Tildas share of UK packaged rice sector on rise - and Hain also sees overseas potential

Tilda's share of UK packaged rice sector on rise - and Hain also sees overseas potential

Hain Celestial, the US food group, has pounced yet again in the UK. The US group has made a flurry of deals in the UK in recent years but has faced challenges with some of its purchases. Tilda could be a more positive experience.

Hain Celestial, the US food group, has pounced yet again in the UK.

The acquisitive company, home to brands including Earth's Best and Linda McCartney, has snapped up family-owned rice supplier Tilda, the latest in a string of deals in the UK.

Tilda joins Daniels Group, a batch of former Premier Foods' ambient brands and baby food firm Ella's Kitchen among the UK assets Hain has purchased in the last two and a half years.

Hain has operated in the UK for eight years and has had its challenges - even after the 2011 acquisition of New Covent Garden soup owner Daniels Group signalled a step up in its ambitions in the market.

New Covent Garden, Daniels Group's flagship brand, was seeing sales come under pressure, with its premium price tag putting off cash-strapped UK consumers looking for value and with increased competition from own label.

A year later, in 2012, New Covent Garden was delisted by Tesco, a key factor in what Hain boss Irwin Simon described as "a crappy year" for the company's soup business in the country. The brand has since returned to Tesco's shelves and Hain has set out plans to grow its soup business in the country through NPD and new packaging formats.

The clutch of brands Hain acquired from Premier, including Hartley's jam, Sun-Pat peanut butter and Gale's honey was touted by the company as adding to its scale in the UK. That argument was accepted on Wall Street, although there was some concern about the quality of assets Hain was taking on.

Hain lost some distribution for Gale's honey, a brand it acquired through its deal with Premier. In its latest quarterly announcement in November, Hain admitted its ex-Premier Hartley's business was still in the midst of a "transition".

However, Hain's acquisition of Ella's Kitchen looked astute - demand for organic baby food has remained robust and has increased even with the downturn hitting the wider organic sector - and the company has been able to secure more listings for the business in the US.

And Tilda appears to be a wise move, too. Private label accounts for 37% of packaged rice sales in the UK, according to Euromonitor data. However, Tilda is the second-largest packaged rice brand in its home market of the UK. It accounted for 10.3% of the GBP570.5m packaged rice market in the UK.

Mars Inc's Uncle Ben's brand is far and away the market leader, with a share of 26.2%. However, Tilda has a more upmarket positioning and saw its share of the market increase in 2013, while Uncle Ben's fell, Euromonitor said. The privately-owned Veetee brand is at number three, although its market share fell from 2.6% in 2012 to 2.5% in 2013.

Demand for ethnic cuisine remains healthy in the UK. Rice is a key accompaniment for Chinese, Indian or Thai dishes and Tilda is a brand that appears to be gaining share.

Hain was also upbeat about the prospects for Tilda outside the UK. The business will, Hain said, become its largest global brand.

"It provides us with a tremendous platform to expand into other countries, whether its Earth's Best or Ella's," Simon told analysts. "This gives Hain the opportunity to sell its products into the Middle East - which it does very little today - India, the UK, Europe and North Africa."

Hain has gone on something of an acquisition spree in recent years. It has faced problems with some of the businesses it has bought but, on the face of it, Tilda looks, like Ella's Kitchen, to be a more promising prospect.