LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Liquor producer Brown-Forman Corp. said Wednesday that its first-quarter net income surged 25 percent, spiked by double-digit sales growth for its flagship Jack Daniel's whiskey brand and a recent price increase for many of its premium brands.
The performance beat expectations of Wall Street analysts, and its share price rose more than 2 percent in midday trading.
The company said its U.S. results remain robust despite weak trends at bars and restaurants. The so-called "on premise" consumption was hit hard by the economic downturn and has struggled to regain momentum during the sluggish recovery.
It said net sales outside the U.S. grew 10 percent, led by growth in such emerging markets as Poland, Mexico, Russia and Turkey. Nearly 60 percent of Brown-Forman's overall sales came from foreign markets in the last fiscal year.
The company benefited from price increases across much of its portfolio of brands — its first broad-based price hike in five years. The price increases ranged in the low- to mid-single digits and mostly showed up in the first quarter.
"We expect these price increases to drive further improvements in the price-mix contribution to our sales growth and allow us to offset inflationary cost pressures and excise tax increases that we have been absorbing over the last few years," Brown-Forman Chief Financial Officer Don Berg said in a conference call with Wall Street analysts.
For example, persistently high corn prices would be a slight drag on full-year earnings, he said. Corn is a key ingredient in Jack Daniel's whiskey and some of the company's other products.
Brown-Forman CEO Paul Varga didn't rule out additional price adjustments when asked if the company had put its pricing plans in place for the fiscal year. He said the company will watch to see how consumers respond to the recent increases.
"I anticipate if we feel like we can take pricing, once we get our people poised to be looking for those opportunities, those could arise at any time," he said.
As the price increases loomed, distributors and retailers stocked up before the hikes took effect, which also helped drive stronger sales, Berg said. That buying binge will have an impact on second-quarter sales, he said.
"The flip side of any inventory build in the first quarter is it will likely cause second-quarter underlying sales to come in lower than the current trend line," Berg said.
Brown-Forman stuck with its prior earnings forecast of $2.40 to $2.67 per share for the full fiscal year, adjusted for a recent three-for-two stock split.
Meanwhile, first-quarter net sales rose 15 percent for the overall Jack Daniel's brand when excluding the impact of currency changes.
Jack Daniel's Tennessee Honey, which debuted last year, had a double-digit sales growth as it expanded to the United Kingdom, Australia and South Africa.
The Louisville-based company said net sales of its Finlandia vodka brands grew 20 percent in the quarter, on the same constant currency basis. Overall sales of the el Jimador tequila brand rose 11 percent.
The struggling Southern Comfort brand showed signs of a rebound. Net sales grew in the U.S. in the quarter, though the brand had a 1 percent drop in global sales — the smallest decline in more than two years. Reinvigorating the brand has been a top priority for the company.
Korbel Champagne sales rose 14 percent while Canadian Mist sales were down 1 percent.
Sales for its super and ultra-premium whiskey brands, including Gentleman Jack, Woodford Reserve, Jack Daniel's Single Barrel and Collingwood, grew by almost 30 percent in the quarter, the company said.
Brown-Forman reported net income of $147.5 million, or 69 cents per share, for the three months ended July 31. That's up from $118.1 million, or 54 cents per share, a year ago. Net sales were up 4 percent at $878.1 million.
Analysts surveyed by FactSet expected earnings of 63 cents on net sales of $840.6 million.
Its Class B shares rose $1.56, or 2.5 percent, to $64.34 in midday trading. Its shares peaked for the past year at $65.33 in early July. They traded as low as $43.46 last September.