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McCormick (MKC) Q4 2023 Earnings Call Transcript


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McCormick (MKC 4.04%)
Q4 2023 Earnings Call
Jan 25, 2024, 8:00 a.m. ET

Contents:

  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:

Faten Freiha

Good morning. This is Faten Freiha, VP of investor relations. Thank you for joining today’s fourth quarter earnings call. To accompany this call, we posted a set of slides on our IR website, ir.mccormick.com.

With me this morning are Brendan Foley, president and CEO; Mike Smith, executive vice president and CFO; and Kasey Jenkins, chief growth officer. During this call, we will refer to certain non-GAAP financial measures. The nature of those non-GAAP financial measures and the related reconciliations to the GAAP results are included in this morning’s press release and slides. In our comments, certain percentages are rounded.

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Please refer to our presentation for complete information. Today’s presentation contains projections and other forward-looking statements. Actual results could differ materially from those projected. The company undertakes no obligation to update or revise publicly any forward-looking statements, whether because of new information, future events, or other factors.

Please refer to our forward-looking statements on Slide 2 for more information. I will now turn the discussion over to Brendan.

Brendan FoleyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning, everyone, and thank you for joining us. Let me start by sharing what we will cover in this morning’s call. I will begin with an overview of our fourth quarter year-over-year results, focusing on top-line drivers. Next, I will briefly reflect on our full year 2023 performance and share our plans and building blocks to improve volume in 2024.

Mike will then go into more depth on the fourth quarter financial results and the details of our 2024 financial outlook. And finally, before your questions, I will share some closing comments, including our key priorities as I begin my first full year as CEO. Turning now to our results on Slide 4. I want to start by acknowledging that our top-line results for the fourth quarter did not meet our expectations as volume trends decelerated relative to the third quarter.

There was greater-than-expected pressure on the consumer that drove changes in their behavior, which impacted our growth. We did, however, see sequential improvement in several key areas within our portfolio, underscoring that our strategies and initiatives are working, as I will highlight in a moment. That said, we do recognize that consumers are exhibiting even more value-seeking behavior. They are increasing shopping trips, reducing basket size, and making just-in-time purchases, creating further uncertainty in the consumer environment.

I want to be clear that we are dedicated to improving volumes. We have refined our plans and are prioritizing our investments to drive impactful results and return to differentiated and sustainable volume-led growth. And you should expect improvement over the coming year and into 2025 and beyond. Now, let’s review our fourth quarter performance in more detail.

Turning to Slide 5. In our fourth quarter, sales increased 3%, including a 1% favorable impact from currency. In constant currency, sales grew 2%, reflecting a 5% contribution from pricing, which was partially offset by a 3% decline in volume and product mix. As expected, the benefit from the China recovery was fully offset by the impact of our strategic decisions to exit DSD, direct store delivery, of our bagged Hispanic spices in the Americas and the exit of a private label product line and the divestiture of a small canning business, which was part of our Giotti flavor solutions operations in EMEA.

Starting with where results differed from expectations. In Americas consumer, we expected volume declines in the prepared food categories that we participate in like frozen and Asian, but the decline was greater than we anticipated due to the more challenging macro trends and was broadly consistent with the performance of these categories. For mustard in the Americas, extremely low price points from private label impacted our consumption and is driving down category dollars. We plan to improve our volume trends in 2024 by narrowing price gaps; increasing promotions; and importantly, through distribution wins.

Recipe mixes in the Americas showed increased stress from crossing key price points due to previous pricing actions. We have a plan to address these to return to volume growth. In our flavor’s product category, some of our consumer packaged food group customers experienced greater softness in volumes within their own business, more than we expected in both the Americas and EMEA. Finally, our growth with quick-service restaurants in flavor solutions was impacted by slower-than-expected restaurant traffic in EMEA and Asia-Pacific.

Within Asia-Pacific, some of our customers are experiencing boycotts in Southeast Asia related to geopolitical events. We are monitoring this situation and anticipate continued softness in these customers’ volume to continue into 2024. Turning to what met our expectations in the quarter. We drove volume growth for a second quarter in a row in Americas spices and seasonings.

In branded food service, our growth was strong across the portfolio, driven by volume. In Asia-Pacific consumer, our recovery from COVID-related disruptions in China was in line with the expectations we had at the beginning of the quarter. Outside of China, for the quarter, our volume growth was strong across all categories. In EMEA consumer, consistent with the third quarter, pricing actions contributed to double-digit growth, which pressured volumes.

Now, I’d like to further build on some of the initiatives within our growth levers, notably increased brand marketing, targeted price gap management, new products, and packaging renovation, which have already proven to strengthen our volume trends in key areas. We have intentionally chosen our investments in these areas as we believe they will generate the most significant returns. We are confident our investments will continue to drive improved results in 2024, and we expect to invest more, positioning us further for success in 2025 and going forward. First, Americas spices and seasonings is a priority investment area for us given our category leadership and its profitable growth potential for both McCormick and our customers.

Our initiatives are driving U.S.-branded sales volume growth, with strength in the — during the fourth quarter and holiday performance. And looking at consumption, we continue to sequentially improve share trends again in the fourth quarter, both in terms of dollars and units. We continue to activate initiatives on price gap management: innovation, packaging, and a meaningful step-up in brand marketing support for Americas spices and seasonings. And the results have begun to materialize, demonstrating that we have the right plans and are taking the right actions to grow in this attractive category.

The renovation of our U.S. core everyday urban spice portfolio, which began in the second quarter of 2023, continues to roll out according to plan. At the end of the fourth quarter, we had shipped about 75% of our renovated SKUs. And notably, products that have fully transitioned on shelf experienced stronger velocity.

We are pleased with our results to date, which increased our confidence that this renovation will be a strong contribution to our growth in 2024 as our customer shelves continue to transition. We are making progress on restoring distribution that was lost due to past supply issues. We have secured wins in new distribution. We expect to largely start seeing the impact of our actions in our results mid-2024, coinciding with most of our customers’ shelf resets.

Overall, we have a robust set of initiatives in flight and anticipate making progress throughout the year. I would expect growth and share gains in units and volume to lead our trends. Spending a moment on spices and seasonings in other key markets. Similar initiatives as in the U.S.

are driving volume growth and share gains in Canada, France, and Australia. We also renovated our spice and herb portfolio in Southeast Asia with the same innovative packaging as the U.S. and EMEA and began shipping the new products in the fourth quarter. We are supporting this transition with increased marketing spend in the first quarter.

Next, in branded food service, we achieved strong volume growth across all customer segments. Our food service operators continue to expand their value menu options and they are turning to our products to deliver great taste for a fraction of their costs. We drove share gains in spices and seasonings, as well as our hot sauce share of tabletop, with expanded distribution, new products, customer wins, and increased menu penetration, as well as our expertise in heat. Heat continues to be a growth accelerator globally for total McCormick, outpacing the rest of the portfolio as customers and consumers alike continue to drive demand in this flavor profile.

New products contributed to fourth quarter growth. For instance, in the U.S., our Cholula salsas in the Mexican aisle are building distribution and bringing new consumers to the category, and our branded food service items, Frank’s Mild Wings Sauce and Frank’s Nashville Hot, continue to perform well. In the U.K. and Australia, we are driving hot sauce category growth with Cholula gaining momentum on shelf.

In the U.S., we secured new hot sauce distribution during the quarter. And in the first quarter, we are launching new Frank’s RedHot dips and popular flavors in a squeeze bottle format, as well as our national launch of Frank’s Dill Pickle. We are well-positioned going into our Super Bowl merchandising period. In summary, our investments in the key areas I just highlighted favorably impacted both our volume and margin performance for the quarter.

