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Edited Transcript of TWNK earnings conference call or presentation 27-Feb-19 9:30pm GMT

Q4 2018 Hostess Brands Inc Earnings Call

KANSAS CITY Mar 11, 2020 (Thomson StreetEvents) -- Edited Transcript of Hostess Brands Inc earnings conference call or presentation Wednesday, February 27, 2019 at 9:30:00pm GMT

TEXT version of Transcript

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Corporate Participants

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* Andrew P. Callahan

Hostess Brands, Inc. - President, CEO & Director

* Katie M. Turner

ICR, LLC - MD

* Thomas Peterson;Executive Vice President of Strategy and M&A

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Conference Call Participants

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* Alexis Borden;Citigroup Inc.;Analyst

* Brian Holland;Consumer Edge Research, LLC;Analyst

* Kenneth B. Goldman

JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - Senior Analyst

* Michael Gallo;CL King & Associates, Inc.;Analyst

* Robert Dickerson;Deutsche Bank AG.;Analyst

* Rose V. Lauricella

Morgan Stanley, Research Division - Research Associate

* Steven A. Strycula

UBS Investment Bank, Research Division - Director and Equity Research Analyst

* William Bates Chappell

SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, Inc., Research Division - MD

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Presentation

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Operator [1]

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Greetings, and welcome to Hostess Brands' Fourth Quarter 2018 Earnings Conference Call. (Operator Instructions) As a reminder, this conference is being recorded.

I would now like to turn the conference over to your host, Katie Turner.

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Katie M. Turner, ICR, LLC - MD [2]

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Thank you. Good afternoon, and welcome to Hostess Brands' Fourth Quarter and Full Year 2018 Earnings Conference Call. By now, everyone should have access to the earnings release for the period ended December 31, 2018, that went out this afternoon at approximately 4:00 p.m. Eastern Time. The press release and an updated investor presentation are available on Hostess' website at www.hostessbrands.com. This call is being webcast, and a replay will be available on the company's website.

Hostess would like to remind you that today's discussion will include a number of forward-looking statements. If you will refer to Hostess' earnings release as well as the company's most recent SEC filing, you will see a discussion of the factors that could cause the company's actual results to differ materially from these forward-looking statements. Please remember, the company undertakes no obligation to update or revise these forward-looking statements.

The company will make a number of references to non-GAAP financial measures. The company believes these measures provide investors with useful perspective on the underlying growth trends of the business and has included in its earnings release a full reconciliation of non-GAAP financial measures to the most comparable GAAP measures.

And with that, I'd like to turn the call over to Hostess Brands' President and CEO, Andy Callahan.

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Andrew P. Callahan, Hostess Brands, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [3]

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Thank you, Katie. Good afternoon, and thank you for joining us today. I'll begin our discussion with a brief overview of our fourth quarter business highlights and touch on our 2019 colors for growth. Then Tom Peterson, our CFO, will provide greater detail on our financial results. Finally, we'll be happy to take your questions.

We ended 2018 in a position of strength with a deeper and broader foundation, from which we will generate sustainable profitable growth. We have executed a number of initiatives to further solidify a leading market position in the Sweet Baked Goods category by strengthening our core Hostess Brands product offerings, expanding into adjacent categories through innovating -- innovation and cultivating key partnerships with our customers.

We have sharpened our fundamentals with category and market data, added improved capabilities across our organization to better position us for growth, and integrated and transformed Cloverhill, which is fueling better access and capability in breakfast. We believe these efforts better position us to grow market share, and importantly, grow the Sweet Baked Goods category going forward.

In addition, we are adding key personnel to our team in important areas of our business from operations, marketing and human resources to support our ambitions. We will continuously look to add expertise to the organization in 2019. Across our team, we are working together to build a high performance-based culture to consistently win with all stakeholders.

We participate in a growing snack segment with iconic brands and loyal consumers. To support this growth, Hostess has developed a scalable infrastructure with an efficient operating model, differentiated capabilities that support collaborative customer partnerships, robust innovation and significant cash flow that we believe sets us apart from our peers, and positions Hostess to create value for all stakeholders.

