Sarah Lee sales up despite full-year and Q4 loss

By Shane Starling

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Sara lee North america

Rising raw material costs such as wheat and energy have not crimped sales growth for Illinois-based Sara Lee Corporation which has notched a 10.3 per cent jump in fiscal 2008, with its international bakery division growing strongly.

The food giant saw sales rise from $12.0bn for fiscal 2007 to $13.2bn for the year ended June 28, 2008. Its international baking operations improved 16.1 per cent and its retail North American bakery division saw sales increase 9.2 per cent.

For the international baking division, this accounted for a loss of $385m while North American retail bakery earned $55m after losing $2m in 2007.

International beverage (+22.9 per cent) and household and body care (+12.2 per cent) also performed well.

For the year Sara Lee lodged a $102m loss compared with a profit of $504m for 2008.

For the last quarter of 2008, Sara Lee registered sales of $3.5bn – 12.2 per cent hike over the comparable period last year, but took a $695m loss as non-cash, pre-tax impairment charges of $850 million were factored in.

These were associated with the goodwill balances at its North American foodservice bakery and Spanish bakery business units as well as write-downs of other assets in North America.

“As anticipated, we had a strong fourth quarter, with virtually every business segment delivering improved underlying business results,”​ said chairman and chief executive officer, Brenda C. Barnes.

“We also are very encouraged that the strength of our brands allowed us to offset the unprecedented levels of commodity and other input costs through pricing and helped deliver market share gains and increased operating margins.”

The company said it would increase its advertising spend to bolster that brand strength as it expected commodity costs to continue rising.

On the back of the results, Sara Lee shares fell 54 cents, or 3.7 percent, to end the day at $13.98 on Thursday.

Frost & Sullivan analyst Christopher Shanahan said food companies may be in tough times if they continue passing on input cost increases to consumers, although the fact Sara Lee was such a major player in a staple food item like bread may offer it some kind of bakery buffer.

"They're going to buy bread,”​ the Associated Press reported. “They're just going to drop down to lower value bread.”

Sara Lee’s diverse and multinational portfolio would also offer it a measure of protection.

"It's either diversification or specialization,"​ he said. "It's kind of the rule to grow and Sara Lee has taken the diversification approach."

Sara Lee expects fiscal 2009 sales between $13.7bn and $14bn.

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