Responding to a question from an investment analyst during a recent conference call, David S. Marberger, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Conagra Brands, Inc., had high praise for Ardent Mills, Inc., the flour milling joint venture Conagra owns with Cargill and CHS.
The analyst call was conducted in connection with Conagra financial results for fiscal 2023. Conagra, which owns 44% of Ardent Mills, in a Form 10-K filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission offered additional details about the milling company’s stellar performance in fiscal 2023.
In prepared remarks during the call, Mr. Marberger elaborated on Conagra guidance that its joint venture income in fiscal 2024 would be about $150 million, down from $212 million in fiscal 2023.
“Ardent Mills had a particularly strong fiscal ‘23, driven by favorable market conditions and the venture’s effective management through recent volatility in the wheat markets,” he said. “As we transition toward a more normalized operating environment, we expect lower Ardent Mills income of approximately $150 million in fiscal ‘24, which is still a very strong operating performance relative to historical results as Ardent continues to mature as a business.”
In response, the analyst asked, “How much visibility do you have at this point to the $150 million?”
“We have a lot of visibility, and you can assume that we have been through the details with Ardent,” Mr. Marberger responded. “We review the business with them very closely. The level of profit we’re guiding to is pretty consistent with where the business came in, in fiscal ‘22.
“The thing that I’ve really come to appreciate personally is it’s such a great business. It’s a young business. It’s only 10 years old. They’ve made investments in the business, and they continue to grow. So their core business continues to do really well, and then they have a trading aspect of the business, too. So it’s a business that’s growing. It has a lot of competitive advantage in it. And so we’re really bullish on the business. It’s a really great business.”
In the Form 10-K, Conagra said dividends received by Conagra in fiscal 2023 were $138.4 million, up 75% from $79 million in fiscal 2022.
Gross margins at Ardent Mills widened to 14% in fiscal 2023, up from 12% in fiscal 2022 and 11% in fiscal 2021. According to the filing, Ardent Mills registered higher earnings in the year ended May 28. As previously reported, Ardent Mills earnings after income taxes were $453.2 million, up 48% from $306.2 million in fiscal 2022. Net sales were $5.24 billion, up 23% from $4.26 billion the year before.
Gross profits were $745.4 million last year, up 44% from $516.5 million in fiscal 2022.