We are exciting -- we are excited to be celebrating Hostess' 100-year anniversary in 2019. At Hostess, we have iconic brands which have been built over the last 100 years, combined with our entrepreneurial spirit, energy and enthusiasm of today. This is a unique mix and why I'm confident our best years are ahead. I would like to thank our dedicated team for their continuous efforts as we execute on our strategic priorities.

In a dynamic operating environment, we delivered on our latest financial commitments while building a stronger foundation for future growth. In the fourth quarter, we grew our consolidated net sales, pulling a sale in market share. In addition, through our disciplined operational and integration efforts, the Cloverhill Business completed the installation of core capital improvements, setting us up for accretive revenue and EBITDA growth for years to come, a great corporate milestone. In 2019, we expect the Cloverhill Business profitability to continue to improve as the year progresses.

In particular, a few key fourth quarter highlights. Point of sale increased 4% and market share improved 44 basis points to 17.4%, both primarily driven by the Cloverhill Business. Net revenue increased nearly 10% to approximately $215 million. This was similarly driven by the Cloverhill Business, partially offset by slightly lower organic net revenue.

We launched new innovation, including a suite of Hostess branded breakfast items at TOTALLY NUTTY, a premium peanut butter wafer bar. Our adjusted gross profit margin was 34.3%.

To partially offset inflation, we executed multi-faceted pricing and merchandising actions, which we expect to begin taking hold to our Q1 of 2019. And our adjusted EBITDA of $51.4 million translates to an adjusted EBITDA margin of 23.9%. Importantly, we completed substantial capital improvements in the fourth quarter that we believe will help increase efficiency and profitability into 2019.

Going forward, we have a robust plan to drive sustainable, profitable growth in 2019, and this plan is grounded in 5 pillars: First, grow the core; second, grow through innovation; third, improve agility and efficiency; fourth, cultivate talent and capabilities; and fifth, leverage our strong cash flow.

First, grow the core. Our team is emphasizing the approximate mix of products, including proactive evaluation of SKUs to optimize our portfolio, consumer preference and overall growth. Collaborative customer relationships play an important role in these efforts. And I'm pleased with our progress in strengthening Hostess' partnerships across all sales channels in 2018, and I am excited about the opportunities we have to grow our Hostess Partner Program in 2019. At Hostess, we strive to be an indispensable partner to our customers, and we'll work daily to achieve that through development of highly incremental and profitable programs that are mutually beneficial and focused on growth.

Our second pillar is growth through innovation. We expect to accomplish this through innovation of our core premium products and via new adjacent categories, including, for example, the expansion of our breakfast platform. The breakfast segment is an important innovation platform for us, and we believe Hostess' fair share development presents an incremental point of sale opportunity of over $100 million. We are pleased with the customer acceptance based on the launch of Hostess breakfast products thus far, and expect the growth of these products to increase as we progress through 2019 and customers complete product resets.

Our core innovation emphasizes new flavors of iconic products that will leverage the brand's power and expand our offerings. We are also focusing our energy on premium innovation to attract new consumers at higher price points and expanding Hostess' brand into new consumer segments which drive incremental growth.

Hostess' TOTALLY NUTTY peanut butter wafer bars and our new Hostess Danish are great examples of this. We believe breakfast and premium innovations such as Bakery Petites are key platforms of growth over the next few years. They are both highly incremental to our business and expandable. Going forward, Hostess will continue to delight consumers in the Sweet Baked Goods category through our leading innovation.

Our third pillar is to improve through agility and efficiency. In 2018, we implemented meaningful efficiencies demonstrated through the integration and transformation of Cloverhill. Additionally, we adjusted pricing and merchandising programs and executed on distribution and manufacturing opportunities during the year. We expect these efforts to mitigate the impact of transportation and raw material increases while maintaining growth. As we move into 2019, we have a specific set of opportunities we are emphasizing to generate additional efficiencies and improvements to help enhance our operations. These benefits and the focus on an agile and efficient way of working will fuel reinvestment in consumer-driven growth.

Our fourth pillar is to cultivate talent and capabilities. We have strategically added key personnel to our team in areas of our business from operations, marketing and human resources, which all support our growth. We continuously look to add expertise in 2019 to build best-in-class and fully integrated market analytics, innovation and marketing functions. It is important to not only have the right team to deliver on our pillars but also provide that team consumer and market analytics to proactively build the business and organization. We are working together to continue to advance our wonderful high-performance culture to win with our valued customers, consumers and suppliers as we generate value.

