During the CAGNY conference in Florida, Food Dive talked to food executives to gain insight into how CPG companies are positioning their businesses to tap into growth areas amid rapid changes in consumer tastes. This is the third in a five-part series. Click here to read the previous stories on Tyson Foods and Campbell Soup.
While large food manufacturers struggle as consumers shun packaged foods in favor of fresher, nutritious fare, at least one company in the space is thriving: McCormick & Co.
The 129-year old manufacturer of spices, seasoning mixes, flavorings and condiments has products tailored to the public's desire to eat better without losing the flavor and taste they covet. There also is a growing demand, particularly among millennials experimenting with new flavors and cooking more from home, that benefits McCormick and other taste-making companies.
"Consumer demand for flavor seems to be endless," Lawrence Kurzius, McCormick's CEO, told Food Dive at the annual Consumer Analyst Group of New York conference in Florida. "Take the whole perimeter of the store and it's our products and our categories that make that perimeter taste good. There is a tailwind for us, for most of the center of the store there is a headwind.”
With a changing demographic spurring innovation, particularly as millennials' influence and purchasing power increases, companies have little choice but to turn to McCormick and other flavor companies. That's showing up in demand for McCormick's products where sales are projected to increase 12% to 14% during its current fiscal year — a growth rate that's likely the envy of other companies in the food and beverage space facing a prolonged decline.
"For most of the companies (in the CPG space), we're not competitive in anyway," Kurzius said. "We're really focused on flavor. We want to make their products better and we really can."
A Mintel study found 35% of U.S. consumers would be tempted to try a new dish if it had unique flavors or ingredients, and 80% of people like trying new seasonings, spices and flavors. Big Food manufacturers have taken notice.
PepsiCo's Frito-Lay division released a range of international flavors for its Lay's potato chips brand in 2016 that included Brazilian Picanha, Chinese Szechuan Chicken, Greek Tzatziki, and Indian Tikka Masala. Amplify Snack Brands, which was recently purchased by Hershey, introduced a limited-edition chip under its Paqui banner last year that came in a coffin-shaped box and was laced with the Carolina Reaper, the world's hottest chili.
Focus on e-commerce
Brittany Weissman, an analyst at Edward Jones, told Food Dive in an interview that McCormick "is a very well-run company" that finds itself in the middle of a number of popular trends. It also has the added benefit of having products that are easy to ship, which could give it an advantage as more transactions move online.
"I think what sometimes gets underestimated with them is they are very strategic and that they're thinking further out," she said. "They are thinking about things that may be ahead of the curve, and then when we hear about it it's something they've been working on for a long time."
Weissman highlighted McCormick's aggressive push in the e-commerce space several years ago when it made the decision to overstaff its e-commerce division relative to the size of sales because it believed it was business that was important to its future. She noted Amazon was one of its largest account teams, even though sales to the web giant were smaller than some other clients.
"This has led them to being a stronger partner with companies like Amazon, and being further along in their e-commerce capabilities," she said.
McCormick further expanded its online presence after it recently launched a storefront on Tmall.com, an Alibaba site in China, where it sells and fulfills products directly to the consumer.
Kurzius said McCormick is going to first evaluate the experience in China before deciding whether to rollout a similar initiative in the U.S., something he called "inevitable."
"We believe this is the future so we continue to invest in it," Kurzius said. "Anybody who says differently has their head in the sand."
As demand for flavor increases, McCormick has been busy growing its product line. It added 40 new products last fall, including bone broth, slow-cooker seasonings and Asian noodles, among other items designed to appeal to busy people who can't spare a lot of preparation time but still want flavorful home-cooked meals. It's capitalizing on the interest by millennials in ethnic flavors and home cooking through a wide range of spice blends with brands such as Thai Kitchen, Zatarain's, Simply Asia and Lawry's.
It double-downed on its flavoring push last summer when it agreed to purchase Reckitt Benckiser's Food Division for $4.2 billion, acquiring the iconic French's mustard and Frank's RedHot brands. With the purchase, the largest in its history, McCormick added a roster of brands to its spice and seasoning mix portfolio that further strengthens the company's position as a go-to destination for adding flavor to a variety of dishes.
"The RB Foods acquisition presents a lot of opportunity," Weissman said. "They have a very strong track record of integrating acquisitions."
What can McCormick do for you?
Despite its growth, Kurzius said McCormick still has yet to fully tap into all the flavors that people want — most notably in beverages where the company is sometimes forgotten. The Maryland firm also is looking to expand the reach of products available in the perimeter of store and to new meal occasions, such as breakfast where they recently launched a line of products to flavor yogurt, eggs, smoothies, oatmeal and other healthy items.
During his presentation last week at CAGNY, he touted the lengthy list of advantages his company can tap into for future growth, and he made a direct pitch to CPG giants to use more of McCormick's products.
"For my CPG peer companies sitting in the back of the room, if we're not on your flavor list I'd like to talk with you about McCormick can do for you," he told the audience.