McCormick seeks to make more overseas acquisitions

Spice maker McCormick & Co. plans to make more acquisitions, especially in emerging markets in Eastern Europe and Asia, where sales are expected to account for 13 percent of the firm's overall revenue this year, the company's chief executive officer and chairman said Wednesday.

"We still have a pretty good pipeline," Alan D. Wilson said of potential opportunities. "Again, it's hard to time acquisitions, but we have a focus on continuing to grow. A third of our growth over the last five years comes from acquisitions."

At the Sparks company's annual shareholder meeting, Wilson praised McCormick's successes in 2011 in spite of continuing economic challenges in the United States and abroad.

"Your company enjoyed a year of strong financial performance in a very tough environment," Wilson told shareholders. "Despite head winds that challenge all businesses, we continue to grow."

Part of the company's growth last year included three acquisitions, including the $291 million purchase of Kamis SA, a privately held Polish company that makes spices, seasonings and mustards. McCormick also acquired an 85 percent share in Kohinoor Foods Ltd., an Indian company that sells basmati rice and other foods.

As a result, sales grew 11 percent to nearly $3.7 billion last year. Net income was $374.2 million, or $2.79 per share, up slightly from $370.2 million, or $2.75 per share, in 2010.

Double-digit increases in raw and packaging materials last year cut into the company's profit, prompting McCormick to raise prices for its spices and other products. The company increased prices by 10 percent in the U.S. market last year, Wilson said.

The higher costs also affected the company's first-quarter earnings, released Tuesday. While sales increased for the three months that ended Feb. 29, profit was slightly lower than it was in the corresponding period last year.

While raw-material costs are expected to remain high this year, Wilson said in an interview after the meeting that McCormick didn't expect any "pricing action." He added, however, that the firm always evaluated prices "based on what's happening in the market and how we have to respond."

The company, he said, was sensitive to the impact of price increases on consumers, who remain wary about spending.

"We're cautious about making sure we are providing great value," he said.

While McCormick plans to continue expanding in emerging markets overseas, Wilson said the company also would take its time to find the right opportunities.

In response to a shareholder's question on whether McCormick was eyeing acquisitions in Brazil, Wilson said the company was looking into that market. McCormick now provides products to customers in the South American country, he said.

The company's annual shareholder meeting is a popular event that typically draws nearly 1,000 stockholders from around the Baltimore region. Gift bags filled with a sampling of McCormick's latest spices and products are part of the draw.

Longtime shareholder Shirley Hecht of Pikesville said she tries to attend the meeting every year. Hecht, a retired statistician, bought McCormick stock 30 years ago when she moved to the Baltimore region.

"We always bought the spices, so we bought the stock," she said. "It's something that I take pride in owning."