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Mondelez International Inc (MDLZ), Campbell Soup Company (CPB), The Hershey Company (HSY): Could More Risk Lead to Greatness?

Mondelez (MDLZ)It may seem curious to investors of a certain stripe that Mondelez International Inc (NASDAQ:MDLZ) spun off its Kraft Foods Group Inc (NASDAQ:KRFT) grocery business in October of last year in order to shoot for long-term organic revenue growth of 5% to 7%. But among mature global food and beverage companies, this type of expansion is often considered ambitious. For example, competitor Campbell Soup Company (NYSE:CPB) grew its international snack and baking business by only 2% in fiscal 2012. Surprisingly, Mondelez has had some trouble hitting its targets in its first two quarters as an unchained $35 billion powerhouse. After posting organic revenue growth of only 4.4% in 2012, will the company find its momentum in 2013?

The soft spots
Industry trends including soft gum and candy sales, and lower coffee pricing (due to recent bumper crops), have weighed on Mondelez International Inc (NASDAQ:MDLZ)’s near-term results. The company’s revenue growth will hover around the “low end of the five to seven [percent] range” for the time being, according to CFO Dave Brearton. Management has indicated that it is not so concerned with one-off events such as the weakness in coffee prices, and has affirmed that it will make up for lost ground in the back half of 2013. Yet investors would like to know that Mondelez can consistently scale its revenue regardless of the headwind of the moment.

The growth sweet spot
The fuel for Mondelez’s future growth will likely be found at the intersection of the following three themes: power brands, developing markets, and the categories of biscuits (i.e., cookies and crackers) and chocolates. In essence, the biggest and most loved brands, sold in the fastest-growing developing markets (such as China and India), within the two categories that represent almost 60% of Mondelez’s business.

Mondelez International Inc (NASDAQ:MDLZ) currently has nine billion-dollar brands (including names such as Oreo and Cadbury), and its power brand portfolio boasts a growth rate of 8% — almost double the company’s overall growth rate. In developing markets, power brands are growing at an annual rate of almost 20%. Economists tell us that “power brands” evoke a high degree of loyalty and emotion from customers. Thus, they tend to be more price-inelastic than regular goods — that is, consumers will stomach higher prices for their favorite brands versus goods to which they are not attached (and for which many substitutes are exist). So it makes sense to invest in these brands at the expense of weaker products:

An abundance of caution?
While the idea of allocating resources to killer products is already a staple of Mondelez’s business plan, the company may need to push beyond its comfort zone and somewhat overload its marketing investment in these brands. Mondelez is admirably disciplined on the operational side. It improved operating income margin by 110 basis points from 2010 to 2012. By its own calculation, Mondelez showed the most improvement in this metric within a peer group that included The Hershey Company (NYSE:HSY), Unilever plc (ADR) (NYSE:UL), and Nestle (OTCBB:NSRGY). What would happen if the company took on some additional risk, and sacrificed, say, a percentage point of that margin to marketing expense to ensure top-line growth?

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