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Consumer-Goods Highlights From the Berkshire Hathaway Meeting

Warren Buffett's classic investing style is fairly consumer-goods-centric, and he's known for being heavily invested in companies such as Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO) and Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG).

In this clip from the Industry Focus: Consumer Goods podcast, Sean O'Reilly and Vincent Shen share a few of the consumer-goods highlights from the recent Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-A) (NYSE: BRK-B) annual meeting. Even though those stocks didn't receive a lot of attention at the event, what was said offers insight into how the Oracle of Omaha and his lieutenants feel about those brands.

Buffett clearly doesn't follow conventional wisdom when it comes to Coke, and he explained why he's not worried about the nation's slowing soda consumption. The CEO also explained why he chose not to vote on Coca-Cola's executive compensation plan even though Berkshire Hathaway owns nearly 10% of the beverage brand.

A full transcript follows the video.

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This podcast was recorded on May 3, 2016. 

Sean O'Reilly: Buffett actually didn't do a ton of talking about consumer-goods brands. Classic Buffett investments are Coca-Cola, Gillette, Procter & Gamble. It's so well-known that he doesn't spend a ton of time on them, although if you read any of those old "How to Pick Stocks Like Warren Buffett" books that are written in the '90s and the early 2000s, they always cite these consumer-goods brands, which is our bread and butter, at least for this show, as what he looks for in a company.

We got a few good tidbits that I actually just wanted to highlight for our listeners. The biggest of which was, the red and white elephant in the room was Coca-Cola. Do you still drink Coke, Vince?

Vincent Shen: I'm not a huge soda drinker these days.

O'Reilly: You used to be, though. I know I was.

Shen: Yeah. Sure. As a kid, I think everybody -- before, I guess, this bigger movement toward healthier foods and trying to avoid sugary drinks like these sodas. These companies have seen that, but Buffett still seems pretty bullish on the company, right?

O'Reilly: Yeah. People in the audience and even that hedge-fund investor, Bill Ackman, they're all basically criticizing Buffett's stake in Coca-Cola. He owns, like, 9% of the company; it's worth like 10 or $12 billion or something. Coke, Ackman says, it leads to obesity and it's bad for you, these sugary drinks are just terrible for you, they aren't part of a good diet, and all this stuff.

Buffett's answer to it, which you got to give him credit, it's comical and everything, but he notes that he gets 700 calories a day, about a fourth of his caloric intake, from Coca-Cola, and switching to water and broccoli may not make it easier to live to 100. Yeah.

That was his response to the whole diet-type stuff, whatever. It wasn't at this meeting; there was a previous meeting where Charlie Munger chimed in and he talked about how sugars can sometimes help soften up arteries and make them less hard and all this stuff. Oh, man.

Shen: I don't know if I'm going to be taking medical advice from Charlie Munger, whom I respect quite a bit.

O'Reilly: He's 92, so you could do a lot worse.

Shen: There you go.

O'Reilly: Yeah. Is he 92? He's in his early 90s?

Shen: Yes, he is.

O'Reilly: Anyway. The other question that was thrown at Buffett regarding Coca-Cola was executive compensation at Coke headquarters in Atlanta, Ga.

Shen: Yes.

O'Reilly: Buffett's son took his spot on Coca-Cola's board. The board just had to vote recently on compensation packages for Coca-Cola's management team, and it included a lot of stock options. Buffett actually, he didn't vote for it, he didn't vote against it, he abstained.

Shen: That's a pretty significant ... that's pretty significant, since they own 9% of the company.

O'Reilly: Yeah. It would be the IF team voting on something and half the people not being there or something.

Shen: Sure.

O'Reilly: Or you not voting. You're that important. Everybody was like, why didn't you vote against it if you don't like the compensation? You've said stock options, which these guys are getting to a large degree in the compensation package in question, why didn't you just vote against it?

He's like, "That would go against what I want, and I don't want to give the impression that I don't broadly support the management team, which I do," and so he abstained. I don't know. You get the sense that it's a classic Buffett move, because he does not like direct compensation or awards or anything. ...

Last but not least before we move on, we've talked a lot about Heinz, we've talked about Burger King in the past. These are, of course, deals made by 3G Capital, the private-equity firm that Buffett's teamed up with, in particular for the Heinz deal. Again, a lot of praises on them. Munger said he loves their cost-cutting initiatives of literally getting rid of any unnecessary expense.

Coolest thing out of the meeting that I liked was Buffett said he's in awe of Jeff Bezos' genius for making customers happy buying the things they were already buying. I can attest to that. I love my Prime membership. I get my detergent delivered to my door and I have a smile on my face.

Shen: Yeah. I wasn't really surprised by that comment. He's always come off as somebody who respects talented management and somebody who's visionary.

O'Reilly: Yeah.

Shen: I don't think you could take that away from just Jeff Bezos and what he's done with [Amazon.com] for sure.