Best bits: The BRIC markets are still emerging
just-food's BRICs and beyond column aims to highlight the risks - and rewards - of operating in the world's emerging markets. The interest in markets like Brazil and Russia remains intense and, due to the demographic, geographic and economic differences between the four countries - as well as their potential for growth - the clamour for information on what makes each market tick grows by the day.
Jim O'Neill, the chairman of asset management at investment bank Goldman Sachs, was the man who coined the BRICs acronym a decade ago and, last week, he told a retail conference in London that the four countries - which also include India and China - had "outgrown" their status as emerging markets. Describing the four markets as 'emerging' was an "insult", O'Neill said, and investors that treated them as such were "missing out".
Far be it from us to ignore one of the world's leading economists but 'emerging markets' is how we shall continue to describe Brazil, Russia, India and China. The four markets remain unpredictable and under-developed for many of the world's retailers and FMCG companies. Strategies to appeal to local consumers are still evolving and, for most companies, these markets are still not central to current success but only the targets for future growth. It remains a bold strategist who'll predict with certainty how these markets will look once they mature.
Last week, we looked at India's biscuit sector, an industry typical of many across the world's emerging markets - one attracting interest and investment from multinationals but also home to some strong domestic players.
Kraft Foods' recent launch of flagship biscuit brand Oreo into India has drawn attention to the sector, which the likes of Indian companies Parle Products and Britannia Industries dominate. Kraft, United Biscuits and GlaxoSmithKline are among those hoping to grab market share but how easy will it be to succeed?
For the new investor in French dairy business Yoplait, building the company's presence in emerging markets will be key to its future success.
That new investor looks likely to be General Mills. The US food group is in exclusive talks to buy into the yoghurt maker and, should it finalise a deal, it will draw a line under one of the more closely-fought takeover battles the food industry has seen in recent months.
When it emerged last summer that a stake in Yoplait could soon be on the block - after private-equity firm PAI Partners, one of the French firm's two investors, announced it wanted to sell up - General Mills was seen as a likely candidate to take part in any auction for the shares.
The US food group had held the Yoplait licence across the Atlantic since 1977 and had built the brand across the Atlantic - where yoghurt consumption still lags behind Europe.
However, during the autumn, news broke that General Mills and Sodiaal, the other shareholder in Yoplait, had fallen out over the future of the US licence. At first, Sodiaal wanted to renegotiate the terms of the contract. Then, it wrote to General Mills to say it wanted to end the deal in 2012. General Mills, however, stood firm and called for an arbitration panel.
Meanwhile, Sodiaal had said that, even if PAI sold its shares, it still wanted to remain an investor in Yoplait. On the face of it, Sodiaal's dispute with General Mills made it difficult to see the US group becoming the French dairy co-op's long-term partner in Yoplait. However, it now seems the two companies could soon be working together a lot more closely.
Some analysts in the US believe General Mills moved for PAI's shares to remove the risk of it losing the US licence to Yoplait, a brand that accounts for 15% of the company's sales. Should General Mills secure an agreement and become a Yoplait shareholder, its US licence will be safe - but the next task will be to expand the dairy business globally.
In 2002, when Sodiaal sold a 50% stake in Yoplait to PAI, the co-op hoped the partnership with the private-equity fund would boost the presence of Yoplait in emerging markets. With over 80% of Yoplait's sales still coming from North America and Europe, it seems General Mills has something of a job to do if it becomes a full shareholder in the business.
ConAgra Foods, keen to tap into the growing private-label market in the US, has made a higher bid for Ralcorp Holdings. Its takeover target, however, has again rejected the company's advances....
General Mills has been forced to pull an advertisement for Mexican food brand Old El Paso in the UK for misleading consumers....
General Mills' snack bar brand Nature Valley is to sponsor next year's Olympic Games in London....
US canned vegetables makers Seneca Foods and Allens have announced that talks over a potential merger have ended....
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