And our fifth pillar is to leverage strong cash flow. We entered 2019 with a strong cash position. In 2018, we generated operating cash flow of $143.7 million, and we expect 2019 cash flow will allow us the flexibility to pursue a range of strategic options. We will continuously look to reinvest in our business, deleverage and pursue potential strategic acquisitions while effectively managing our capital structure.

Given our expected EBITDA growth and inherent strong cash flow generation, absent any significant business transactions, we expect our leverage to decline meaningfully through 2019, particularly as we reduce the spend associated with the Cloverhill Business transformation.

We are excited about our opportunities to generate significant profitable growth and look forward to providing you with updates as we progress through the year. Our team has done a tremendous amount of work to develop new capabilities and sharpen the fundamentals of our business in a short period of time. We have the right team in place to execute on our strategic priorities and win with consumers and customers. We look forward to creating value for our shareholders for many years to come.

Now I will turn it over to Tom to go through the details of the quarter's results.

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Thomas Peterson;Executive Vice President of Strategy and M&A, [4]

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Thanks, Andy. I will now review our fourth quarter and full year 2018 financial performance and other data from today's release. Net revenue for the quarter was $214.8 million, a 9.5% or $18.6 million increase from 2017's revenue of $196.2 million. The Cloverhill Business, which was acquired in February of 2018, contributed $20 million of incremental revenue offset by slightly lower organic revenue.

We generated $68.8 million of gross profit for the fourth quarter of 2018, and gross margin was 32%. Adjusted gross profit was $73.8 million or 34.3% of net revenue compared to 41.2% of net revenue in the fourth quarter of 2017. The decline in adjusted gross margin was primarily due to the mix -- shift in mix of revenue to include the recently-acquired non-Hostess branded products, which resulted in a 390 basis point decline in margins. Also, higher inflationary pressures and customer allowances resulted in a 320 basis-point decrease in adjusted gross margin. As Andy mentioned, significant capital projects installed in the fourth quarter are expected to be instrumental in further increasing the efficiency and profitability of our bakery operations into 2019. In addition, we executed a multi-faceted approach to pricing and merchandising late in the fourth quarter to partially offset inflation, while preserving our growth potential.

Our effective tax rate was 18.2% compared to 32.2% in the prior year, excluding the benefit of tax reform. Adjusted EPS was $0.17 per share, flat as compared with the fourth quarter of 2017. Our operating cash flow for 2018 was $143.7 million compared to $163.7 million last year. Our CapEx was $48.4 million, mainly for improvements at the Cloverhill Business, along with the new cake line we installed in Columbus, Georgia. We have cash and cash equivalents of $146.4 million, and net debt of $841.6 million as of December 31. This left us a leverage ratio of 4.5x.

In terms of our outlook for 2019, we expect organic revenue to continue to grow well above the Sweet Baked Goods category, driven by our new innovation, including Hostess branded breakfast and other core innovation as well as expanded distribution and improved merchandising execution over the course of the year. As a result, we expect Q2 and Q3 to be our highest revenue quarter contributions for the year.

From a profitability perspective, we expect adjusted EBITDA to be in the range of $200 million to $210 million, and adjusted EPS to be in the range of $0.57 to $0.62 per share. Each of these is primarily driven by the execution of the multi-faceted pricing and merchandising programs and achievement of operating efficiencies. Our adjusted EBITDA growth is expected to build sequentially throughout 2019.

In '19 -- in 2019, we also expect to incur approximately $42 million in interest expense, $45 million of depreciation and amortization and $9 million of share-based compensation. Absent any significant transactions or optional debt reductions, we anticipate to end the year with a debt leverage ratio between 3.5 and 3.7x, driven by strong operating cash flows of $150 million to $160 million. We expect capital expenditures of approximately $30 million to $35 million for the year and a tax rate of 21% to 22%.

I'll now turn it over to Andy for his closing remarks.

