Conagra issues upbeat profit forecast, reports in-line quarterly sales

FILE PHOTO: ConAgra Foods production facility is seen in Oakdale, California, in this December 18, 2015 file photo. REUTERS/Fred Greaves/File Photo

(Reuters) - Conagra Brands Inc on Thursday forecast current-quarter profit above Wall Street estimates, betting on continued demand for its frozen dinners, cake mixes and snacks as the COVID-19 pandemic shows little sign of easing.

However, shares of the Chicago-based company fell 3% in noon trading after quarterly sales came in line with expectations.

“This was just an OK quarter,” John Boylan, senior equity analyst at Edward Jones said. “Sales merely matched expectations despite more people eating at home, inventory replenishment at grocery stores and improvements in its supply chains,” he added.

Sales in the second quarter ended Nov. 29 rose 6.2% to nearly $3 billion, in line with expectations. Organic sales, which strips out currency and M&A effects, rose 8.1%, slower than the 15.1% growth it saw in the previous quarter, when retailers placed more orders ahead of the holiday season.

The Slim Jim beef jerky and Healthy Choice meals maker also forecast third-quarter organic sales growth between 6% and 8%, a slower pace than its prior two quarters.

“Investors will increasingly shy away from names in which growth will decrease or turn negative in the next few months,” analysts from Truist wrote in a note.

Investors are also apathetic to near-term consumption trends as the pandemic has pushed sales of food companies higher than average growth levels, making it “nearly impossible” to gauge what individual company performance will be in “normal” times, according to the note.

Conagra Chief Executive Officer Sean Connolly told Reuters he was confident consumers will keep buying its products even during normal times based on repeat buying rates during the pandemic, investments in e-commerce and data analytics, as well as efforts to reach more consumers on mobile devices.

Reporting by Nivedita Balu and Siddharth Cavale in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva and Shounak Dasgupta