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Consumer Goods Makers Flex Pricing Power In Second Quarter

By Donna Ahern
Consumer Goods Makers Flex Pricing Power In Second Quarter

Consumer products giants including Unilever, Coca-Cola and Reckitt have shown they can raise prices to cope with higher costs, but investors told Reuters they want to see more innovation to drive dwindling sales volumes.

Major consumer goods companies - from Nestlé to P&G - have managed sharp rises in input costs that began with the COVID-19 pandemic and worsened after Russia's invasion of Ukraine by passing them on to retailers and shoppers.

But the rise in prices over the last two years risks alienating consumers struggling with the cost of living, some of whom have already started buying private label alternatives over more expensive branded products.

Weakened Demand 

Demand for everyday essentials remains resilient but has weakened in some consumer categories. Appliance makers Electrolux and Whirlpool are among companies which have been hit as people choose cheaper products.


Dove soap maker Unilever, Lysol disinfectant owner Reckitt and French dairy group Danone have nevertheless reported hiking prices again in the second quarter even as their sales volumes suffered.

And soda giants Coca-Cola and PepsiCo both boosted revenue forecasts for the rest of the year, saying they expect demand to remain resilient.

"We're still seeing these companies maintaining pretty strong pricing," said Richard Saldanha, a portfolio manager at Aviva, which holds shares in all three.

"There has been some moderation, as we expected, but so far companies are showing their resilience."

Reckitt and Danone shares were down 1% and 1.5% respectively on Wednesday, off earlier lows and compared with a decline of about 2.3% in the wider Stoxx Europe 600 Consumer Products and Services Index.


Coca-Cola shares rose marginally in U.S. trading.

Top U.S. and European investors have been flagging their concerns to consumer goods companies that high prices will damage customer loyalty and hit future sales.

Some lawmakers and regulators in the United States and Europe have accused consumer goods manufacturers and retailers of price gouging and 'greedflation', or padding revenues by charging more than they need to recoup high input costs.

Improvement Needed

Saldanha said Aviva now wanted the three companies it holds to focus on boosting sales by investing in core brands, such as Reckitt's Finish dishwasher tablets or Dettol cleaning products.


"We really want to see that volume improvement," he added.

Danone's finance chief Juergen Esser told Reuters the company had improved some products in Spain and the United States, which "immediately translate(s) into volumes", helped by increased promotional activity. He said the company had also taken products that weren't performing well off the shelves.

"The frequency with which a number of households are buying (some of) our products on a monthly basis has doubled," Esser said.

"We focus on what makes sense for the company and are putting money - I mean serious money - behind (innovation)."

Unilever on Tuesday beat underlying sales growth forecasts after again raising prices to offset higher costs.


"Unilever beat on all levels and demonstrated better volumes in two of their divisions," said Tineke Frikkee, a portfolio manager at Waverton Investment Management, a shareholder in Unilever and Reckitt.

"Reckitt volumes continued to be very negative in hygiene, leading to concerns on regaining market share going forward."

Nestle, the world's biggest food maker, will report earnings on Thursday.

"Investors are going to be wanting to see a bit more from Nestlé as well ... nutrition and health are probably going to be the ones where investors are going to be more focused on wanting to see that growth coming through," Aviva's Saldanha said.

News by Reuters, edited by Donna Ahern, Checkout. For more A-brand news, click here. Click subscribe to sign up for the Checkout print edition.

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