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Higher Prices and Volume Help Boost PepsiCo Sales

PepsiCo Chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi said Wednesday that delayed tax returns created a slight hiccup during the first quarter, but the beverage and snacking giant still managed to post stronger-than-expected results.

“We had a slowdown because tax returns were delayed,” said Nooyi during a conference call with Wall Street analysts. “At the end of the first quarter, business started to pick up again.” Procter & Gamble (PG) also said Wednesday that delayed tax refunds hurt its sales, while Hershey (HSY) CEO Michele Buck made a passing reference to the delays during her first-quarter comments to analysts. Broadly, Big Food executives have said the industry suffered from some softness during the quarter.

Overall, PepsiCo (PEP) reported a 2% increase in revenue to $12.05 billion as volume grew globally and the company’s prices increased. Results were boosted by growth for North America’s Frito-Lay and beverages businesses, while Quaker Foods posted a modest decline. Results were generally stronger in PepsiCo’s foreign markets. Overall revenue and core earnings of 94 cents were each better than Wall Street had expected.

“Globally, our business is looking good,” Nooyi said during the call. She touted the strong position for the company in the U.S. and Europe, as well as most of Latin America, excluding economically weak Brazil, Argentina, and Venezuela. Those markets have also been problematic for PepsiCo’s top rival, Coca-Cola (KO). On Tuesday, Coke reported flat volume for the first quarter and said it would cut 1,200 jobs, the latest major food manufacturer to accelerate cost-cutting efforts as the industry struggles with a weak growth outlook.

Wall Street analysts honed in on PepsiCo’s 1.5% volume drop for the Frito-Lay North America business, a unit that includes Fritos, Doritos, and Tostitos and had been a steady performer until the most recent first quarter. PepsiCo executives downplayed the slight dip in volume, blaming it on some challenges to the company’s Sabra business (which they say have been resolved) and the calendar timing of the New Year’s holiday.

“Snacks are a simple pleasure of life,” Nooyi said. “What we are doing is making our snacks more permissible.” She added that a variety of changes PepsiCo is making to that salty snack portfolio, including the reduction of sodium levels and fat used in those products, is making those brands more acceptable to an American audience that says it wants to eat better. PepsiCo’s position is that it can make snacks a bit healthier through research and development efforts, but also still let consumers indulge when they want.

“We feel good about the state of our business,” said Nooyi. “We are on track to deliver our full-year financial targets.” PepsiCo on Wednesday reiterated it sees organic revenue increasing by at least 3% for 2017.