Moving to gross margin. We are pleased with our performance, which continue to improve as the year progressed. Our results reflect effective price realization, the optimization of our cost structure, and favorable product mix, driven by our portfolio optimization and focus in key areas. While confident in our ability to return to our historical margin profile, in the near term, we will use improvements in our profitability to fuel continued investments in our business to drive our top line.

We are in a strong position to benefit from the virtuous flywheel of margin expansion given the work that’s been done throughout the business. And we are able to intentionally focus our investments on areas that we expect will have the greatest impact on improving volume performance and driving sustainable profit growth. Reflecting on our full year 2023 performance, I am proud of the progress we made in advancing our business in the right direction, and our team is focused on returning to our long-term growth algorithm, strengthening our margins, significantly improving our cash flow, paying down our debt, and reducing our leverage ratio, all have put McCormick in a position of strength to further invest with a focus on growth. Our foundation is strong.

We have proven and powerful brands, and the results we are seeing from our refined and strengthened plans provide confidence in the effectiveness of our strategies and investments. Our initiatives will take time to materialize. And we expect volume trends to improve throughout the year and volume growth during the second half, notwithstanding any new macroeconomic headwinds. The pace of margin recovery to historical levels will take time as our focus is on investing to drive sustainable sales growth to generate quality earnings for years to come.

I also want to highlight on share performance that we are approaching our plans differently, with an even greater competitive posture and more intentionality toward driving growth in our key categories. Now, let me highlight some ways in which we will drive growth through category management, brand marketing, new products, our proprietary technologies, and our differentiated customer engagement. Starting in our consumer segment with category management, where a key capability is revenue management. We have been building our discipline in revenue management for several years and have a history of optimizing pricing on shelf to benefit both McCormick and the retailer.

As you would expect, this has become even more important in recent years. In the current environment, we are taking a surgical approach to managing our price gaps of the private label and branded competitors, accelerating our efforts across various products, and are seeing results. In our spices and seasonings category, we selected individual items we believed would be the most responsive based on the elasticities we were experiencing. For instance, in our iconic black pepper and vanilla product lines, our actions proved to be effective.

We are recapturing buyers, increasing household penetration, and are driving profitable volume growth that is outpacing the category volume growth in these product lines. As I mentioned earlier, we crossed key price points in Americas recipe mixes and are also leaning in to our revenue management execution in this category. For example, in the fourth quarter, we focused on gravy as a key holiday item, which drove results, contributing to our successful holiday season. We expect to see further results from our actions as we’ve worked through the portfolio.

Across all markets, our diverse portfolio allows us flexibility to optimize our pricing effectiveness. We look at both our everyday price and our promotional returns, as well as use innovation, including price pack architecture, to drive growth. These investments we make in price gap management result in greater volumes and improved margins over time. Importantly, customers that are adopting our recommendations are seeing better category performance and McCormick is driving volume and share growth in their respective businesses.

We are prioritizing brand marketing, connecting with consumers and fueling growth with our increased investments. We have a history of investing behind our brands and did so again in 2023. We plan for a strong start to 2024 with aggressive first quarter brand marketing investments, which are well underway. We expect a significant increase for the year, concentrated to the first half.

We will continue to invest across various channels. We plan to further drive household penetration and increase buy rates with additional focus in retail media. Our first quarter plans included increased Christmas holiday campaigns in all regions, increasing our value-focused messaging for our everyday spices and seasonings and recipe mix in the U.S. Also, supporting our packaging renovations that I mentioned earlier in both the U.S.

and Southeast Asia and promoting our new products in EMEA. Turning to new products, which are a key growth driver in both our consumer and flavor solutions segments. In the consumer segment, our 2023 launches are expected to substantially contribute to growth in 2024. For instance, in EMEA, we are thrilled with the early results from our range of Schwartz seasonings and recipe mixes that we launched with Nadiya Hussain, a British celebrity chef, as we entered the fourth quarter.

We are expanding our household penetration and bringing in new and younger households into the brand. The recipe mixes in this range contributed, along with other new products and expanded distribution, to our fourth quarter growth in U.K. recipe mixes, which was double the category rate. In flavor solutions, collaborating with our customers on innovation continues to be a key driver of success.

Across the portfolio, our customers continue to focus on innovation to meet consumers’ needs. We are winning in flavors with better-for-you products and on-trend flavors and in branded food service with our heat platform and value-oriented products for food service operators. We are pleased with our 2023 performance from new products, which contributed to our sales growth and accelerate it compared to the prior year, as we expected. Importantly, we have a strong lineup of new products spanning heat, freshness, value, convenience, and flavor exploration in our consumer segment for 2024, which we will share more about at CAGNY in February.

And in flavor solutions, we are also carrying a robust pipeline of new products into 2024, positioning McCormick and our customers for success. We are leveraging our proprietary technologies in flavor solutions to support our innovation, to win share in attractive high-growth categories, and to attract new customers. In addition, with our differentiated customer engagement approach, we are intentionally targeting a mid-market customer base who are category leaders and high-growth innovators, as well as diversifying our customer base to drive share gains across our portfolio and profitable growth. Our actions are yielding results.

For instance, in the fourth quarter, our volume growth in performance nutrition significantly outpaced the market; and in the beverage category, we drove sales growth, even though the category decelerated, partially by targeting high-value and high-growth segments within beverage. With our flavor leadership and continued investments, we are fully committed to vigorously fuel category growth with our differentiated portfolio. We have confidence in our plans, which will build throughout the year and yield volume growth during the back half of the year. We are dedicating more resources to categories where we have the right to continue to win.

We are seeing our actions drive momentum and solid results in areas where we have focused. We believe that the execution of our growth plans will be a win for consumers, our categories, and McCormick, which will differentiate and strengthen our leadership. Now, before I turn it over to Mike to provide more details on our fourth quarter financial performance and 2024 outlook, I would like to comment on recent changes in our board of directors. Freeman Hrabowski, who has served as a director for 27 years, will be retiring from the board as of the end of March.

I am grateful for his service and contributions, which has significantly benefited McCormick, and we will miss him. I also want to welcome Terry Thomas, who has joined our board. Terry brings extensive global consumer product industry expertise through his current role as chief growth officer for Flowers Foods and his experience at Unilever prior to that. I look forward to working with Terry and the contributions he will make to McCormick.

Mike SmithExecutive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer

Thanks, Brendan, and good morning, everyone. Starting on Slide 10. Our top-line constant currency sales grew 2% compared to the fourth quarter of last year, reflecting 5% of pricing benefit, offset by a 3% volume mix decline. As Brendan mentioned, our volume performance was impacted by changes in consumers’ behavior.

In our consumer segment, constant currency sales were flat, reflecting a 4% increase from pricing actions, offset by a 4% volume decline. The benefit from our recovery in China and Hispanic product DSD exit to optimize margins netted to no overall impact for the total consumer segment. On Slide 11, consumer sales in the Americas decreased 4% in constant currency, with the DSD exit I just mentioned driving 2% of that decline. The remaining sales decline was due to lower volume and product mix in several areas of the portfolio, including, as Brendan mentioned, prepared foods, mustard, and recipe mixes, which was partially offset by volume growth in spices and seasonings, which was driven by our investments.

In EMEA, constant currency consumer sales increased 9%, with a 13% increase from pricing actions, partially offset by a 4% volume decline. Sales growth was broad-based across markets and categories. We remain in an elevated pricing environment in EMEA, and we expect volumes to improve as pricing wanes in 2024. Constant currency consumer sales in the APAC region increased 31%, driven by a 26% volume increase, primarily due to the expected recovery in China.

Outside of China, we also drove double-digit sales growth with strong volume and broad-based growth across all categories and markets. Turning to our flavor solutions segment in Slide 14. We grew fourth quarter constant currency sales 5%, reflecting a 7% increase from pricing, offset by a 2% decrease from volume and product mix. Our growth momentum in this segment was exceptional through the third quarter.

