INTERVIEW: Mizkan to focus on innovation after Branston buy

By Michelle Russell | 2 November 2012

Mizkan Euro-Americas president Craig Smith told just-food the Branston deal was a “win-win” for both companies

Mizkan Euro-Americas president Craig Smith told just-food the Branston deal was a “win-win” for both companies

Mizkan plans to focus on innovation to drive Branston's growth following the Japanese condiment group's acquisition of the iconic brand from Premier Foods plc, regional president Craig Smith told just-food.

Premier this week revealed it had agreed to sell its sweet pickles and table sauces business to Mizkan for GBP92.5m (US$148.8m). The deal includes Branston sweet pickle, ketchup, relish, salad cream and mayonnaise, as well as Premier's factory in Bury St Edmunds.

Mizkan Euro-Americas president Smith told just-food the deal was a "win-win" for both companies.

"This isn't Premier's area of strength and it's right in our sweet spot so it was a perfect deal for both of us. We focus on condiments throughout the world and Branston is one of those brands that would have been impossible for us to pass up."

Smith, however, said the Branston brand is "crying for help". According to his assessment, Branston requires a renewed focus on innovation to build the brand further.

"Our focus is to really build on the scale of that organisation and to implement a category management strategy in the UK so that we can start to bring in some of the innovations from around the world to the UK markets that haven't been invested in before," he told just-food.

"With the strength of the Branston name you have instant credibility to launch brand extensions. We'll be offering some new products in the next few years that I hope will engage the market."

Smith declined to elaborate on what those brand extensions might include but said innovation ideas would be developed at its facilities in the US and Japan where the company will "assess" whether certain products are right for the UK market.

Smith suggested it is "extremely difficult" to launch new products in the UK due to the "small concentration of retailers". However, he added that Mizkan will now have greater power thanks to the shelf presence it has acquired through Branston and its previous purchase of Premier's vinegar and sour pickles business.

"[Retailers] will see it as an opportunity grow their sales rather than just another product launch they don't want to get behind."

Branston is the second transaction between Premier and Mizkan in four months. Mizkan bought Premier's vinegar and sour pickles business, including the Sarson's and Haywards brands, in June for GBP41m (US$65.8m).

Smith, however, said Branston is the only product it has acquired from Premier that has "any real export business to speak of".

"Our plans for Branston are domestic but there are some export sales as well," he told just-food. "Some of that is in the US, it has a very strong following there. [But] what might be right for the UK might be different from what might be right for the Continent and the US. We're going to take it market by market," he said of Mizkan's growth plans for the brand.

Through the two deals with Premier, Mizkan has acquired two production facilities, which Smith said it will be looking to add "additional products and volume to, as quickly as possible".

"Beyond those brands, one of the things we are particularly strong in is private label so we will bring Mizkan's expertise to the [UK] market, it gives us another avenue of growth," he added.

As for any further acquisitions, Craig said: "If Premier intends, at any time in the future, to divest any brands that would fit within our condiments strategy, we'd hope they'd give us a call first. For the time being we're not in active discussions with them about anything else but we're both open minded."

Sectors: Condiments, dressings & sauces, Mergers & acquisitions

Companies: Mizkan, Premier Foods plc

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