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Andrew P. Callahan, Hostess Brands, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [5]

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Thanks, Tom. In closing, we had a solid end to 2018. We executed on the plan to advance our business in a dynamic and challenging operating environment. These efforts now position Hostess better than ever before to win with both customers and consumers. We are fortunate to have a century-old iconic brand with products that resonate with today's consumers in growing snack categories. We have sharpened our fundamentals and added key talent capabilities across our organization. The investments we are making and our operating approach grounded in our 5 pillars will fuel growth well above the Sweet Baked Goods category, drive highly accretive revenue and profitability, and create value for our shareholders.

And with that, Tom and I are available for questions.

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Questions and Answers

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Operator [1]

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(Operator Instructions) Our first question comes from the line of Ken Goldman with JPMorgan.

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Kenneth B. Goldman, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - Senior Analyst [2]

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Two for me. You've guided to the Chicago Bakery generating $20 million to $25 million of EBITDA in 2020. Is that still a reasonable target? And I know you don't want to give specific numbers on 2019, but if you can give us some kind of parameters for where you expect maybe the run rate at the end of the year to be, that would be very helpful in terms of the EBITDA.

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Thomas Peterson;Executive Vice President of Strategy and M&A, [3]

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Ken, the run rate -- well, we're not breaking it out for '19 or going forward. The run rate EBITDA resulted continues to be ahead of our acquisition economics, and we continue to be excited about the progress we've made at Cloverhill.

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Kenneth B. Goldman, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - Senior Analyst [4]

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Okay. And -- but the 2020 number is at least still at base, right? You're not pulling back on that in the lower end, and it sounds like, if anything, it's slightly above that in your goal?

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Andrew P. Callahan, Hostess Brands, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [5]

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Correct. We're not pulling back from anything.

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Kenneth B. Goldman, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - Senior Analyst [6]

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Okay. And then I wanted to ask about pricing. I thought I heard you say, and maybe I misheard that pricing really hasn't fully come through yet. I know that there were some delays -- not delays, but there were some offsets in terms of pricing that was promised and maybe some deal backs, but I had hoped that maybe the pricing would've started by now. And it sounds like maybe it still quite hasn't. Did I hear that right? And if I did, is there anything delayed, or is it sort of on track to what you expect it to be in terms of timing?

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Andrew P. Callahan, Hostess Brands, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [7]

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No, Ken. I'll address that. We, as you know, when we said last quarter, we implemented a multi-faceted pricing. So this pricing's part of it. We then adjusted some other components of it, including some weight-outs and other things. And the team has executed that as we had planned. We've adjusted all of our list pricing as planned, and those things are flowing through in the quarter.

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Kenneth B. Goldman, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Research Division - Senior Analyst [8]

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So no delays, then?

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Andrew P. Callahan, Hostess Brands, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [9]

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In Q1, we did not delay the execution, no.

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Operator [10]

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Our next question comes from the line of Steve Strycula with UBS.

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Steven A. Strycula, UBS Investment Bank, Research Division - Director and Equity Research Analyst [11]

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So quick question from me to follow up from Ken. From a historical sense for 2018, did you disclose what the EBITDA drag was for the year? I'm not asking for a forward-looking indicator, but at least for historical, that will be helpful.

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Thomas Peterson;Executive Vice President of Strategy and M&A, [12]

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Yes. We didn't -- we put it in the margins, but it was roughly $14 million.

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Steven A. Strycula, UBS Investment Bank, Research Division - Director and Equity Research Analyst [13]

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Okay, great. And then as you exited 4Q, the gross margin rate was clearly improving as we moved throughout calendar '18. Can you help us think, qualitatively, through some of the puts and takes as we move through 2019, whether it's how pricing flows in, the allowances that you called out in 4Q, transport cost, raw materials, anything just directionally to help us think through it?

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Thomas Peterson;Executive Vice President of Strategy and M&A, [14]

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So yes, thanks, Steve. Our 2019 guide is really driven by our growth in breakfast, our improved merchandising, our price increase, the operating efficiencies and a profitable expectation for Cloverhill for 2019, and also reinvesting in the consumer. We believe that will improve through the year as we roll out our merchandising and improve merchandising programs with customers as we -- as Cloverhill continues to gain its operating efficiencies, as we roll through the price increases. So through the year, it will continue to improve.

