Kerry Group could spend up to EUR1.5bn (US$2.1bn) on acquisitions in 2011, the Irish food maker’s CFO has revealed – although he suggested the company would look at deals of “any size” in its sectors.

Brian Mehigan, Kerry’s finance chief, told an analyst event in London yesterday (29 March) that the company could spend between EUR1bn and EUR1.5bn this year using debt but would consider all opportunities in its markets.

“If an acquisition comes up of any size in the industry, we have to be there having a look at it. If it was the right thing to do, not just for Kerry but for the industry, we would participate no matter what the size was,” Meighan told analysts at the Consumer Analyst Group Europe (CAGE) conference.

Kerry, which makes consumer foods like Richmond sausages for the UK and Irish markets, is also a significant supplier to food and drink manufacturers.

The company’s food ingredients business accounts for 68% of the group’s turnover and the firm is looking at building that division’s presence in developing markets. At present, some 25% of Kerry’s revenues from food ingredients is made in emerging markets, Meighan said – and he explained that the company would look at acquisition targets in the developing world.

“We would like to have a bigger footprint in the developing markets. It’s difficult to find acquisitions of size in those markets but certainly we have ambitions to continue to invest and grow,” Meighan said. “If we don’t find them, we could find smaller acquisitions or find them organically.”

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The Kerry CFO refused, however, to be drawn on whether the company would be interested in acquiring ingredients assets owned by Danisco, the Danish company that has accepted a takeover bid from US chemicals group DuPont. Last month, Kerry CEO Stan McCarthy indicated that the company would be interested in Danisco’s cultures and enablers units, although DuPont has said it remains committed to the assets if its takeover of Danisco prove successful.

Meighan said: “It’s not really the forum to be talking about specific opportunities but I think it’s fair to say that any significant technical capability in the ingredients space is of interest to us.”

Reflecting more broadly on Kerry’s M&A strategy, Meighan added: “Where we are focused is on the food industry. Many of these opportunities have products that serve the food industry, the plastics industry, the energy industry and into some other sectors. Our focus is on what our customers need. We believe we have route-to-market and we are adding product capability.”

Kerry’s food ingredients unit is bigger than its drinks ingredients business and Meighan suggested that the company would like to expand its presence in the beverage sector.

“While we would clearly be the leader in terms of as a supplier into the food industry and have a core listing with 80 of the top 100 food companies in the world, we’re just growing in the beverage industry,” he said. “We have some distance to go. We have made 16 acquisitions. We strengthened our position within beverage. We would have visions to continue to invest in that category.”

Meighan added: “There are some technologies on the beverage side, where we could add some significant product capability.”