And even with a deceleration in the fourth quarter, our sales growth for the year was strong. In the Americas, flavor solutions constant currency sales rose 6%, driven by pricing as volume and product mix was comparable to the prior year. Sales growth was broad-based across the portfolio and led by branded food service. In EMEA, constant currency sales increased 2%, with pricing actions contributing 14%, partially offset by a 3% impact from the divestiture of the Giotti canning business, a 9% decline in all other volume due to softness in some of our customers’ volumes with their — within their own businesses, and a 1% impact from exiting a private label product line.

In the APAC region, flavor solutions sales grew 5% in constant currency, with a 6% contribution from pricing, offset by a 1% volume decline. Our business in China delivered strong growth. Outside of China, sales were negatively impacted by geopolitical boycotts in some of our quick-service restaurant customers, as Brendan mentioned. As seen on Slide 18, gross profit margin expanded 320 basis points in the fourth quarter versus the year-ago period.

Drivers in the quarter included favorable product mix in both segments and our CCI and GEO programs, as well as effective price realization. Additionally, we lapped elevated costs related to some discrete issues in flavor solutions operations. Overall, we ended 2023 meeting the cost recovery plans we set as we entered the year. We are pleased with our gross margin expansion for the quarter and the year.

Now, moving to Slide 19. Selling, general, and administrative expenses, or SG&A, increased relative to the fourth quarter of last year as higher employee incentive compensation expenses were partially offset by CCI and GOE cost savings. Brand marketing also increased compared to the fourth quarter of last year, and we expect to invest further in 2024 to support our brands. As a percentage of net sales, SG&A increased 190 basis points.

Sales growth and gross margin expansion partially offset by higher SG&A cost resulted in a constant currency increase in adjusted operating income of 11% compared to the fourth quarter of 2022. In constant currency, adjusted operating income in the consumer segment was flat. And in flavor solutions, adjusted operating income increased 73% in constant currency. We remain committed to restoring flavor solutions profitability.

And in the fourth quarter, as expected, we drove significant margin expansion versus prior year in this segment. For the total company, we expanded our adjusted operating margin by 130 basis points in the fourth quarter and 100 basis points for the year, which reflects our commitment to increase our profit realization and positions us well to make investments early in 2024 to fuel top-line growth. Turning to interest expense and income taxes on Slide 20. Our interest expense increased significantly over the fourth quarter of 2022, driven by the higher interest rate environment.

And quickly touching on tax, our fourth quarter adjusted effective tax rate was 22.3%, compared to 23.1% in the year-ago period. Both periods were favorably impacted by discrete tax items, with a more significant impact this year. Our income from unconsolidated operations in the fourth quarter reflects strong performance in our largest joint venture, McCormick de Mexico. We are the market leader with our McCormick-branded mayonnaise, marmalades, and mustard product lines in Mexico, and the business contributes meaningfully to our net income and operating cash flow results.

At the bottom line, as shown on Slide 22, fourth quarter 2023 adjusted earnings per share was $0.85, as compared to $0.73 for the year-ago period. The increase was attributable to higher operating income, driven by gross margin expansion and the results from our McCormick de Mexico joint venture I just mentioned. On Slide 23, we’ve summarized highlights for cash flow and the year-end balance sheet. Our cash flow from operations was strong in 2023, $1.2 billion, nearly double our cash flow of $652 million in 2022.

The increase was primarily driven by higher operating income and working capital improvements, including lower inventory. We returned $419 million of cash to our shareholders through dividends and used $264 million for capital expenditures in 2023. Our capital expenditures include projects to increase capacity and capabilities to meet growing demand, advance our digital transformation, and optimize our cost structure. Our priority remains to have a balanced use of cash, funding investments to drive growth, returning a significant portion to our shareholders through dividends, and paying down debt.

We remain committed to a strong investment-grade rating. We expect 2024 to be another year of strong cash flow, driven by profit and working capital initiatives. We are well-positioned to continue paying down debt. And coupled with ending 2023 with a leverage ratio slightly above our 2024 year-end target of three times, we are pleased to be deleveraging faster than expected.

Now, turning to our 2024 financial outlook on Slide 24. Our 2024 outlook reflects our prioritized investments in key categories to strengthen volume trends and drive long-term sustainable growth while appreciating the uncertainty of the consumer environment. We are well-positioned with our cost savings programs to fuel investments for volume growth, as well as generate operating margin expansion. The balancing of margin expansion and investments to drive growth is critical to our success not only in 2024 but also into 2025 and beyond as we remain committed and confident in our long-term algorithm.

Turning to the details. First, currency rates are expected to unfavorably impact sales, adjusted operating income, and adjusted earnings per share by approximately 1%. On the top line, we expect constant currency net sales to range between a decline of 1% to growth of 1%. We expect a favorable impact related to the wrap of last year’s pricing actions, most significantly in the first half, partially offset by our price gap management investments that will drive volume growth.

We expect several factors to impact our volume and product mix over the course of the year. First, we expect to drive improved volume trends as the year progresses through the strength of our brands and the intentional and targeted investments we are making. Our initiatives will take time to materialize. And we are expecting to return to volume growth during the second half of the year, notwithstanding any new macroeconomic headwinds.

We have made strategic decisions to optimize our portfolio for profitable growth that will also impact volumes during the year. We decided to exit DSD of our bagged Hispanic spices in Americas consumer and to exit a private label product line in EMEA flavor solutions. Both will impact the first quarter. And we divested the Giotti canning business, which will impact us through the third quarter.

We expect to continue to prune lower-margin business through the year as we optimize our portfolio. The impact of which will be reflected within the natural fluctuation of sales. And finally, in China, our Food Away From Home business, which is included in APAC consumer, is expected to be impacted by slower demand in the first half of the year. And as such, we expect China consumer sales to be comparable to 2023 for the full year.

While we recognize there has been volatility in demand in China, we continue to believe in the long-term growth trajectory of our China business. Moving to gross margin. Our 2024 gross margin is projected to range between 50 basis points to 100 basis points higher than 2023. This gross margin expansion reflects favorable impacts from pricing, product mix, and the cost savings from our CCI and GEO programs, partially offset by the anticipated impact of a low-single-digit increase in cost inflation and our increased investments.

Additionally, we expect to begin reducing our dual running costs related to our transition to the new flavor solutions facility in the U.K. in the back half of the year. Moving to adjusted operating income. We expect 4% to 6% constant currency growth.

This growth is projected to be driven by our gross margin expansion, as well as SG&A cost savings from CCI and GEO programs, partially offset by our investments to drive volume growth, including brand marketing. We expect our brand marketing spend to increase high single digits in 2024, reflecting a double-digit increase in investments, partially offset by CCI savings. And we expect our increased investments in brand marketing to be concentrated in the first half of the year and weighted more to the first quarter. Overall, based on the flow-through of our volume expectations and the timing of our investments, we expect our profit to be less robust in the first half and anticipate strong profit growth in the second half of the year.

Our 2023 adjusted effective income tax rate projection of approximately 22% is based upon our estimated mix of earnings by geography, as well as factoring in discrete items. We expect our rate to be higher in the first half of the year compared to the second half of the year. We expect a mid-teens increase in our income from unconsolidated operations, reflecting the strong performance we anticipate in McCormick de Mexico. To summarize, our 2024 adjusted earnings per share projection of $2.80 to $2.85 reflects a 4% to 6% increase compared to 2023 or 5% to 7% in constant currency.

As Brendan noted, we are dedicated to improving volumes. We are prioritizing our investments to drive impactful results and return to differentiated and sustainable volume-led growth. We remain confident in the underlying fundamentals of our business and delivering on the profitable growth reflected in our 2024 financial outlook.

