Complacency at Nestlé? Major investor sounds alarm on ‘muddled strategic approach’

By Mary Ellen Shoup contact

- Last updated on GMT

According to Daniel S. Loeb, CEO of hedge fund Third Point, Nestlé has continually failed to anticipate new and emerging trends in food and beverage.
According to Daniel S. Loeb, CEO of hedge fund Third Point, Nestlé has continually failed to anticipate new and emerging trends in food and beverage.

Related tags: Nestle, Innovation, Investment

In a letter to Nestlé, the world’s largest food company by revenue, Third Point, a New York-based asset manager with $18bn in capital ($3bn in Nestlé), called out the food and beverage giant for falling short on its long-term, sustainable growth mission.

Nestlé Global reported organic growth of 2.8% for the first three months of 2018 with full-year guidance of between 2% and 4%.

"We are pleased to report a solid start to the year, with all regions contributing to our growth. Our volume growth improved noticeably while pricing remained soft. We are encouraged by our innovation pipeline, continued progress with the implementation of our portfolio management strategy and our efficiency initiatives,”​ Schneider said about the company’s latest earning results.

While an improvement on previous quarters, CEO of Third Point, Daniel S. Loeb, was not dazzled by the low-single digit growth numbers.

“Although the company has taken some steps consistent with our suggestions, the modest pace and magnitude of these changes suggest that Nestlé feels satisfied with its position,”​ penned Loeb in the letter to Nestlé CEO Dr. Mark Schneider, chairman Paul Bulcke, and its board of directors,

Nestlé’s Articles of Association (Section 2.3) state the company will focus on ‘long-term, sustainable value creation” in operating its business. We do not believe that the company is living up to this mandate today with its muddle strategic approach.

“This is a call for urgency – rather than incrementalism – to capitalize on fleeting opportunities and innovations that competitors will capture if Nestlé does not energize itself.”

Nestlé did not have any immediate comment when FoodNavigator-USA reached out, but the company did issue a press release outlining its "accelerated long-term valuation creation strategy" ​adding that "Nestlé’s Board and management take all shareholders’ perspectives seriously and welcome their continued input."

Roadmap to get back on track

Loeb paired his critiques with an outline of actionable steps Nestlé should take to return to growth through divestment and restructuring at a quicker pace, starting with its company message.

“Nestlé describes itself as a company focused on ‘nutrition, health and wellness,’ but many categories and brands continue to fall outside that definition,”​ Loeb wrote.

“Nestlé further highlights coffee, pet care, infant nutrition, and water as key categories for long-term development, yet only half of the company’s sales are generated from those areas. Nestlé sometimes lumps the rest of its sales into ‘other categories’ nomenclature that neatly captures the remaining mixed bag of businesses that deviate from its focus areas.”

Loeb advised that Nestlé divest as much as 15% of sales either through sales, spin-offs, or other methods to better align its portfolio around key categories, starting with its 23% stake in cosmetics and personal care brand L’Oreal and use the proceeds to more M&A activity in key areas.

Recent M&A and divestment activity for the global food company includes its sale of its US candy business to Ferrero​ ​(2018), its purchase of Starbucks’ retail coffee business​ (2018), and 2017 acquisitions of Chameleon Cold-Brew Coffee, Sweet Earth​, and majority interest in Blue Bottle Coffee​.

“We believe the company should simplify its overly complex organizational structure and split internally into three divisions organized around beverages, nutrition, and grocery to improve focus, agility, and accountability,” ​Loeb added.

Faster to innovation

Loeb made it clear that Nestlé has not been operating in an urgent enough manner within the rapidly evolving food and beverage sector.

“Nestlé’s insular, complacent, and bureaucratic organization is overly complex, lethargic, and misses too many trends,”​ Loeb continued.

According to Loeb, Nestlé has failed to spot and identify fast-moving, innovative smaller brands  resulting in slew of missed opportunities.

“The company has been woefully late to participate in some of the key new trends that have driven growth in food and beverages, allowing incipient brands and more focused competitors to capture market share,”​ he said.

Loeb ended his letter by claiming that if Nestlé heeds Third Point’s advice, it would turn around the company and double earnings per share by 2022.

Without an urgent refocus and restructuring of its business, Nestlé won’t be able to reverse years of under performance and success over the long term, Loeb added.

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