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Operator [15]

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Our next question comes from the line of Brian Holland with Consumer Edge Research.

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Brian Holland;Consumer Edge Research, LLC;Analyst, [16]

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First question, housekeeping. Can you give us a sense what organic growth in Sweet Baked Goods, sort of ex your largest customer, where you had the merchandising headwind look like in the quarter, any idea?

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Andrew P. Callahan, Hostess Brands, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [17]

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We're not trying to break that out, Brian. What's really important to us is how I feel going forward, and I feel great about our relationships across all customers going forward in all channels. And our growth was -- it was slightly behind in total. It's offset by a really strong growth in Cloverhill. And I expect, given the partnerships we have and the plans we have, to have a more even growth contribution across the board in 2019.

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Brian Holland;Consumer Edge Research, LLC;Analyst, [18]

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Okay, fair enough. As I look out, and obviously, part of this outlook well above the category's tied to some merchandising components. So I'm just curious what kind of line of sight you have there and how broad-based that is? Is this a situation where maybe you're making up for a lack of display support in certain places elsewhere or are you getting display support back where you lost it in 2018? And then if I can just tack on one more, on the In-Store Bakery, saw a nice inflection there. Just curious if there's anything to that, that we should be thinking about long-term? Or is that really just a volatile business quarter-to-quarter and not much to read in there?

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Andrew P. Callahan, Hostess Brands, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [19]

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Let me take the ISB first, Brian. ISB had a good quarter, they were up a little over 0.5% on the revenue side. And they've implemented some nice seasonal programs within there, tied to new innovation, and those take some time to settle in. So the team has done a nice job. I think that's repeatable and I expect to see ongoing some good growth going forward on that business. And then back to your other question across the broader business. I expect to see growth in 3 real areas as we move forward. Expect to see growth on our base core business, driven by improved merchandising, and as Tom mentioned, I see that improving throughout the year given the line of sight I have with our partnerships and the program we've developed across all of our channels. I expect to see growth from the platform of breakfast that we're launching. We're getting -- early indications are positive. We're already working on a pipeline of innovations within that to fuel it. It's a meaningful segment, which were underdeveloped. And as we mentioned in our prepared remarks that there's $100 million of POS available for us to bring our brand, bring our innovation and bring our capabilities that we acquired within the Cloverhill acquisition to bear there. And then thirdly, we're working on looking at our value portfolio, which, through the Cloverhill acquisition, given access to some channels but also combining some of those capabilities with our Dolly brand. We're doing a nice job in the sales team, and Andy Jacobs' team are doing a nice job of driving and selling in that platform for us. So I believe as we go in, we have really good focus on our growth initiatives and I believe we'll see upside as we move throughout the year.

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Operator [20]

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Our next question comes from the line of Bill Chappell with SunTrust.

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William Bates Chappell, SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, Inc., Research Division - MD [21]

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Andy, can you talk a little bit more -- I mean, I'm just trying to get comfortable on the innovation side. And when I say that, I understand your market share was hit by the issues at Walmart over the past year, but you didn't really hear a whole lot from the class of 2018 initiatives if single-serve donuts or cake loaves or -- I mean, there were several other things out there that didn't seem to move the needle. And at the same point, we saw Bimbo continue to take a lot of share with what they're doing. So I'm just trying to understand how we get confidence with the class of '18 kind of new product and merchandising, and with Bimbo still having a fair amount of momentum, how you can get that share back?

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Andrew P. Callahan, Hostess Brands, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [22]

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Bill, we have a lot of respect for everybody that competes within this space. I think one of the great elements of competing in the Sweet Baked Goods category is I also view the consumption as highly expandable. If you bring a great item of new innovation, you can drive usage and you can drive penetration within the category. In some areas, it's highly impulsive. In some areas, it has a very -- a broad consumer choice set within the deep space in which we compete. With that being said, as we come out of -- into '19 and I look at within our breakfast segment, given our operating model, given our relationships with customers and given the rollout we have, which isn't just one item and an innovation, I feel good about the contribution that we have built into our plan. But like any innovation, what we want to be is a very agile and efficient group. So we launch it, we look at how it's doing and we want to be really nimble and efficient in making sure that we can build a pipeline to drive growth. So the platform this year is larger as we come out of some of the initiatives we had in 2018, and I feel good about the early results, but what we're going to do is continue to keep it close and continue to be very nimble to make sure that it continues to drive growth. Hostess and the team have a great legacy of being nimble in innovation and to being prolific with it. We continue to keep that going forward.

