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Kraft Heinz has lost the one thing that distinguished it from General Mills and Mondelez

Key Points
  • Packaged food is out of favor with consumers, and that's hurting big brands such as Kraft Heinz, General Mills and Mondelez.
  • From the third quarter of 2015 through today, Kraft's overall sales have been stagnant — and it's not the only consumer packaged food company to feel this pinch.
  • Consumers want to eat fresh foods. When they don't they are often turning to niche, upstart brands with healthier images or to private-label products that don't carry a big price tag.
Kraft and Heinz products
Scott Olson | Getty Images

The one thing Kraft Heinz had going for it was its profit margins. Now, it doesn't even have that.

The food giant, known for its boxed macaroni and cheese and its ketchup, saw its stock tumble Friday after it released a batch of bad news late Thursday, including that it would swing to a net loss of $12.61 billion in the fourth quarter from a profit of $8 billion a year ago. That loss included a $15 billion write down on the value of two of its best-known brands.

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Shares of Kraft Heinz tumbled about 28 percent, at one point hitting a 52-week low of $34.51 in trading Friday. The sell-off slashed its market value by $16 billion to $42.1 billion.

From the third quarter of 2015 through today, Kraft's overall sales have been stagnant — and it's not the only consumer packaged food company to feel this pinch. Like others, Kraft blamed changes in consumer eating habits, a desire for organic foods over processed ones, for the poor performance. The company has tried to spruce up its brands, offering organic Capri Sun drinks and all-natural Oscar Mayer hot dogs, but consumers aren't biting.

Packaged food is out of favor. Consumers are looking to eat fresh foods, and when they don't they are often turning to niche, upstart brands with a healthier image or private-label products that don't carry a big price tag. If this trend continues, big packaged food companies like Kraft, General Mills and Mondelez are at risk of seeing sales continue to plummet.

Mondelez, the maker of Oreo, Ritz and Chips Ahoy, has also struggled with sales over the last five years. Since it hauled in net revenue of $8.83 billion in the fourth quarter of 2014, sales at the company have continued to slip.

General Mills, too, has seen its sales shrink. In the last four years, sales have stumbled and, while they have started to rise again, have not reached the same level as before.

One thing Kraft had going for it was the cost-cutting that came after the 2015 merger between Kraft and Heinz, facilitated by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway and Brazilian private investment group 3G Capital. Those cuts helped boost profit margins, but that lever is tapped out now.

As Kraft Heinz's profit margins have fallen — and its competitors have caught up with them — it's become simply one of the many Big Food companies struggling with slowing sales and rising costs.