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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

Turkish-owned Pladis finds Nestle not to its taste

Firm behind Godiva chocolate and McVitie's biscuits brands will not to bid for Nestle's US confectionery assets, preferring a more upmarket strategy

Pladis, the owner of Godiva Chocolates, will not make offer for Nestle assets. John Thys / AFP
Pladis, the owner of Godiva Chocolates, will not make offer for Nestle assets. John Thys / AFP

Pladis, which is owned by Turkey's Yildiz Holding and has the Godiva chocolate and McVitie's biscuits brands, has decided not to bid for Nestle's US confectionery assets, preferring to pursue a more upmarket strategy.

The chief executive Cem Karakas had earlier told Reuters the Turkish-owned company was looking at the US portfolio Nestle put on the block in June, which includes regional mass-market brands such as Butterfinger, Crunch and 100 Grand and could be valued at around US$2 billion.

Late on Friday, Mr Karakas said Pladis had decided to pass.

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"Nestle North American assets at the end did not seem to have a feasible complementarity to our existing business there, hence we decided not to bid," he said.

"As premium chocolate is the only continuously growing segment in recent years in North America and Western Europe, and we are uniquely positioned in this space, we will continue to invest there," he added.

Consumers' preference for artisanal or high-quality brands offsets some of the pressure exerted by growing health consciousness and moves away from sugary snacks.

Pladis is aiming to double its chocolate sales by the end of 2019, and turn Godiva into a $2.69bn a year brand by 2021.

It has been working toward that goal with this year's supermarket launch of Godiva chocolate bars, in flavours including blood orange, hazelnut and caramel. The move is aimed at expanding the brand away from the luxury boutiques where it has largely been sold.

The launch began in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Arabian Gulf, followed by the United States, Britain, the Netherlands and China.

In the next couple of months, the new bars - which in Britain cost 1.50 pounds ($2) on promotion at supermarket Sainsbury's - will go on sale in Sweden and South Africa.

Nestle said in June it might sell its US confectionery business, the latest sign of pressure on the North American market following last year's failed bid by Mondelez International for Hershey.

The sale of the business has attracted other potential suitors including the Lemonheads owner Ferrara.

Pladis was formed last year when Yildiz combined its Godiva, United Biscuits and DeMet's Candy business with its own Ulker business in a UK-based company. It plans to list on the London stock exchange by 2020 or 2021.

The company is interested in more bolt-on acquisitions that give it manufacturing capacity or distribution in particular markets, Mr Karakas said.

The global confectionery market will have retail sales of about $102.5bn this year, according to Euromonitor.

Over the past five years, higher-end brands such as Ferrero Rocher, Lindor and Ritter have all grown more than 7 per cent, while mass-market brands like Cadbury, Hershey's and Mars have grown about 3 per cent or less.

Godiva will generate annual supermarket sales of $674.8 million by 2021, Karakas said, up from about (Dh161.9m) now. It currently generates about $1.07bn of sales from boutiques, department stores, duty-free shops and online.

Yildiz, Turkey's largest food group, has since 2007 spent $850m to buy Godiva, as well as an estimated $675m on United Biscuits and $22m on DeMet's, maker of Flipz chocolate pretzels.

Pladis, which does not include the larger Godiva retail store network, is on track for revenue of $4.31bn by the end of 2019, up from $2.96bn last year.

"It seems that with a bit of a stretch, we'll be able to get there," Mr Karakas said. Pladis has hired a raft of senior managers from diverse industries to infuse the company with new ideas. Karakas is counting on a start-up mentality to accelerate sales.

"We are going to accelerate," he said. "It's very obvious and very doable."

Sales rose 8 per cent in the first half of the year, about twice the industry average, he said. He hopes to end the year with double-digit growth.

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