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Kraft Heinzs Miguel Patricio has a fan at Warren Buffett. Courting Wall Street hasn’t been that easy.



A year after Miguel Patricios began his tenure as CEO of Kraft Heinz, he received his golden ticket: stopping the coronavirus and rushing to accumulate shelf-stable foods.

He may have been one of the few people in the country to find relief as lockdowns rolled across the country, forcing him to cancel an investor day scheduled for April, which would have meant standing in front of a room. filled with skeptical analysts at the end of a year. setbacks.

Then the pandemic began to help him write the happy story he hoped to sell: sales of Kraft macaroni and cheese and Philadelphia cream cheese surged; Panic buying in the early days of the quarantine prompted customers to look for old-fashioned brands with longer expiration dates; Even Oscar Mayer, one of the company’s most challenged brands, was seeing a new interest in its deli meats and Lunchables products, thanks to parents’ adaptation to distance learning.

When buyers’ favorite brands during a pandemic were off the shelves, they might have been pleasantly surprised to find Kraft Heinz lines with more modern ingredient lists. Suddenly millennials have been reintroduced into Capri Sun No Sugar Added, Oscar Mayer No By-Product Hot Dogs, and Kraft Mac & Cheese No Artificial Colors. Seven months after the start of the pandemic, sales of organic products have increased by 7% and Patricio is now managing a growing food giant for the first time in years.

I can’t wait to just have the chance to speak, says the 54-year-old CEO from his home in Connecticut of Tuesday’s virtual presentations. There is a great transformation in our business almost a revolution.

It is a revolution that has conquered Warren Buffett, who owns nearly a third of the shares, but which has not yet inspired the fervor of the mass of shareholders who have joined him, with the flat stock in 2020, after have fallen by more than 60% of its merger. price.

Patricio is looking to convince investors that the $ 25 billion (sales) food business has finally found its balance five years after its ill-fated merger orchestrated by Buffett and Brazilian buyout store 3G Capital. Before merging, the companies had combined sales of $ 28 billion, about 11% more than today.

A longtime product and marketing guru spawned from the 3G Anheuser-Busch InBev merger, Patricio has been driven to accelerate organic sales of obsolete brands as he did at ABinBev with Corona, Budweiser and Stella Artois. It arrived at Kraft Heinz in April 2019, two months after the company disclosed a $ 15.7 billion depreciation for its two most iconic brands, Kraft and Oscar Mayer.

Patricio doubled down on the bad news, canceling an additional $ 4 billion, including $ 2.9 billion in July, while freezing initiatives to reverse the declines by halving new product launches. He reportedly tried and so far has failed to get rid of the mass market coffee brand Maxwell House. He increased marketing spend by 30% for promising brands.

We were too transactional with our partners and customers, says Patricio. We want to constantly increase turnover and bottom line. We have aggressive but achievable goals.

Investors are listening. After battling the fallout, they waited for Patricio to unveil a transformative new strategy and want more details on which brands he will be abandoning and where he can find savings. Patricio aims to deliver, targeting gross savings of $ 2 billion over the next five years. Hell shows how he revamped the entire company and streamlined his confusing line of products into 55 categories to focus on consumer needs like snacks and hydration. We were getting complicated, he said of the changes.

Kraft Heinz continues to face competition from cheaper private label grocery stores, which have eaten up market share for its Kraft Singles and Maxwell House line of American cheeses. This cost-oriented consumption trend has been one of the most important to emerge in recent years, and the recent unemployment crisis only underscores the level of resistance it may have. Yet Kraft Heinz has just spent years investing millions to create offshoots of its classic lines that contain fewer artificial ingredients and are sold at a higher price. A common refrain among investors is that modern, health-conscious buyers remain skeptical of these new launches.

Wells Fargo senior analyst John Baumgartner is not one of them. He is one of the few Wall Street analysts to have a positive rating on Kraft Heinz, fueled in part by U.S. Census Bureau consumer data he acquired through requests for the Freedom to Act Act. information that suggests the company’s brands are loved more by affluent and millennial shoppers than most realize.

It’s a big swing for Baumgartner, who a few years ago was the only analyst without a buy note. He’s confident because of the work done at brands like Planters, which has resulted in a 35% drop in total Kraft Heinz sales in the US since 2016. Miguel is coming and here we are now, in less than a year, they have launched a cinnamon breakfast, says Baumgartner. You have a mascot, Mr. Peanut. You can do wonders with this thing.

A marketer like Patricio will definitely try. His open season as far as he is concerned. As Americans go to restaurants less and continue to cook more at home, he has the chance to access a whole new set of customers, a group he may never have another chance at. So far, new customers keep coming.

The trial is very, very good like we’ve never seen it before, says Patricio. When the pandemic is over, the dynamics will change again. But we hope to continue to be part of this growth and continue on this path.

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