100. On the web:
q Grocery Sales 2004: Non-grocery sales have been excluded from total where data is available

Companies with highest sales growth %
CompanySales +/- %
2Archer Daniels Midland25%
3Reynolds America22%
7Dean Foods18%
8Tyson Foods17%
9Arla Foods17%
10Scottish & Newcastle17%
Source: OC&C analysis

Companies with highest roce %
4Reckitt Benckiser41%39%
6Johnson & Johnson39%37%
10Imperial Tobacco30%28%
Source: OC&C analysis

Companies with Highest Operating Profit Margin
Op profit margin
1Imperial Tobacco40%35%
4Coca-Cola Company31%30%
5Johnson & Johnson28%27%
6Altria Group26%27%
Source: OC&C analysis