The packaged food manufacturers' ability to raise and maintain prices to offset rising commodity costs will be a key test of the shifting of power to the retailer. Moreover, escalating costs have negatively impacted the small and midsize food companies more than their larger counterparts due to the smaller companies' higher proportion of fixed-costs and limited economies of scale.
Standard & Poor's does not expect major margin improvement in fiscal 2006 for the larger players. Even though commodity prices have stabilized, they remain at historical highs.
We expect that Del Monte will apply its free cash flow to debt reduction over the intermediate term to improve credit measures to those more commensurate with the current rating. The rating could be lowered if Del Monte is unable to reduce leverage as planned.