NEW YORK, Jan 10 (Reuters) – Healthy Choice meal maker Conagra Brands Inc (CAG.N) has no plans to hike prices further on its snacks and frozen foods beyond the current quarter, its Chief Executive Officer Sean Connolly said in a Reuters Newsmaker interview on Tuesday.
Known for its Birds Eye, Chef Boyardee and Slim Jim brands, Conagra is increasing some of its prices in its current fiscal 2023 third quarter.
“We don’t currently have any plans to take additional pricing beyond that,” Connolly said, noting the plans could change if inflation persists.
Packaged food and household product companies have hiked prices to protect margins. Consumers have largely accepted higher prices but there are signs they are growing weary. Big box stores have said shoppers are “stressed” and cutting back on discretionary purchases.
Conagra raised its full-year forecasts last week, after beating quarterly results, helped mainly by higher prices for its snacks and ready-to-eat meals, though its sales volumes fell.
The Chicago-based company’s share price rose 12% in 2022 and shot up further after the improved forecasts.
Americans had to pay more to eat last year no matter where they got their food, as the pandemic, supply chain disruptions and the war in Ukraine took their toll.
The price of groceries eaten at home rose an estimated 11%-12% in 2022, versus a 7%-8% increase in restaurant menu prices, according to estimates from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Even so, cooking at home is still cheaper than dining out on a relative basis.
Broadly, Connolly said he expects double-digit inflation in Conagra’s fiscal 2023, which ends in May, although protein and some packaging costs are moderating.
Conagra is benefiting as some cash-strapped consumers trade down from fast-food restaurants into meals at home. Its 45-ounce Marie Callender’s family-sized chicken pot pie, which is four servings, retails for between $11.99 and $12.99 at grocery stores, according to its website.
What’s more, many people are still working from home more than before the pandemic.
“If you’re going to spend your day at home instead of in the office, odds are the breakfast and the lunch that you’re going to have is going to be a product like a Healthy Choice Power Bowl,” Connolly said.
ENVIRONMENTAL GOALS ON SCHEDULE
Connolly also said that Conagra will be using 100% cage-free eggs by the end of 2024 and that it has stopped packaging most of its frozen meals in single-use plastic containers, moving instead to plant-based compostable bowls.
“We’ve now moved it to just about everything we sell in our frozen meals business,” he said.
More details will be in the company’s annual “citizenship report” expected to be released in about three weeks, he said.
Conagra’s meat alternative brand, Gardein, has seen growing sales of its plant-based seafood, including crab cakes, but its chicken and beef substitutes are much larger, Connolly said.
“Beef crumbles, which people can make taco meat out of, that’s the biggest mover,” he said.
VALUE OF THE BRAND
Conagra also removed its ads from Twitter in September, according to data provided by Pathmatics.
“We were just looking at the placement of our brands in proximity to other things and just making sure that when our brands show up they’re showing up in proximity to things that fit the value of the brand,” Connolly said.
A raft of companies blasted Twitter late last year for ads appearing next to tweets soliciting child pornography.
Reporting by Jessica DiNapoli and Hilary Russ in New York
Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Matthew Lewis
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