Brendan FoleyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, Mike. Before moving to Q&A, I would like to provide some closing comments on Slide 25. Our business is moving in the right direction. We strengthened our margins, significantly improved our cash flow, and are deleveraging ahead of expectations.

From a top-line perspective, volume trends improved sequentially through the third quarter, but fourth quarter performance was disappointing. Parts of our portfolio grew, underscoring that our strategies and initiatives are working. In areas that were challenged, we know the drivers and are addressing those that we control. And combined with the initiatives we have in place, we fully expect we will drive improved trends and build the volume growth during the second half of 2024.

We are committed to recovering our margins in both segments to historical levels while making investments to drive sustainable top-line growth. The fundamentals that have driven our historical performance remain in place, and we are as diligent as ever in driving value for our employees, consumers, customers, and shareholders in 2024 and beyond. I am excited for the year ahead, which will be my first full year as CEO. I plan to drive an ambitious agenda with greater competitive posture and more intentionality that capitalize on our strong business fundamentals, as well as the value of our brands and capabilities that have driven our past success.

McCormick is a growth company, a global leader in flavor with a long-term orientation and a strong culture. I am committed to advance our leadership and our differentiation. Our strategic pillars, growth, performance, and people, remain consistent. I am energized to further incorporate my mark on our growth plans.

In a fast-changing global environment, we need to build on our competitive strengths and opportunities to remain a differentiated market leader. As such, I would like to share the five priorities that the entire McCormick organization is rallying behind as we enter 2024. First, strengthen our global leadership in core categories. That means growing volume and market share in herbs, spices and seasonings, and condiments; strengthening our leadership in heat; and increasing the global scale of our flavors business; and expanding our branded food service business.

Second, drive profitable growth and higher returns on investments. We want to restore the operating margin we have lost the last several years, but importantly, do so in a measured way using our cost savings and operating leverage to fuel top-line growth in the near term that will drive sustainable profits for years to come. Third, accelerate our digital transformation to enhance how we serve consumers and customers, to work faster and more efficiently, and to strengthen decision-making by further leveraging data and insights. Fourth, continue to elevate our Power of People culture and build the next generation of leaders and capabilities that will drive McCormick’s success well into future years.

And finally, all these contribute to our fifth priority, which is to strengthen and expand our system of competitive advantages to make McCormick even more effective in the marketplace. Our advantages are critical to ensuring we deliver on our growth potential. Simply put, I am committed to harnessing the collective expertise of our talented McCormick team with a renewed sense of urgency and speed to deliver on these priorities, resulting in long-term sustainable profitable growth that will be industry-leading. While 2024 is an important year of investments, we are confident in our capabilities and enthusiastic about some early signposts of success, and we are committed to returning to the type of growth that investors expect from McCormick.

The foundation has been laid and building blocks are in place, and I look forward to sharing more about them at CAGNY in February. As I said, I am excited for the year ahead and delivering on our long-term objectives. Finally, before turning to your questions, I want to recognize McCormick employees around the world for their contributions in 2023 and the momentum they are carrying into 2024 and reiterate my confidence that, together, we will drive the profitable growth reflected in our 2024 outlook. Now, for your questions.

Questions & Answers:

Operator

Thank you. At this time, we’ll be conducting a question-and-answer session. [Operator instructions] Our first question comes from the line of Andrew Lazar with Barclays. Please proceed with your question.

Andrew LazarBarclays — Analyst

Great. Thanks so much. Good morning, everybody.

Brendan FoleyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning, Andrew.

Mike SmithExecutive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer

Good morning, Andrew.

Andrew LazarBarclays — Analyst

Great. Maybe to start off, given where you ended 2023 and coupled with your commentary on investing in the business, I guess can you tell us a bit about how you’re thinking about the volume — about volume as you progress through ’24 and I guess how you would be positioned going into ’25?

Brendan FoleyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Well, Andrew, thanks for the question. Let me start by commenting on how we ended ’23 from a volume perspective. While 4Q — the fourth quarter was below our expectations, there were bright spots because our actions are working in a number of categories that are critical for us. And for the challenging areas, we know what the issues are, and I’m pleased with the speed and urgency with which the team is addressing them.

I guess just to step back, you know, pre-pandemic, we consistently drove volume growth across our business in those segments, and the macro dynamics of the last several years disrupted this. And so, we see 2024 as an important moment to get back there as soon as we can. We do have a bias toward even greater investment on the business. And as I’ve said, we’re approaching our plans differently, with even greater sort of competitive posture, greater intentionality toward driving volume growth of share in those key and really attractive categories.

I think where we stand at this point in 2024 is we appear to be moving beyond those macro dynamics. Yet, at the same time, we recognize the uncertainty of the environment. And therefore, I’m taking a cautious view on that outlook. From a consumption standpoint, we do expect to exit 2024 in a stronger position than how we exited in 2023.

And importantly, though, we’re also entering 2024 in a position of strength in terms of our ability to invest in the business and expand margins. So, we’re able to intentionally focus those investments on areas that we expect will have the greatest impact on improving volume performance and driving, you know, sustainable profit growth. We expect our volumes to improve as we progress through the year and to drive the volume growth during the second half. This momentum is expected to continue into 2025, notwithstanding, you know, any new surprises on, you know, sort of the macroeconomic headwinds that might be out there.

And I believe our investments will drive quality earnings growth and will put us on a trajectory to — you know, on that long-term algorithm. So, I — you know, those are the way we’re — that’s the way we’re thinking about, you know, exiting ’23, how we’re thinking about ’24, and as we go into ’25.

Andrew LazarBarclays — Analyst

Thanks. And then I guess a good segue to that is, you know, how is it you’re able to make investments to drive the top line and yet still improve margins? I was hoping you could help us a bit with that perspective. Thank you.

Brendan FoleyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Well, you know, as I said, we’re entering ’24 in a position of strength after navigating these dynamics over the last several years. And I’ll turn it over to Mike just to give some context, and I may wrap it up with a few other thoughts.

Mike SmithExecutive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer

Yeah. Good morning, Andrew. You know, as you saw from our results, we ended the year with strong operating margin performance and, for the full year, up 100 basis points. You know, a big key to our recovery was recovering the cost increases through pricing.

You know, obviously, 20% cost increases two years ago, over 10% last year. You know, it was a big job to do that. So, we were able to do that in 2023, which helped our margins. Our CCI and GEO programs, we’ve talked about a lot, really, really performed, and gave us strong momentum, frankly, into 2024.

You know, 2024, as you think about this year, we’re showing some margin improvement, about 80 basis points. And, you know, with low-single-digit inflation and, you know, you think about four or five years ago when we had low-single-digit inflation, you know, our CCI really works for us. You take a little bit of pricing, and we’re having some pricing wrap in 2024, and then you can decide what to do with CCI. And CCI, some of it drops to the bottom line through margin improvement where we’re making those increased revenue, price gap investments, which we’ve always done some degree of that, but also our branded A&P up double digits is another way we’re using that CCI this year.

So, it’s kind of a sweet spot for us, that low-single-digit inflation environment, as we think about it. And the portfolio optimization we’ve talked about last year, which can — build that continuing into this year. So, again, you know, helping drive our margins up. You know, we want to recover over time the gross profit margins we had pre-pandemic, but we’re doing it judiciously.

Andrew LazarBarclays — Analyst

OK. Thanks so much. Yup.

Brendan FoleyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Mike said on, you know, sort of this portfolio optimization, we really do see that working. So, we did make a couple of intentional moves, as you know, naturally, I think, allowing us to invest even more in the part of the portfolio which we know will be the strongest. And we did make a lot of targeted investments in ’23. So, that’s yielding results.