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William Bates Chappell, SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, Inc., Research Division - MD [23]

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Okay. And then just back on the pricing, I didn't -- is there expectation that it's across the board pricing within the category, or is it more select items? And I know that the industry leader or the market -- the share leader in the category is actually value positioned. So does it even matter if they follow on pricing?

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Andrew P. Callahan, Hostess Brands, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [24]

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So the pricing was, as we've mentioned, we did a lot of research on the analytics and elasticities across our portfolio. We priced to balance recovery of the inflation and margin, but while maintaining growth. And therefore, we did price across select areas of the portfolio, mostly around single-serve, and then took other initiatives related to rolling out our Hostess Partnership Program, some downsizing and some other initiatives across the rest of the portfolio. So most of the list price increasing was within the single-serve and some areas within our value channel, which were already priced below value within some of the Cloverhill acquisition, some of those other portfolios, part of the portfolio. So it was focused but it was driven by the analytics that we completed so we could balance our growth and margin recovery.

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William Bates Chappell, SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, Inc., Research Division - MD [25]

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But I guess, I just -- was there a follow-on of pricing from competitors?

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Andrew P. Callahan, Hostess Brands, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [26]

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I can't comment on competitor pricing. I know what we did. And so I don't know how pricing -- the competitors changed or did not change anything they had within their list pricing.

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Operator [27]

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Our next question comes from the line of Rob Dickerson with Deutsche Bank.

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Robert Dickerson;Deutsche Bank AG.;Analyst, [28]

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Yes. So I guess your first question is just on the comment you made that maybe it was just in general, not the time frame, but that there -- you think there could be a $100 million point of sale opportunity in the breakfast channel or daypart. I'm assuming that's just entirely driven by Cloverhill that the new manufacturing capacity. So I guess, the first question is just over what time period is that? Is that just in general because you're looking at overall share kind of a normalized penetration rate? One. And then two, kind of more specifically in the near term, if I look at the EBITDA guidance for '19, which seems to be fairly good, all things considered, but at the same time, we know that Cloverhill contributed to that EBITDA. So I guess, the first question is, what's the real opportunity and the time frame of the $100 million point of sale to the business? And then my second question is, do you expect the base business to grow EBITDA in '19?

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Andrew P. Callahan, Hostess Brands, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [29]

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Yes. So the $100 million opportunity is a mathematical view of breakfast and us developing our fair share within it. We expect to make meaningful progress and have good growth in 2019, but we're not going to achieve that fair share that's based forward-looking view. But the growth that we feel good about, the contribution of breakfast in 2019, and we will continue to tweak and continue to innovate it. It's a segment of the business that we're going after a more meaningful way and we'll continue to go after it with this initial launch and follow on to innovation. And then I'll turn it to Tom to address the Cloverhill profitability.

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Thomas Peterson;Executive Vice President of Strategy and M&A, [30]

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Yes. So to confirm, in the guide, that we are expecting a profitable Cloverhill bakery in the guide this year and a turnaround from the negative results of 2018.

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Robert Dickerson;Deutsche Bank AG.;Analyst, [31]

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Okay. And then I guess, quickly, just in terms of gross margin, kind of vis-à-vis your comment, Tom, I think you said maybe Q2 and Q3 would be a little bit more of a contribution for the full year. Is there a -- just given what's happened in '18 and given the mix of component on Cloverhill, do you expect gross margins to get incrementally better as the year progresses? One. And then two is just a quick comment on why are Q2 and Q3 stronger.

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Thomas Peterson;Executive Vice President of Strategy and M&A, [32]

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So that was -- primarily, those notes were from a revenue standpoint from the prepared remarks, but Q2 and Q3 are generally our stronger quarters. And then we look at our overall merchandising programs, and that's where we expect. We do expect, as you asked, our gross margins to improve through the year. And then as we continue to fill up Cloverhill, then we will continue to trade it up, and we've done a number of things to trade it up over 2018, either from eliminating some unprofitable SKUs and then just changing around pricing for things that just didn't make sense, pricing to value. We're continually evaluating those programs as we roll through 2019.

