10/7/2019 11:00:00 PM

Market Watch Episode 35: How Tech Revolution Toppled Tomato Sauce Giant


How tech revolution toppled tomato sauce giant

It's easy to see how the tech revolution has disrupted industries like media, transport and tourism - just think Facebook, Uber or Airbnb.

But if you want an example of the depth to which tech is shaking the foundations of the corporate world, take a look at ketchup giant Kraft Heinz, says Pie Funds chief investment officer Mark Devcich.

Less than three years ago its shares were trading close to US$100 apiece. This week they were at just US$27.

Against the backdrop of a surging Wall Street bull market, that represents an astounding fall for a giant in the consumer food space.

Basically, boutique hipster food brands – trading on organic, transparent, holier than thou branding - now have an opportunity to grab market share that did not exist for them just a few years ago.

Twenty years ago Kraft Heinz was one of the few companies that could spend millions and millions of dollars to have national advertising on TV, Devcich says.

"Whereas a start-up brand these days can spend a relatively small amount on targeted advertising through Facebook and Google.

"It can outsource its distribution to Amazon, it can rent factory space by the hour and all this is reducing the barriers to entry."

It's made previously fixed costs much more variable, he says.

"And much more competition has come into the market, which has basically taken market share away from Kraft Heinz and you can see it in the share price. It's really struggling."

While traditional companies have struggled, there has been massive growth on Wall Street for the technology sector.

The US market has risen about 225 per cent since the start of the bull run more than a decade ago. By comparison, the rest of the world is up just 65 per cent

Why has the US done so well?

Mainly due to technology companies, Devcich says.

"We can see that in the Nasdaq index, which is full of tech companies and up over 300 per cent in that time."

The change had been driven by three big technological changes in the past two decades or so, he says.

It started with fixed-line broadband, which had allowed streaming and cloud computing, then we saw 4G, which enabled more mobility and the rise of phone apps like Google maps and Uber.

The next wave will come from the rollout of 5G technology which is going to enable the internet of things, Devcich said.

"It's basically all your devices being connected together."

All of these innovations were making the economy more efficient and reducing costs for consumers.

For investors, the rapid pace of change means constantly thinking about what are the technological innovations that will drive change, Devcich said.

And then you had to assess how they would affect particular industries, such as consumer brands - for example, Kraft Heinz.

"We've seen companies in New Zealand under threat from streaming video - Sky TV, shareholders have obviously had a painful experience from the disruption that's happened there."

Something like 5G was only going to further bolster the disruptive tech companies.

"A lot of applications that will come about from 5G haven't even been thought about yet," Devcich said.

"It's going to mean more connected devices, by some estimates there'll be 20 billion connect devices by 2020. This will make things far more efficient. There will be some technology companies that don't even exist yet that will become global leaders based on 5G technology."