Change Ahoy: Mondelez's new strategy weighs on earnings outlook

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Mondelez International Inc MDLZ.O forecast smaller-than-expected earnings growth for 2019 as Chief Executive Dirk Van de Put unveiled a series of strategic changes, sending the Chips Ahoy-maker's shares down 2.8 percent on Friday

FILE PHOTO: The logo of Mondelez International is pictured at the company's building in Zurich November 14, 2012. REUTERS/Michael Buholzer/File Photo

Like other food makers, Mondelez has struggled to grow sales in recent years as consumers move away from packaged food in favor of healthy eating. Van de Put’s review of the company, which owns the Oreo and Cadbury brands, has been highly anticipated since he took the top job in November.

Van de Put said Mondelez’s transformation would focus on driving sales and include investing more in e-commerce, perking up existing brands, investing in sustainable ingredients and expanding its footprint in higher-growth parts of the world.

“The consumer packaged goods space has changed dramatically and will continue to change,” Van de Put said at an investor meeting. “To meet these needs, we are adjusting and changing our way of working.”

The company’s shift to focusing more on sales growth than on cutting costs is important after several years of intense focus on margins, Edward Jones analyst Brittany Weissman said.

However, investing in sales is expected to weigh on earnings next year.

“2019 will be more of a reinvestment year than previously expected,” Weissman said.

Mondelez said it expects 2019 adjusted earnings to rise by 3 percent to 5 percent. Analysts on average had estimated 5 percent net income growth for the period, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Mondelez forecast better-than-expected organic sales growth for 2019 of 2 to 3 percent. Weissman said this estimate topped expectations for rival food companies.

Van de Put’s predecessor, long-time CEO Irene Rosenfeld, had for years been under pressure to boost earnings by shareholder activists Bill Ackman and Nelson Peltz of Trian Fund Management. Trian President Peter May has sat on Mondelez’s board since February, when Peltz stepped down, saying he was happy with the company’s progress.

Shares in Mondelez were down as much as 4 percent on Friday, set for their worst day in more than four months. The company also said it expected to buy back about $2 billion in stock this year.

Reporting by Richa Naidu; Editing by Cynthia Osterman