We like where that’s going, and it’s achieving high ROI, and that’s carrying us into ’24. So, I do believe this intentional investment in those categories that are core to us will really be the biggest drivers of profitable growth, and we should see that margin accretion, you know, from that mix of sales. So, we really do believe we’re operating from a position of strength here.

Andrew LazarBarclays — Analyst

Thanks so much.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Ken Goldman with J.P. Morgan. Please proceed with your question.

Ken GoldmanJPMorgan Chase and Company — Analyst

Hi. Good morning, everybody.

Brendan FoleyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning.

Ken GoldmanJPMorgan Chase and Company — Analyst

I wanted to ask about consumer Americas. In particular, you spoke today about managing price gaps maybe a bit more tightly ahead. You know, we’ve started to hear from some other food producers that in the U.S. maybe some promotional lifts aren’t working quite as well as expected.

I guess I was just curious if this is a dynamic you’ve experienced as well, and I really am trying to get a sense just how much more investment is needed to narrow the price gaps you mentioned and if, in general, really, consumer behavior in the U.S. is, in some way, more difficult to navigate than what it’s been in past challenging times or kind of pretty much what you expect to see as consumers, you know, tighten their wallets a little bit.

Brendan FoleyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

OK. Let me kick off — you had a couple of questions in there. The first, I think, had to do with just promotional lifts and what we’re seeing. And I’m not necessarily trying to compare it to the comments of other companies.

But what we’re seeing right now in our business today is we’re not seeing huge declines or sort of, you know, reduced, you know, significant lifts in promotion. But there’s an important consideration there which is we’re really a heavy base business. We don’t have a ton of — if you think about our percentage of consumption, we’re in the 90% range in terms of, you know, base consumption, and the rest is really coming through promotions. So, we’re not overly reliant there.

And I would just say that it’s probably an area that I don’t know that it’s fair to draw a ton of correlation between our performance and others. Now, price gap management in terms of, you know, how we’re approaching that, you know, we’re looking across our portfolio. And just in the case of like spices and seasonings, it’s a really broad portfolio with many subcategories underneath there. And each and every item, we take — compare black pepper to, you know, Montreal steak, they all have different price elasticities and, you know, where the consumer is willing to go.

And so, we have been, you know, surgically looking at this at a SKU level to make sure that we’re, you know, doing the right thing to really drive, you know, overall growth in volume and unit consumption. And so, that’s allowed us to really, I think, you know, be very, very sharp about how we drive this investment in a targeted way to make sure that we’re starting to drive volume growth. In 2023, we saw a lot of improvement in parts of our business where we started to apply this. And, you know, I think like we said on the call, a good example was black pepper or vanilla, and we started to really see the — not only the volume but the unit share, you know, gain.

And so, that gave us really, I think, a lot of kind of stairstep into those investments. And that’s the way we’re going to do it in ’24, too. We’re expanding that investment. We’re going to continue to look at the line.

We assess it, you know, honestly every month and taking a look at where we see, you know, the individual products perform across the shelf, and then we decide what we need to do from a revenue and category management standpoint. But I wanted to put on top of that, we’re applying more A&P to the business, too, at the same time, and I think that’s really important. We are seeing really good performance from A&P, and it encouraged us to continue to spend more on the business. And so, you’ll see more of that from us, I think, going forward.

I’m not sure if I catch all of your questions there, but let me know if I did.

Mike SmithExecutive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer

I think, too, maybe one point, as we get the price differentials right, the advertising is even more effective, and I think that’s important. And we’re happy with our ROI on A&P, but it gets even better when you have the right price differential, as we’ve seen with black pepper, vanilla, and other categories.

Ken GoldmanJPMorgan Chase and Company — Analyst

No, that’s helpful. Thank you. And just a very quick follow-up. I wasn’t quite sure I picked up on, you know, what you think the most important tactics may need to be to get momentum rolling in your China consumer business to the extent you want and maybe how quickly some of those actions can start to take effect?

Brendan FoleyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

You know, on China, and just a little bit of context here. You know, our Food Away From Home business, which is included in Asia-Pacific consumer, it definitely will — we expect to see slower demand, especially, you know, sort of in the first half of the year. But we do expect overall China sales in 2024 to be comparable to 2023. But maybe for some more additional context, Mike and I spent a week in China in early January, just actually a few weeks ago, just visiting our teams there and assessing business conditions.

And I would say broadly, our outlook for the Chinese consumer does remain cautious. There’s a number of indicators that kind of point to this. There’s high unemployment with young adults, low consumer confidence. We see consumers, you know, with a reluctance to spend.

And uniquely in our business, you know, we tend to serve those smaller independent restaurants, particularly in central China. And, you know, we see them losing traffic to larger chains and QSRs because they’re really driving either, you know, really strong value or they’re winning on just even more store growth overall. And so, we see this playing out in the retail category there, especially with the modern trade. You know, and just to share a quick anecdote.

As we were there, I took one afternoon just to walk around. And actually, I forgot to pack a tie, so I had to go buy a tie and go to a department store. And what struck me was, you know, really, a lot of movement in people outside and on the streets. And I went to go get a cup of coffee.

It’s kind of empty. You know, go to the department store, not full with anybody almost. And so, there’s just not really a lot of active spending. We see a lot of people out and about.

The mobility is there. It’s returned. But we’re not seeing the spending. And I think that’s broadly a sort of an example of what we were observing as we were in the market there.

Having said that, though, like we do with other regions, we do have plans to, you know, really address the changing trends with the Chinese consumer, and we do expect our flavor solutions business to be a bit stronger this year just due to the QSR trends. But we do expect a gradual recovery in China starting probably more in the second half of ’24. And the exact pace of growth will really be determined by how that macroeconomic parameter kind of plays out and consumer confidence plans over the next few quarters. But we really do continue to believe in the long-term growth trajectory of this market and are working to strengthen those plans as we go through ’24.

Ken GoldmanJPMorgan Chase and Company — Analyst

Thanks so much.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Alexia Howard with Bernstein. Please proceed with your question.

Alexia HowardAllianceBernstein — Analyst

Good morning, everyone.

Brendan FoleyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning.

Mike SmithExecutive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer

Good morning.

Alexia HowardAllianceBernstein — Analyst

OK. So, your sales algorithm for 2024 is obviously below where it would normally be at minus 1% to plus 1%. Can you quantify how much of a headwind are these deliberate decisions to exit the DSD business, to divest canning, to exit low-margin business in Europe? We just want to get a sense for how much is you choosing to exit versus what the underlying numbers are.

Mike SmithExecutive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer

Hey, Alexia. Yeah, it’s around 1% for Q1, but then it really peters out the rest of the year. So, very small the rest of the year. But 1% for Q1 as we lapped the decisions we made last year.

Alexia HowardAllianceBernstein — Analyst

Got it. OK. And then the market share trends in U.S. measured channels are obviously what everybody seems to have their eye on right now.

Do you have a view as to given your price gap management and the marketing spending investments, the innovation pickup when we might start to see that improve sequentially and when we might even start to see that turn positive again? Just wondering how long it’s going to take to start to see those benefits in the share line.

Brendan FoleyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Well, Alexia, thanks for the question. You know, we never really project exactly, you know, what to expect in share because there’s just a lot of dynamics that might happen at the shelf. But I would point to, you know, how we’re talking about volume and our outlook on volume as we think about the first half, the second half, and as we expect to kind of grow volume in the back half of the year. You know, that certainly will have an influence on, you know, what we see play out in share performance.

But we tend not to sort of specifically tell you. I don’t think that, you know, there’s a specific quarter I can tell you when that’s going to happen.

Alexia HowardAllianceBernstein — Analyst

OK. Thank you. I’ll pass it on.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Max Gumport with BNP Paribas. Please proceed with your question.