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Andrew P. Callahan, Hostess Brands, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [33]

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Yes. I feel very good, given the magnitude of the transformation on Cloverhill, of where we are sitting right here. The amount of transformation relative to the investment, the operational changes, the ability to be able to sell in the revenue after that acquisition into new channel, really good. And I expect the progress around efficiencies, as Tom mentioned, and the selling of the products to continue to improve as we go through the year.

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Operator [34]

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Our next question comes from the line of Pamela Kaufman with Morgan Stanley.

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Rose V. Lauricella, Morgan Stanley, Research Division - Research Associate [35]

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This is actually Rose on for Pam. I just wanted to touch quickly on your comments regarding leverage. You mentioned you expect leverage to fall meaningly throughout 2019, so how should we think about the cadence of debt paydown over the course of the year?

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Thomas Peterson;Executive Vice President of Strategy and M&A, [36]

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Yes. So we continue to review our capital structure and opportunistically take advantage of that. The leverage ratio will move down really ratably through the year, and we'll decide what to do with our excess cash. We have -- we ended the year with a little over $145 million, and we'll continue to review that this year as we pursue reinvestment in the business and various strategic avenues that we might consider.

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Rose V. Lauricella, Morgan Stanley, Research Division - Research Associate [37]

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And if I could, just a follow-up on that regarding strategic avenues. Are there any assets that you think would make sense from a portfolio perspective or any areas that you're underindexed to that you think you could expand into?

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Andrew P. Callahan, Hostess Brands, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [38]

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Well, we're not going to comment on any specifics. I really think we have a terrific business model and a platform to expand upon just in general. So we're always looking for opportunities to help build on the platform that the team has built and the capabilities we have.

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Operator [39]

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Our next question comes from the line of Michael King with CLK.

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Michael Gallo;CL King & Associates, Inc.;Analyst, [40]

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Michael Gallo, CL King. My question is sort of twofold. Andy, you've been there now for a couple of quarters. I think you noted that there were some capabilities that when the company was strong and there were some areas you thought could be improved when you started. I was wondering now, when you look at where things are, where you still see some opportunity, where you've kind of improved some of those capabilities and what kind of capital projects outside of Cloverhill that we should think about for '19?

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Andrew P. Callahan, Hostess Brands, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [41]

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Michael, maybe I'll answer it in a little different way than you asked it, if that's okay, but if I don't answer your question, let me know. I was able to join a company that had a tremendous foundation and a position of strength. We have a culture that's just action oriented, entrepreneurial, focused on results and just really has a great pride of the business that they built and I refer to them as the second founders, as people on the team would hear me say. So as we move into the next phase, that next phase requires some sharpening in the next phase of capabilities to be able to get us there. So it's not a -- I would just answer in a different way as opposed to efficiency is the next phase and mindset and the culture that the team has, which I'm also very proud to just tell everybody, which is a continuous improvement mindset. And that's where we are. We're moving to the next mindset, we're -- the next phase of growth, and we mentioned some of those in the prepared remarks where we built this great portfolio, we've been in the core, and now we're sharpening some of the information within that core to make sure that we're more nimble in optimizing the growth of profitably of the portfolio we have. When we ran into pricing, we now have sharper insights and knowledge around the elasticity of our portfolio and know where there's sensitivity to grow. When we move into innovation, we did a lot of new great innovation, our platforms around LTOs, and then tying into really consumer-relevant usage occasions and expanding usage, which is why they're so incremental and now, sharpening the need space and the platforms within consumers to drive growth within there. And then looking at ways that we can directly communicate to consumers in a very smart, not an expensive way, but a very smart way to drive growth. So we're looking at sharpening both the information and the focus so that as we build into the next phase of growth and we leverage the differentiated platform we have, we do it in a way that allows -- it creates a sustainable model to be able to grow. So it's the next phase of the evolution. We're investing in those to make sure that we continue to stay lean and agile, as I mentioned in my prepared remarks. We continue to find those next avenues of growth because we're maniacally focused on to continuing to grow our business. So hopefully, that helps. That's where we're focused. I feel really good about the progress we have and I expect to make continued progress and continuous improvement mindset as we move into '19 and beyond.

