Mondelez CEO Dirk Van de Put said on Thursday that he expects first-quarter revenue to be affected by the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed at least 171 people in China and infected more than 8,200 since emerging less than a month ago.
The company has already closed two factories near the epicenter of the outbreak for 10 days to combat the risk of infection from the virus.
“Up to the moment that the media started to talk a lot about the coronavirus, we were selling out quite well,” Van de Put told CNBC’s “Closing Bell.”
“In the last three days before the Chinese New Year, the news was very heavy, and consumers were invited by the Chinese government not to go out in public places, to stay home, limit the Chinese New Year celebrations,” he said.
China is a crucial emerging market to Mondelez, accounting for roughly 4.5% of the company’s sales. The company has invested heavily in China in the past few years, focused primarily on product development and marketing there.
The Lunar New Year season is usually a lucrative time for snack makers in China. Van de Put said he expects the virus to have a short-term impact, but he did not quantify that anticipated impact.
“It’s a bit too early to tell right now what that has done to our sellout,” Van de Put said. “But we expect that it will have some effect.”
Mondelez reported fourth-quarter earnings on Wednesday that beat analyst forecasts and revenue that topped expectations. The company’s stock, which has a market value of $84.7 billion, closed up nearly 7.8% at $58.80.
The company is set to get its bigger brands more shelf space, such as snacks with more protein and natural ingredients in the U.S. Last year, Mondelez took a majority stake in Perfect Snacks, the owner of refrigerated protein bar Perfect Bar.
The company’s net revenue rose 2.1% to $6.91 billion, a boost that was supported by the 4.5% rise in sales from the Asia, Middle East and Africa business. Mondelez also earned 61 cents per share, on an adjusted basis, one cent above analyst estimates.
Van de Put said the company found sales by focusing on several key investments such as Ritz Crisp & Thins crackers and different package sizes of Oreos.