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The Coca-Cola Company (KO), National Beverage Corp. (FIZZ), Lifeway Foods, Inc. (LWAY) – Shark and Minnows: A Look at Three Nonalcoholic Drinks Companies

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For the past few years, the large soda companies, such as The Coca-Cola Company (NYSE:KO) , have been increasingly blamed for their role in the obesity problem in the U.S. However, they continue to do okay due to their international operations and financial power. Increasingly, competition is arising from smaller companies such as National Beverage Corp. (NASDAQ:FIZZ) and Lifeway Foods, Inc. (NASDAQ:LWAY).

The Coca-Cola Company (NYSE:KO)The recent record-high temperatures are likely to boost sales of the larger as well as the smaller non-alcoholic drink players. In addition, the minnows, companies like Lifeway Foods, Inc. (NASDAQ:LWAY), are launching innovative and niche products at a faster pace than the sharks. It seems like the former companies are being able to avoid being swallowed by their larger and more powerful rivals. Importantly, they are able to swim better against the currents of bad publicity continuing to swarm soda companies.

Valuation

As seen from the table below, Lifeway Foods, Inc. (NASDAQ:LWAY) has the highest growth rate but a solid gross margin and operating profit, bested only by The Coca-Cola Company (NYSE:KO). It is much easier to grow a company with annual sales of $80 million, in the case of Lifeway, than a company with $48 billion in sales, in the case of Coca-Cola. Both National Beverage Corp. (NASDAQ:FIZZ) and Lifeway are niche players due to their smaller sizes and implied flexibility.

However, of the two companies, only Lifeway Foods, Inc. (NASDAQ:LWAY) has a double-digit growth rate. For example, only in the past year did Lifeway launch a new line of products (five new kefir confections for kids and grownups) and expand internationally in the UK.

It seems that both The Coca-Cola Company (NYSE:KO) and National Beverage Corp. (NASDAQ:FIZZ) are managed for profitability by sacrificing growth. This is evident by the volatility of their stocks as measured by beta. While Lifeway Foods, Inc. (NASDAQ:LWAY) also has a very low beta, or volatility, the company is able to grow more steadily.

KO FIZZ LWAY
Market capitalization $180B $815M $295M
Sales growth (last fiscal year vs year before) 3.2% 5.3% 16.3%
Price-to-sales 3.8 1.2 3.5
Price-to-book 5.6 11.1 7.2
Gross margin 60.5% 32.8% 34.7%
Operating margin 26.8% 10.6% 12.4%
Beta 0.5 0.4 0.5
one-year total return 1% 23% 72%

Source: Reuters, SEC filings, author’s calculations.

Competitive positions

The Coca-Cola Company (NYSE:KO) has over 500 non-alcoholic brands, including such well-known names as Coca-Cola, Sprite, Fanta, Minute Maid, Dasani, Vitaminwater, and Powerade that are sold in over 200 countries. The reach and depth of Coca-Cola’s brand is second to none.

On the other hand, National Beverage Corp. (NASDAQ:FIZZ) and Lifeway have 13 major brands each. By having relatively fewer brands and a focus on the U.S. market, National Beverage and Lifeway are able to compete with The Coca-Cola Company (NYSE:KO) by offering niche products. National Beverage Corp. (NASDAQ:FIZZ), with its Shasta soda brand is mainly targeting the rising Hispanic population and its Ritz drinks are primarily sold in Southeastern U.S. Also, National Beverage is the only company offering energy drinks in the popular and growing (as evidenced in this recent industry article) shot-form with its Rip It brand.

Lifeway has the widest variety of products compared to the number of brands. It offers a variety of products including: kefirs aimed at kids and grownups as well as light versions; soft cheeses; cheese spreads; a kefir-based beverage to support the gastrointestinal functions and the immune systems; powdered kefir; Lassi – a traditional Indian cultured drink; and organic kefir.

Importantly, Lifeway makes the majority of its products using fermented dairy and sells them primarily in the yogurt section of groceries, which further signifies the health properties of its products.

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