Max GumportExane BNP Paribas — Analyst

Hey. Thanks for the question. With regard to cadence on the top line, it sounds like you’ve got volume trends that could improve as you go through the year with even growth in the second half, but then you’ve got the impact of last year’s pricing actions, which will wane as we go through the year. Would you expect those two factors to roughly offset each other such that organic net sales growth is relatively consistent through the year or is there any net sales cadence we should be keeping in mind? Thanks.

Mike SmithExecutive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer

I mean, the pricing, Max, is really, you know, focused on the first half and a bit more in the first quarter based on the timing of our pricing. I mean, the volume growth is sequential across both segments. And as you know, based on our fourth quarter performance, you know, flavor solutions is exiting the year with a little better trajectory than — or at least base than consumer. So, as you model those things, you know, think about sequential improvement to get to that 0 to negative 2 volume growth, you know, kind of a first half, second half story.

And then pricing is really heavily weighted to the first half, primarily the first quarter.

Max GumportExane BNP Paribas — Analyst

Thanks. And then as a follow-up, you’ve characterized your outlook as, you know, embedding a more cautious view regarding 2024 a few times now. It sounds like much of that conservatism is around your underlying assumptions on volume. You talked about, you know, the value-seeking behavior in the U.S.

and flat sales growth in China. But I was hoping you could dive a bit deeper into some of those more cautious views you’re taking in, also their impact in your gross margin commentary as well. Thank you.

Brendan FoleyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Well, good morning, Max. I’ll maybe kick it off with some context around your question on sales and consumption and sort of the state of the consumer, then I’ll pass it over to Mike for commentary on — I think you had a question there with regard to margin. But I think we are taking a cautious view with regard to where the consumer is right now. And that’s really informed by what we saw in Q4.

We just saw a little bit more shifting, particularly as you think about how the quarter played out. And if you think about consumption trends, we saw consumers really pull back in September and October and then really wait until right before the holidays, you know, to really make a lot of their purchases. And we even see — saw similar, you know, indications leading up to Christmas. So, you know, what’s underneath that, I think, is people were certainly holding off.

They’re making a lot more trips to the store, buying a lot fewer items and units and maybe even smaller units, actually, you know, started to come true, I think, from a consumer trend standpoint. And I think we just have to acknowledge that this is a little bit different than what we saw in the summer. It was a little bit more pronounced. Certainly, it affected our trends as we kind of been really clear about.

And so, it’s proven for us just to take a cautious view on where the consumer is going to be going here in early ’24. And so, we felt like it was best to recognize that in our outlook, particularly as we think about the first half of the year. But we’re also going to be putting in more investment in the business, more A&P. And so, we expect also to be able to meet the consumer where they are right now and, you know, really try to focus on our game plan, which is drive volume growth.

Mike, do you want to add —

Mike SmithExecutive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer

Would you mind repeating the margin question? I didn’t quite get that.

Max GumportExane BNP Paribas — Analyst

I was wondering if the conservatism that you’ve discussed, if that really is just focused on the commentary you just discussed on volumes, or if it applies to gross margins as well, if there’s some more cautious outlook embedded in the gross margin guidance as well.

Mike SmithExecutive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer

Yeah. I mean, we’re confident in our CCI and GEO programs. I mean, we’ve baked, you know, low-single-digit inflation environment, like I said before, which we have a good line of sight generally for the rest of the year and gives us more confidence there. You know, first quarter is going to be our highest cost increase, and we see it petering down after that.

And, you know, pricing is going to be the highest in the first quarter, too. You know, generally, I think what I’d say if you think about last year with our GEO programs, we met our targets — actually, we exceeded a bit our external targets. We were a bit prudent because — but we met our internal targets. So, I would say being prudent is the word of the day and love to overdeliver if we could.

But we also realize in this environment, making investments on price gap management and A&P is really important. So, we’ll assess that as the year goes on.

Max GumportExane BNP Paribas — Analyst

Great. Thanks very much.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Steve Powers with Deutsche Bank. Please proceed with your question.

Steve PowersDeutsche Bank — Analyst

Hey. Thanks very much.

Brendan FoleyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning, Steve.

Steve PowersDeutsche Bank — Analyst

So — good morning. So, it sounds like at the enterprise level, pretty minimal pricing in the back half. I think that implies — you know, as I listen to the commentary and kind of do the math and think about the price gap management, I think that implies, you know, negative pricing in the consumer business, at least in the U.S., in the back half. I wonder if you can talk about that, how deep those kind of above-the-line investments may need to be or how you’re thinking about that and whether there’s a risk that the enterprise-level pricing actually gets negative as we flow through the year in pursuit of this volume recovery.

Mike SmithExecutive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, Steve. It’s Mike, I’ll take that. And if Brendan has any comment, he’ll weigh in. I mean, we talk about pricing for the full year, you know, being around 1%.

And that includes, you know, our price gap management, too. So, don’t miss that point. And, you know, if you think about the first quarter, as I said before, that’s the majority of the lapping of last year’s pricing, you know, first quarter, first half, that’s where a lot of the price gap activities come through. So, you know, less so in the second.

So, you know, I’d say for the full year, we’re comfortable with pricing at 1. I don’t know what math you’re looking at to make it negative, but I don’t see that honestly for the full year. And, you know, from a — and really, by segment, too, you got to think about it, too. I mean, flavor solutions is going to be a bit higher than 1%.

Consumer is going to be a bit lower from a pricing perspective. So, we’re managing it very closely and, you know, comfortable with the full year guidance.

Steve PowersDeutsche Bank — Analyst

OK. Fair enough. I guess in flavor solutions, can you offer just maybe a little bit more perspective on what you’re assuming, both in terms of, you know, flavors customer volume trends and restaurant traffic, you know, both in the U.S. and overseas, where you’ve seen some softness of late? I just want to get a little perspective there on that segment.

Brendan FoleyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Sure, Steve. You know, our growth momentum in flavor solutions was pretty exceptional, I think, throughout the year in ’23 with double-digit growth in the first three quarters and slight volume growth there. But even with the deceleration of the fourth quarter, you know, we had pretty strong organic growth throughout ’23. And we do expect to continue to, you know, make really good progress in there, although, you know, we’re not going to be at double digits, I think, you know, in ’24, but still making really good progress.

I’ll give you maybe more of a regional consideration, you know, as I think through the portfolio. You know, in the Americas, we continue to drive strong branded food service volume. And in flavors, particularly in a number of the categories that we tend to have some strong performance in like performance nutrition and beverage, we see continued strong performance in volume. And I think that, you know, we would expect that to continue into ’24.

Across the rest of the flavor product category, you know, a lot of our growth was impacted by the softness of our customers’ performance in the market with regard to units and volume. And, you know, we saw a little bit more drop than we would have expected, not inconsistent with our own consumer business. And so, while we’re disappointed in that softness, you know, we still believe our results are pretty good in this area. I think that’s — you know, the chance of that continuing to ’24 is probably likely.

In EMEA, as we mentioned in our third quarter call that our customers there are — both for, you know, packaged goods and also quick-service restaurants, are experiencing softness in their volumes within their business, too. And we anticipated that in the fourth quarter. However, there’s even maybe a little bit more than what we expected. So, almost like a similar theme to what I said about the U.S.

And so, we expect some softness related there as we’re entering Q1. But we’re optimistic again that we’ll continue to sort of improve every quarter as we go through ’24. And then in Asia-Pacific, our growth there was impacted by, you know, slower-than-expected restaurant traffic. Some of that really had to do with just unrelated, you know, matters, some boycott issues that we’re seeing in Southeast Asia.

But we saw some nice performance in China. So, I would expect that to continue in ’24 as some trend. So, that’s just some context around flavor solutions.

Steve PowersDeutsche Bank — Analyst

OK. Thank you very much. I appreciate it. Pass it on.

Thank you.