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Michael Gallo;CL King & Associates, Inc.;Analyst, [42]

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That's helpful. And then follow-up question is for Tom, and maybe I missed it in the prepared remarks. But what are your -- what's your expectation on logistics cost overall in '19 over '18?

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Thomas Peterson;Executive Vice President of Strategy and M&A, [43]

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Yes, we didn't break it out specifically. We do expect them and have some inflation in our 2019 guide, but we didn't break it out specifically.

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Operator [44]

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(Operator Instructions) Our next question comes from the line of Alexis Borden with Citi.

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Alexis Borden;Citigroup Inc.;Analyst, [45]

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Kind of following up on the last question, in terms of inflation, just the overall inflation outlook. Obviously, you guys were hit pretty hard last year. Kind of what's the outlook going forward in '19, not just in transportation but also ingredients? And do you think that you're going to be able to cover the incremental inflation this year? Or is it still going to be a drag on 2019 somewhat?

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Thomas Peterson;Executive Vice President of Strategy and M&A, [46]

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Yes. So we see inflation in transportation and wages, and of course, as everybody in the industry has, some sugar inflation and some corrugate. We would -- made a good estimate of that, we didn't break it out separately. It will not be as substantial as 2018, we don't believe, and we're working on efficiency programs that can keep up with our inflation.

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Alexis Borden;Citigroup Inc.;Analyst, [47]

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That's helpful. And in terms of the price increase, obviously, it's still early days and it's kind of maybe just come to market now, but we're already about 2/3 of the way through the first quarter. Is there any takeaways you have in terms of price/volume elasticity? Are things relatively in line with your expectations? Or you still need to do a little bit more work until you understand kind of how the pricing is kind of being accepted into the marketplace by the consumers?

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Thomas Peterson;Executive Vice President of Strategy and M&A, [48]

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I think it's too early. We do track it all the time. There's a number of variables that happen, as you mentioned here. It's the timing of when they get it implemented. Some are a little bit higher and lower than what we expected. So it's a little bit early to get a good set, but we maniacally look at it. We track it. If anything, there's no big surprises that pop out relative to elasticity too early, but we'll continue to monitor it. I think it's too early to make any conclusions or any adjustments to the execution that seems pursuant.

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Operator [49]

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Our next question comes from the line of Steve Strycula with UBS.

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Steven A. Strycula, UBS Investment Bank, Research Division - Director and Equity Research Analyst [50]

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Just couldn't get enough the first go-around. So I have a quick question for you on follow-up on Chicago Bakery. It enters the comp base for the Sweet Baked Goods calculation in the beginning of the first -- or end of the first quarter of calendar '19. So what I guess my core question is, can we expect after the CapEx spend that you did in the fourth quarter for that revenue, quarterly revenue run rate, to step up from maybe $20 million per quarter to closer to $25 million? And then as a follow-up, should we expect that ex Chicago Bakery, that total Sweet Baked Goods for you should grow in '19?

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Thomas Peterson;Executive Vice President of Strategy and M&A, [51]

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So we bought the Cloverhill business in February of 2018. So it will have -- it had 2 months last year in the same number. I think the comp of $20 million will continue to grow. The Cloverhill, Big Texas and private-label business will continue to grow throughout the year, and we also expect Sweet Baked Goods, ex Cloverhill, to grow as well.

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Operator [52]

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Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached the end of the question-and-answer session. And I would like to turn the call back to management for closing remarks.

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Andrew P. Callahan, Hostess Brands, Inc. - President, CEO & Director [53]

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So thank you so much. I just want to thank everybody for your interest in Hostess. The team has done a lot of work on focusing on our consumer, focus on growth and focus on building the platform that's going to build a sustainable growth model and shareholder value going forward. So we look forward to getting after it. We're focused on execution, we're focused on growing, and I look forward to giving you updates along the way.

And with that, I'll turn it over to the moderator, but I think that closes out our call.

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Operator [54]

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This conclude today's conference. You may disconnect your lines at this time. Thank you for your participation.