Nestle boss Schneider eyes more deals to bolster growth ambitions | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 14, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 01:10 AM, February 14, 2020

Nestle boss Schneider eyes more deals to bolster growth ambitions

Nestle Chief Executive Mark Schneider will fine-tune his transformation plans with more acquisitions, he said after the Swiss food group lowered growth expectations on Thursday. The company had earlier said it will take longer than expected to hit its 2020 organic growth target despite posting its highest annual growth in four years and improved profitability.

Like rivals such as Unilever, Nescafe coffee and KitKat maker Nestle has been working hard to streamline its diverse portfolio in line with changing consumer tastes and growing demand for healthier and more environmentally friendly produce and packaging.

Under Schneider's leadership, the group has sought to focus on premium products in fast-growing market segments such as coffee and plant-based foods while retreating from slower-growth areas such as chocolate and processed meat.

But the German-American CEO, who has conducted more than 50 transactions and reviews affecting 12 per cent of group sales since taking charge in 2017, said portfolio management had been "a bit heavy on disposals and a bit light on acquisitions" recently.

This will change in 2020, he said, with small to mid-sized deals the sweet spot.

"We're a year early on the margin, but have to push back the organic growth target by a year or so," he told reporters at Nestle's Vevey headquarters after the company reported 2019 results that showed organic growth of 3.5 per cent. Unilever last month reported underlying sales growth of 1.5 per cent in the final quarter of 2019, its slowest in a decade.

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"At this point, in February, I cannot promise to deliver 4 per cent growth this year, I prefer to be cautious," Schneider said, adding that growth rates would slow a little from the past two years.

Nestle shares, which are trading at relatively high multiples after climbing more than 30 per cent last year on Schneider's progress, were down 2.5 per cent at 1122 GMT.

Schneider said he remains "bullish" on 2020 and expects acquisitions and trendier products, such as its Starbucks coffee range and plant-based burgers and sausages, to drive growth.

The company has already set up new structures to turn innovative ideas from outside and inside the group into new products, its technology boss said on Wednesday ahead of the results.

Some areas remain challenging, however, with price pressures in Europe, subdued growth in China - where its Yinlu peanut milk business is struggling - and a weak performance in bottled water, for which a new strategy will be revealed in the first half.

In his first year on the job, Schneider had initially targeted mid-single-digit organic sales growth and an operating margin of 17.5-18.5 per cent in 2020. Cost cuts helped Nestle to reach a 17.6 per cent operating margin last year.

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