Brendan FoleyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

OK.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Adam Samuelson with Goldman Sachs. Please proceed with your question.

Adam SamuelsonGoldman Sachs — Analyst

Yes. Thank you. Good morning, everyone.

Brendan FoleyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning.

Mike SmithExecutive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer

Good morning, Adam.

Adam SamuelsonGoldman Sachs — Analyst

Good morning. I guess I wanted to come back to the consumer segment and maybe at a higher level as we think about where the business and the specific categories are today versus where they were pre-COVID. Obviously, there’s a number of consumption and occasion changes in terms — and distribution changes with inflation through the pandemic. But where are we today in your business and your key categories as you think about price elasticity, as you think about price gaps, and where there actually has been a lasting consumption change versus consumer behavior pre-pandemic?

Brendan FoleyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Well, so much has changed since 2019. I think that — you know, if I think about the entirety of all the different levers and variables that you were talking about, whether it’s price elasticity or volume, you know, where the consumer is, there’s been reasonably enough significant change that as we take a look at our categories, we’re taking a look at in terms of how they’re performing today and where we need to go in order to drive volume growth. And, you know, as we said earlier, that’s a component of increased A&P. A lot of that advertising is focused on, you know, talking about value.

Parts of our portfolio, we know that price gap management can have a really effective impact, on, you know, turning around unit and volume trends. And so, I think that’s an indication of where the consumer is right now if you look at unit volume performance, either in our business or broadly the category. And pricing has had an impact, and we have to acknowledge that. You know, having said that, though, if I compare our business organically in product mix compared to 2019, you know, our total organic volume is about, you know, the same as 2019.

We haven’t really lost significant volume or on product mix since pre-pandemic. And so, you know, I think that’s one sort of consideration to have is, while there’s been a lot of change in — you know, many ups and downs, I think if you think about all these macro dynamic impacts we’ve been going through, we find ourselves in a similar volume position as we were in 2019. I don’t — I think I might provide the context that you’re looking for.

Adam SamuelsonGoldman Sachs — Analyst

OK. No, that’s helpful. And then as we think about flavor solutions moving forward, just how do you think about the competitive position of the portfolio today, what you’re seeing from your customers, the categories you’re in, and the competitive set? Do you feel like you have the breadth of portfolio? Do you think that the categories that have — are growing with your customers or you’re properly positioned to participate there, or do you think that as you look at kind of the peer — your peers, that there’s room to narrow that — the growth gap?

Brendan FoleyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Well, as I think about our competitive posture in flavor solutions, I feel really good about it. You know, it starts with having great capabilities in technology, you know, and a great team. And I think we do have a differentiated approach toward driving growth, particularly in flavors and seasonings in that part of our business. You know, from a technology standpoint, we continue to win, and sort of there’s a lot of categories that we operate in there that, you know, we’re targeting because they’re positive and high growth.

And we also tend to get a good mix of large customers and moderately and small-sized customers who tend to be characterized by much even higher growth. As we think about that as a portfolio mix of customers, you know, we’re seeing a lot of strength coming from that. And I would just point to our volume trends throughout ’23 and as we think about ’24 to be an indication of, you know, how we think we’re performing relative to the market there, you know, overall. And so, you know, those are some indications.

Now, the other one on top of that would be heat, and we continue to see growth through heat. We continue to see that as a — as the part of that portfolio, if you will, it tends to grow at an even higher rate just due to where consumers are. You know, we talked a lot about heat extensively in terms of how popular it is. And so, that’s another reason to believe that, you know, we feel like we’re competitively poised in this part of our business.

It’s an exciting part of our business. It’s one that’s receiving a lot of increased investment, too, as we think about building capacity, technology, and, you know, really growing it to global scale.

Adam SamuelsonGoldman Sachs — Analyst

OK. I appreciate the color. I’ll pass it on. Thanks.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Matt Smith with Stifel. Please proceed with your question.

Matt SmithStifel Financial Corp. — Analyst

Hi. Good morning. Thank you for taking my question. I wanted to dive in a little bit on the guidance.

If we look at it from a high level, it includes roughly 80 basis points or so of operating margin expansion. Can you talk about the margin expansions for each business as we look at fiscal ’24? Is flavor solutions expected to have an outsized contribution again as the margin continues to recover there? And can the margin expand in the consumer business even as you step up investments to manage price gaps and absolute price points?

Mike SmithExecutive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer

Hey, Matt. It’s Mike. I mean, they’re not materially different between segment, to be honest. So, you know, the 50 basis points to 100 basis points at the gross margin line and approximately 80 basis points at the op margin line.

You know, to your point, there are some price gap management items within the consumer business, but there’s also portfolio optimization, you know, the GEO and CCI numbers, which hit both segments. So, I would say not materially different.

Matt SmithStifel Financial Corp. — Analyst

Thank you for that. And a follow-up on the price gaps and absolute price points that you’re talking about managing. One thing we’re seeing in the U.S. measured channel data is that the share losses McCormick is seeing in spices and seasonings, only about a quarter of that is going to private label.

Can you talk about the branded environment? Are you seeing a pickup in competitive pressure there or is this really a product of price gaps that you believe you can manage to?

Brendan FoleyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

One is I think it’s a product of price gaps that we can manage to, but I think your observations would align with ours in that it isn’t, you know, strictly an issue regarding private label or other branded competition. I think it’s really an attractive category that has always received new competitors and new entrants. And so, we look broadly when we think about competition in that part of our portfolio as being — at the shelf is both, you know, watching those gaps versus private label and also branded competitors.

Matt SmithStifel Financial Corp. — Analyst

Thank you. I’ll pass it on.

Operator

Thank you. Our next question comes from the line of Robert Moskow with TD Cowen. Please proceed with your question.

Rob MoskowTD Cowen — Analyst

Hi. Just a couple of follow-up questions. Hi there, Brendan and Mike.

Brendan FoleyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Good morning, Rob.

Rob MoskowTD Cowen — Analyst

You know, in the past, you used to give a global flavor category growth rate, and I remember it, you know, being around 4% to 6%. Do you still keep track of that globally and do you know where it is right now? And just — and then I have a follow-up.

Mike SmithExecutive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer

We do. I mean, we look at that annually, and it’s part of our strategic [Inaudible] And so, yeah, we do spend time making sure we understand how that’s performing. But I think, you know, your 5% to 7%, I think, is — or actually, you said 4% to 6%. But I would say it’s generally around those same numbers.

We tend to think about it’s 5% to 7% at a global level.

Rob MoskowTD Cowen — Analyst

OK. So, the global demand for flavor really hasn’t changed. It’s just that — but your top-line guide is, you know, around zero. So, is the message here today that nothing’s really changed in the consumer demand for flavor? Because it sounds like you’re also saying there’s a lot of trading down going on or cautious consumer spending, so I thought that would mean that the category is a little bit weaker, too.

Brendan FoleyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

No, I would urge you not to take away that as a — as an indication that the category is weaker. This is still a very attractive category, but also appreciate the category at the global level is also going through a lot of inflation and pricing and similar factors. But we still see this as a very attractive category for the total company. And so, you know, that is not the view that we take, particularly with the data that we look at.

And so —

Rob MoskowTD Cowen — Analyst

Right.

Brendan FoleyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

I think that maybe gets at the heart of your question.

Rob MoskowTD Cowen — Analyst

Yeah. Certainly. And then the follow-up is you said that you shipped 75% of your new packaging to retailers so far, but do you have any way of quantifying what percent of the ACV has implemented your resets? I thought some of it would happen in 2023. It sounds like a lot will happen in mid-2024.

But, you know, do you have a way of quantifying it that way?

