The Kellogg Company, a consumer goods icon with brands such as Kellogg cereals, Cheez-Itc rackers, Keebler cookies and Eggo waffles, earlier this week announced a billion dollar cost cutting plan that would extend over the next four years.  

This effort is reported by business media to be motivated by increased competition in the breakfast and snack food industry segments along with softer demand from economically distressed consumers. Business media reports that these cutbacks would result in the estimated loss of 2000 jobs, however, with the four year window, Kellogg management aims to achieve headcount reductions through normal attrition. From our Supply Chain Matters lens, the new Project K efficiency program looks more like an effort to drive global supply chain wide efficiencies and create more integrated supply chain business processes and services across global product lines.

In its most recent fiscal third-quarter financial results, Kellogg reported essentially flat revenues and decreased operating profits. While global net sales are increasing, North America based sales declined by 1.3 percent. The company has been forecasting sales growth of between 4-5 percent for the current fiscal year.

According to a report published in the Wall Street Journal, the new Project K initiative involves a complete re-tooling of the company’s supply chains that includes spending $1.4 billion by the end of 2017 to relocate production lines and globally integrate business process services.  Kellogg is targeting upwards of $475 million in annual cost savings as of 2018, as an outcome from this latest announced initiative.

Supply Chain Matters calls reader attention to our June 2012 commentary regarding the acquisition by Kellogg of the Pringles snacks business from Procter and Gamble.  In 2012, Kellogg was handed a fortunate opportunity to acquire the Pringles business after the deal to sell that line to Diamond Foods was undone because of certain revelations.  Kellogg quickly agreed to a $2.7 billion all-cash deal to acquire a global, well-run brand and become a top player in the global savory snacks industry segment. However, Kellogg had to bring on a high debt load in order to pull off the financing of this deal, reported to be upwards of $2 billion. In the latest fiscal quarter that ended in September, the Kellogg balance sheet reported $6.3 billion in long-term debt.

At the time of our 2012 commentary, the combined synergies of the existing Kellogg and Pringles snack businesses were reported to be $10 million in 2012 and a range of $50-$75 million after 2013.  In 2012, Kellogg has been in the process of re-implementing SAP within its U.S. operations, and the addition of the Pringles business presented an added opportunity to integrate within the SAP environment. P&G itself has committed ongoing service arrangements to transition Pringles and was a very sophisticated user of SAP applications. We speculated that Kellogg teams would gain valuable learning and insights particularly regarding deployment and use of SAP advanced supply chain related applications.

Prior to  2012, Kellogg had some previous supply chain related quality setbacks related to past product recalls involving its Eggo product line prompting its CEO to declare that the company had to restore investor confidence in Kellogg supply chain capabilities. The Pringles integration again offered opportunities to revisit needs in this area.

Of late, CPG companies continue to feel the Wall Street based reverberations of the previously announced $23 billion acquisition of HJ Heinz by Berkshire Hathaway and 3G Capital. Heinz, a stalwart of global brand identity was acquired to harvest the cost savings synergies of its global operations, and that tremor seems to haunt existing CPG manufacturers since activist investors continue to want to play-out the next cash generating opportunity. We have opined that In the light of challenging revenue headwinds, company senior executives have launched aggressive stock buy-back programs with available cash to ward off hostile takeovers. Alternatively, Wall Street analysts conclude that previous efforts at cost cutting and headcount reductions have run their course and the new path to growth lies in more industry consolidation and financial engineering. Thus another era of mega acquisition activity seems at the ready, and the psychology of CPG senior executives’ shifts. These pressures naturally flow to supply chain leaders who must deliver more cost savings to fund other business investment needs.  Some supply chain analysts chastise supply chain teams for not delivering industry leading metrics of performance.  We believe that the realities of current or future business outcomes have more to do with performance goal setting.

The new Project K multi-year cost saving effort presents opportunities to rationalize global production capacity, consolidate category product management to a regional focus and provide common supply chain related business processes across multiple regions.  It is probably another response to ward-off mega acquisition industry pressures. This effort probably should have pre-ceded efforts to adopt a standardized systems platform.  None the less, Kellogg is now a global CPG branded company and must demonstrate market and supply chain response capabilities that exhibit responsiveness to changing consumer needs across global markets.

The Kellogg corporate mission statement includes the following: “We are a company of promise and possibilities.”

From this author’s perspective, the success of Project K needs to be firmly grounded in the above principle.

Bob Ferrari