Best bits: PepsiCo's possible new targets, Premier's probable Quorn sale
For 24 hours late last week, Russia dominated the headlines.
In politics, the Wikileaks spotlight turned to Russia on Thursday (2 December), with cables from US diplomats allegedly describing the country as a "virtual mafia state". On the sports pages, Russia's successful bid to host the 2018 football World Cup split opinion across the sport. And PepsiCo ensured Russia grabbed the business headlines with its move to buy Wimm-Bill-Dann, the country's largest dairy manufacturer.
PepsiCo's deal to buy WBD will make Russia the US food and drink giant's largest market outside the US. The move is also PepsiCo's first significant foray into the dairy sector, a business that the cola and crisps maker has said is vital to its plans to treble sales of healthier food and drinks by 2020.
PepsiCo wants to expand those sales from US$10bn now to $30bn by 2020. The WBD acquisition - with its dairy, juice and baby-food businesses across Russia and the CIS - will take PepsiCo's "nutrition" sales to $13bn. The categories that PepsiCo is targeting - dairy, grains, functional food and fruit and vegetables - are some of the more buoyant in the food sector but, to hit the $30bn target, it appears likely more acquisitions will be needed.
Hugh Johnston, PepsiCo's CFO, tried to play down the prospect of the company making similar acquisitions. He said PepsiCo would look to reach the $30bn target through a "combination" of organic growth, ventures and M&A. Acquisitions, the PepsiCo finance chief said, were likely to be smaller, or "tuck-in" deals. Nevertheless, analysts at Sanford Bernstein believe PepsiCo may have to make two or three more deals that are similar in scope to the WBD transaction to meet its sales target.
The question therefore is: where could PepsiCo look next? The company was immediately touted as a possible runner in the race for global yoghurt brand Yoplait. And, on Wall Street, some analysts were discussing whether PepsiCo could make a move for soy-milk brand Silk, owned by Dean Foods, the largest dairy processor in the US and a company that is facing questions over its balance sheet. The identity of PepsiCo's next target is uncertain. What looks (almost) certain is that chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi will again reach for the chequebook to take PepsiCo to that 2020 sales target.
Other food M&A news last week saw South Africa's Pioneer Foods set the value of its planned bid for local wine and spirits group KWV, Swiss dairy group Emmi buy local goat's cheese brand Le Petit Chevrier and, here in the UK, Premier Foods plc admitted that it is in "advanced talks" with two suitors over its meat-free business, which includes the Quorn brand.
Reports from South Africa over the weekend claimed some KWV shareholders had been dismissive of the value Pioneer had placed on the wine and spirits maker. Pioneer, which among its wide food portfolio, makes Heinz products for the South African market, is keen to diversify its business. We will discover how keen as the story unfolds. Will Pioneer need to table more than it intends right now to win over KWV's shareholders?
As for Emmi, after last month's announcement of its move for yoghurt brand Onken, the disclosure that it would buy a niche goat's cheese business in Switzerland was an indication that, as well its international expansion, it remains on the look-out for ways to grow in a mature domestic market.
In the UK, meanwhile, Premier is said to be facing pressure from its major shareholders - which include US private-equity firm Warburg Pincus - to sell assets to pay down debt. When Premier announced its half-year results in August, it said its debt, as of 26 June, stood at GBP1.37bn.
Nestle has been touted as a potential bidder for Quorn and rumours swept the market last week that the Swiss food giant was in talks with Premier. Both sides refused to comment but, intriguingly, analysts have long since linked the likes of Nestle to a possible bid for Quorn.
After consecutive four-day weekends here in the UK, this column again arrives on a Tuesday, adding to the 'what-is-the-day-today?' feeling here at just-food Towers today....
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