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Kraft’s annual meeting a chance for investors to question CEO

by Benjamin Miraski
May 14, 2008

Attendees at the annual meeting of Kraft Foods Inc. didn't hear anything from CEO Irene Rosenfeld that the company hadn’t told analysts at the end of April when Kraft reported first quarter earnings.

For the 300-some shareholders who gathered Tuesday at Skokie's North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, the main highlights included Rosenfeld's snappy answers to offbeat questions posed by the audience.

And of course, the food.

While Rosenfeld fielded the expected questions relating to price increases -- they are coming – and the recent acquisition of the Group Danone biscuit business – it is going well – she also had to think on her feet.

The number one topic was Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s chairman and CEO, who is Kraft’s largest shareholder.  Jerry Miller, an investor from Highland Park, asked Rosenfeld if she had had any conversations with Buffett prior to his major investment in the company.  While she said she could not comment on any conversations with individual shareholders, she said it “gives us all pleasure knowing he is interested in Kraft.”

Another shareholder from the Chicago area asked Rosenfeld why Kraft wasn’t represented at the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting held at the beginning of May.

“Actually, it was my birthday, so I chose not to go,” said Rosenfeld, an answer greeted by laughter and applause for the 55-year-old CEO.

Despite the amount of press Kraft receives as the world’s second largest food company, one investor was concerned about a show she saw on CNBC, where the analysts pumped consumer goods companies but left Kraft off the list of recommended stocks in favor of H.J. Heinz Co. and Constellation Brands Inc.

“I think it depends on what day you are watching CNBC,” Rosenfeld replied, another answer accompanied by laughter. “Many analysts feel good about Kraft.”

Perhaps the most revealing question of day came from an investor from Springfield, Ill., who was confused by the use of terms such as organic sales growth on the presentation that Rosenfeld gave.

Rosenfeld said it was a good question and explained the term.  The incident shed light on how companies disguise their results behind terminology that the average investor might not have the time to completely understand.

As the shareholders checked into the meeting, they were handed a book containing coupons for free Kraft items, and on display were samples of new products, anxiously gathered four and five items at a time by some investors with large bags and purses.

Among the goodies:  Toblerone chocolate bars, Oreo cookies and nut snacks

Apparently, one thing all investors can understand is free food.