Nestle raises food prices to highest level in a decade

Consumers face higher supermarket bills after prices rose 5.2% in the first three months of the year

Shoppers are feeling the pinch with higher prices at the supermarket. AFP
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Nestle is hitting consumers with its steepest increase in first-quarter pricing in more than a decade, lifting the cost for everything from Nespresso capsules to Purina dog chow to blunt the impact of surging food inflation on its profitability.

Pricing rose 5.2 per cent in the first three months of the year, the most for that period since at least 2012, Nestle said on Thursday. Even Nespresso, a brand that has kept prices fairly stable for years, is more expensive, having risen 3.1 per cent.

Nestle isn’t alone. Procter & Gamble and Danone also said this week they started the year with price increases of about 5 per cent. Shoppers face a higher bill for products such as microwaveable Hot Pockets sandwiches and Perrier bottled water alongside increasingly expensive petrol and electricity.

Food and beverage companies have been raising prices at a time when consumers return to offices and dine outside their homes more often.

Nestle shares gained as much as 1.9 per cent, having gained 15 per cent in the past year.

In the first three months of 2022, every one of Nestle’s product categories had price hikes. The biggest price increases were in pet care, bottled water and prepared meals. Greater China was the only region spared as the company focused on gaining market share there.

While the food sector is generally more resilient than industrial companies and car makers because food and drinks are necessities, there’s a risk that consumers will eventually opt for cheaper versions.

Nespresso’s shipments barely grew in the first quarter, though that is partially because the rebound was so strong in the year-earlier period.

The war in Ukraine has exacerbated food inflation because the country is a major supplier of wheat and sunflower oil. Meanwhile, inflation in prices for coffee, plastic and shipping are cutting into profitability at the maker of KitKat chocolate and San Pellegrino water.

“Cost inflation continues to increase sharply, which will require further pricing and mitigating actions over the course of the year,” chief executive Mark Schneider said in the statement.

Shipments of milk products, prepared meals and cooking aids are already declining, showing that Nestle has limits to its pricing power.

Mr Schneider had faced criticism for continuing to do business in Russia, with Ukrainian politicians even calling him out by name and demanding a full exit. Nestle eventually suspended the vast majority of its production in the country, but Mr Schneider maintains that access to food is a basic right. Nestle now focuses on selling essential products such as infant formula and medical nutrition there.

The chief executive stuck to his forecast for revenue growth to decelerate to about 5 per cent in 2022. Mr Schneider said in February the company should achieve its previous long-term guidance in coming years, which is for annual revenue increases of 5 per cent to 6 per cent.

The maker of Purina pet food repeated that profitability may decline for a second year in 2022, with its adjusted operating profit margin expected to be 17 per cent to 17.5 per cent this year. The margin was 17.4 per cent in 2021.

Updated: April 22, 2022, 6:20 AM