Brendan FoleyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

It’s harder to quantify because it’s — we know how much we’re shipping out in terms of our total portfolio that’s getting this new package. And so, as I said, that number is 75%. And that we feel, you know, that’s pretty accurate about that. But now, the reflection on shelf as all this inventory is flowing in on shelf, that’s happening on a lag to that 75% number.

We expect it to continue to — just continue to increase through the first half of the year. I think through the first half of the year, we should largely be caught up to that [Inaudible] standpoint, too. You know, if you walk into a store today, you’re going to see on the shelf some in the old package, some of the new package. And that’s just maybe an indication of how you might think about flow-through overall.

However, I will tell you that as we do look at specific accounts and locations where we know we’re seeing a lot of that flow-through already have occurred, we are seeing a nice pickup in velocity, as we would have expected to be the case, because we’ve seen this package perform in EMEA in a similar way. And it really does deliver on the SKUs for freshness for consumers and really kind of takes it up a notch in terms of the overall benefit and offering that we’re providing consumers. So, we feel pretty good about that. What you’ll also hear us talk about is we’re going to start to move other parts of the product line into this package, too, beginning in the back half of 2024.

So, we’re not done, but this part of our line that we’ve been speaking about since mid-last year is still in the process of flowing through on shelf.

Mike SmithExecutive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer

And that gives us belief in the, you know, sequential building of volume during 2024 into the second half, as you alluded to.

Rob MoskowTD Cowen — Analyst

Right. I’m sorry, one last question. I appreciate the plan to increase brand building this year. Can you tell us how much it increased in 2023 when it was all said and done?

Brendan FoleyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

I think we were, Rob, if I’m not mistaken, in the 3 —

Mike SmithExecutive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer

Three percent to 4% range.

Brendan FoleyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Three percent to 4% range for 2023. Know that underneath that, we tend to see working media grow a lot faster than that because we’re also offsetting it with other productivity and, you know, taking out more nonworking investments. But ’23 is in that range. Now, ’24, though, is in a double-digit range, and we feel really good about that and where we’re putting that investment.

Rob MoskowTD Cowen — Analyst

OK. Thank you.

Operator

Thank you. Our final question this morning comes from the line of Rob Dickerson with Jefferies. Please proceed with your question.

Rob DickersonJefferies — Analyst

Great. Thanks so much. Maybe if we could just touch quickly on kind of Q1 because I think kind of throughout the call, I’ve heard you say maybe, you know, slightly higher costs relative to the full year in Q1. And then it also sounds like A&C is a little front-half loaded, and then I think maybe volumes, you know, given hopefully they improve through the year, would imply maybe a little bit more pressure in Q1, especially given the divestment.

So, you know, just curious if there are certain moving pieces to Q1 that you would clearly like us to consider. That’s just the first question.

Mike SmithExecutive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer

No, That’s great. Let me take that one, Rob, and maybe summarize it all for you. And as you pointed out, the sequential improvement in volume we see from the fourth quarter and also consider, you know, consumers starting at a slightly lower place in flavor solutions, so as you model that, you know, build that into your model and builds throughout the year. Pricing actions are primarily first — you know, the lapping of that primarily is first half-related, you know, maybe concentrated, I’d say, in the first quarter.

However, you know, cost — you know, in the first quarter, we’re still seeing high-single-digit inflation. It does go down to averaging of low-single-digit inflation for the year, but there is a spike — not a spike, but the highest level will be in the first quarter at high-single-digit inflation. We get a bit of favorable product mix in the first quarter due to some of the initiatives we’re talking about. We’re also seeing some of the negatives from an investment in price gap initiatives in Q1 primarily.

So, as you think about pricing, a bit of that will be offset within the price gap management activities. Do we have a little bit of favorability from the wrap from last year in the first half, a bit in the first quarter, too. And then, you know, as you mentioned, brand marketing up double digits in the first quarter is something that we’re really driving toward. And not to forget tax.

Sometimes, we do leave the tax. It’s 22% for the year, but we see a higher tax rate in the first quarter and getting better as the year goes on. And don’t forget unfavorable FX throughout the whole year of about 1%.

Rob DickersonJefferies — Analyst

OK. Perfect. That’s very helpful. And then quickly, just, you know, on flavor solutions, clearly, you know, if we look back a few years ago, we speak to the margin recovery now kind of coming out of the, you know, post-pandemic cost inflation environment, it really kind of — the main driver of kind of your somewhat depressed margin now relative to history is still from flavor solutions, maybe a little less so.

I mean, clearly, you’re not optimized or maximized on consumer, but there is a little bit more pressure on flavor solutions. So, I’m just curious — I remember going back 15 years or so, right, there was a strategy to increase that margin in flavor solutions, and then it didn’t happen, but then it actually really did happen. And now, it’s just not happening again. So, I’m, you know, kind of curious, as you think longer term, right, kind of margin profile of McCormick, kind of given the initiatives you’ve been discussing even today, you know, on improving that side of the business, what kind of does get you back there, right? I mean, is it just volume and mix or — you know, it just seems like that recovery has maybe been a little bit slower.

That’s all.

Mike SmithExecutive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer

Hey, Rob. It’s Mike. I’ll start and Brendan can add. You know, you’re right.

We’ve been on a journey with flavor solutions. I can remember, it wasn’t 15 years ago, but we were at 6% op margin, and we really, through focused cost initiatives, portfolio management, were able to get that to over 14% pre-COVID, pre-pandemic. And we had aspirations for higher because, you know, our peers in the flavor industry are higher than that. And we still do aspire to those higher numbers.

Obviously, COVID, the pricing-costing relationship, that took over 300 basis points — actually, price to cost. We did margin up. That’s over a 300-basis-point impact on our margins there. So, you know, we’ve said we’re going to build that back over time through initiatives like CCI and things like that.

You know, we’ve had early success. I mean, with the pricing initiatives we had last year in 2023, we took our operating margin from 8% in ’22 to 10% in ’23, granted still below where we were. But we see positive movement this year as you think about our total margin. I said both segments will see positive operating margin improvement.

And we’re in the process — for flavor solutions, it’s a pretty large number as we are transitioning our large U.K. manufacturing facility. You know, in ’24 and ’25, you’ll see some favorable tailwinds there, which will help flavor solutions margin. But to your point, and Brendan talked about the focus on those great growing categories and the flavor side of the business, you know, those are generally higher margin.

They’re stickier. That is our strategy that will help us drive our margins going forward.

Brendan FoleyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

I don’t think I’ll add on top of what Mike just said with regard to just that constant focus against, you know, improving margin. You know, we’re also — as we continue to shift customers to higher-margin product lines, more insulated technology, etc., it allows us to continue to grow margin, too. But, you know, I think Mike pretty much nailed it there. And, you know, that’s our outlook on it.

We’re still pretty positive, and it’s just going to take us a little bit longer, you know, as we — as we’ve been calling out really ever since, I think, last year.

Rob DickersonJefferies — Analyst

Super. Great. Thank you, guys.

Operator

Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, that concludes our question-and-answer session. I’ll turn the floor back to Ms. Freiha for any final comments.

Faten Freiha

Thank you all for joining today’s call. If you have any further questions regarding today’s information, please feel free to contact me. And this concludes this morning’s conference call. Thank you.

Operator

[Operator signoff]

Duration: 0 minutes

Call participants:

Faten Freiha

Brendan FoleyPresident and Chief Executive Officer

Mike SmithExecutive Vice President, Chief Financial Officer

Andrew LazarBarclays — Analyst

Ken GoldmanJPMorgan Chase and Company — Analyst

Alexia HowardAllianceBernstein — Analyst

Max GumportExane BNP Paribas — Analyst

Steve PowersDeutsche Bank — Analyst

Adam SamuelsonGoldman Sachs — Analyst

Matt SmithStifel Financial Corp. — Analyst

Rob MoskowTD Cowen — Analyst

Rob DickersonJefferies — Analyst

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