* Q3 sales 6.418 bln euros, up 3% like-for-like
* Q3 China baby food sales up more than 20%
* Eyes sales growth of 2.5-3% vs 3% previously
* Shares down 7% (Adds analyst comment, CFO, more details)
By Dominique Vidalon
PARIS, Oct 18 (Reuters) - Danone cut its 2019 sales growth outlook after missing third-quarter sales expectations on Friday, sending shares in the French food group down 7%.
The world’s biggest yoghurt maker said cool weather in August had hit sales of water in Europe, while yoghurt sales were weak in the United States and Russia, taking the shine off strong baby food sales in China.
“We close the third quarter somewhere below where we wanted to be,” Chief Finance Officer Cecile Cabanis told analysts, adding: “We do not control the weather.”
She expressed confidence that Danone’s sales would accelerate in the fourth quarter with strong growth expected in baby food in China along with a further expansion in sales of its plant-based business that makes products such as soya yoghurt. She said water sales would improve in the fourth quarter versus the third quarter’s performance.
Danone is now aiming for 2019 group like-for-like sales growth of 2.5%-3% against a previous forecast of around 3%.
The company still expects an operating margin above 15% for 2019, putting it on track for its 2020 goals of an operating margin of above 16% and like-for-like sales growth of 4-5%, Cabanis said.
By 0854 GMT Danone shares were down 7.8% at 72.42 euros.
Jefferies analysts said: “Q3 like-for-like has missed materially and FY 2019 top line guidance has been trimmed.”
“Hitting the lower end of sales guidance implies like-for-like growth of 3.7% in Q4, relative to consensus 4.5%.”
Danone, whose yoghurt brands include Actimel and Activia, had third-quarter sales of 6.418 billion euros ($7.1 billion).
This marked a like-for-like rise of 3.0% that was below analysts’ expectations for 3.8% growth, but was an acceleration from 2.5% growth in the second quarter.
China contributes about 30% of sales to the Danone’s Early Life Nutrition business, which makes infant formula and general baby food products.
This division’s sales in China returned to growth in the second quarter after a slump in the first quarter partly due to lower birth rates. Growth accelerated further in the third quarter to more than 20%, marking the highest ever quarter in terms of net sales.
Sales in China were helped by a focus on more premium products, an expansion towards cities where Danone has a bigger presence, and an increase of sales via E-commerce.
Danone’s Essential Dairy & Plant-based division reported sales growth of 0.7%, with Europe continuing to improve.
In North America, coffee creamers and plant-based products posted solid growth, although premium dairy product sales lagged while in Russia premium dairy sales fell as consumers traded down.
Revenues at Danone’s waters division, which has brands such as Evian and Badoit, were down 0.9% as sales in Europe suffered from high comparisons with the year-ago quarter when sales had been boosted by particularly hot weather.
($1 = 0.8990 euros)
Reporting by Dominique Vidalon; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Jane Merriman