Things could soon perk up at Farmer Bros. Co.

After years of losing money, the Torrance-based manufacturer and distributor of specialty and standard coffees has revamped its leadership team and made some big acquisitions.

Sales have nearly doubled, but the company is shedding even more red ink than in the past. In addition, its stock remains moribund, and has been trending down for the past six months.

Yet management is hopeful that the company will start showing better results as early as its next quarterly report, scheduled for later this month. Sometime in the next fiscal year, Chief Executive Rocky Laverty expects Farmer Bros. to break even.

“I’ve only been here for four years,” said Laverty, who joined Farmer Bros. after serving as CEO of Irvine-based Diedrich Coffee Inc., “but Farmer Bros. has been here for nearly a hundred. The company is in a solid market position and we have invested to prepare for what we hope will be the next hundred years.”

Laverty almost immediately spent $22 million in stock and cash to acquire Coffee Bean International, one of North America’s first roasters of specialty coffees, based in Portland, Ore. The purchase put Farmer Bros. into the specialty coffee market. Then, the company last year spent an additional $45 million to acquire the retail coffee direct-delivery business of Sara Lee, which had long been a strong competitor.

Noble Trenham, the 76-year-old chief executive of First Global Capital Ventures in Pasadena, has been a Farmer Bros. investor for years. While he acknowledged that he hasn’t been “superexcited about the momentum of the company” in the past, he’s hopeful that soon could change.

“They have a real coffee man in there who’s a marketing whiz who I suspect can do some good,” he said, referring to Laverty. “It’s time to get some sizzle. Have they gone anywhere yet that will make the shareholders happy? The answer is no, but I still have my stock on the wall.”

Sales nearly doubled to $232 million for the first half of fiscal 2010 as a result of the acquisition, making Farmers Bros. the largest direct-store coffee and allied products deliverer in the nation. But for the six months ended Dec. 31, 2009, the company reported an operating loss of $7.6 million, compared with $4 million for the same period in 2008 the prior year.

Farmer Bros. does not provide earnings projections.

Zack Investment Research, based in Chicago, has projected losses of 10 cents per share in the fiscal year ending June 31. By the end of fiscal 2011, however, Zack projects that the company should be earning about 22 cents per share.


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