【英语财经】中国对海外食品企业“胃口大开” China’s hunger for foreign food groups soars

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2014-6-11 07:00

小艾摘要: China’s appetite for buying international food producers has grown at a record pace so far this year, reflecting growing middle-class hunger for a more affluent diet in the world’s second-biggest ec ...
China’s hunger for foreign food groups soars
China’s appetite for buying international food producers has grown at a record pace so far this year, reflecting growing middle-class hunger for a more affluent diet in the world’s second-biggest economy.

Outbound mergers and acquisitions in the food and beverage industries accounted for 17 per cent of total M&A in China in the year to date, almost on a par with the 20 per cent from the energy and power sector – traditionally the biggest deal generator, according to Thomson Reuters.

The targets include Hollick, the Australian winemaker, and Tnuva, the Israeli cheese and consumer foods supplier, as well as the trading arms of companies involved in the pricing and flow of agricultural raw materials around the world.

The shopping spree comes a year after US pork producer Smithfield Foods was gobbled up by Shuanghui International, now known as WH Group, in a $7bn deal that remains the largest ever outbound acquisition by a Chinese company, according to Thomson Reuters.

Yang Zhizhong, chairman and chief executive of Nomura China, says: “There is an upward trend in China’s overseas investment in the consumer sector which will grow at a much faster rate than its investment in other sectors – including natural resources.”

The reason for the wave of dealmaking is China’s transition from an export-led economy hungry for energy, natural resources and infrastructure into one driven by a surging consumer class.

In a special report on changing food consumption patterns in China published on Friday, the World Bank said that the country’s rapid growth over the past three decades had “vastly improved diets”.

Each person is eating on average 40 per cent more calories a day than in 1980 with a “shift to a more ‘affluent’ diet” – away from basic staples to livestock-based products, such as meat and dairy.

“Over the next two decades per capita food consumption will continue to grow rapidly, with somewhat faster growth during the coming decade, driven by income growth,” according to the World Bank.

Growing wealth is also leading to demand for better quality and safe, reliably-produced food – which some western brands are perceived as offering – after several scandals involving tainted food, including baby formula.

Wan Long, chairman of WH Group, cited “Smithfield’s leading production and safety protocols to provide safe, high-quality products”, and its higher-margin pork products – such as ham and sausages, increasingly favoured by Chinese consumers – as key attractions of the US company during the takeover.

Nomura’s Mr Yang says: “As China’s middle class becomes richer, their taste for goods and services will become more sophisticated. Local supply is not sufficient, so they have to look outside of China. Food security and safety has been a pivotal issue for China. With abundant capital, China would rather buy than simply import.”

Many Chinese acquirers are national state-owned bodies, such as grain trader Cofco, which recently spent $1.5bn on a stake in a sugar, soyabean and wheat joint venture with Noble Group, the Singapore-based commodity group.

A second group of buyers belong to local governments. These include Bright Food, owned by the Shanghai municipal government, which has already bought Weetabix, the UK breakfast brand, and last month paid just under $1bn for a controlling stake in Tnuva.

Private sector companies such as WH Group have also become active, and all the buyers’ overseas shopping lists are selective.

“Chinese companies are looking for opportunities which make the most strategic sense,” says Camillo Greco, head of M&A advisory for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at JPMorgan. “We see them acquiring businesses for technology and competencies they don’t have or for a brand that they can develop in China.”

Bright Food has said that one of its target areas is modern agriculture – one reason for its interest in Tnuva. It has also said it is looking for dairy, sugar and sweeteners and spirits and wine.

Lacking the expertise to manage companies, bankers say that Chinese buyers are also becoming more comfortable with keeping existing management in place.

Florian Fautz, global head of M&A at HSBC, says: “They are also going into situations where they acquire minority positions. They are not necessarily just looking for 100 per cent stakes any more.”

But for even greater outbound investment to take off more needs to be done at a policy level to integrate China into the global economy.

Mr Fautz says: “Europe continues to drive a lot of interest and there are strong economic ties between China and EU, which is its largest trade partner in the developed world. A bilateral investment treaty would make investment flows much easier.”

Weetabix eyes Chinese breakfast tables

When Weetabix announced its launch into mainland China at a recent Shanghai trade show, its stand was topped by a cardboard canopy in the shape of a huge, gold crown.

The display – trading on the British breakfast cereal-maker’s royal warrant – sent out a simple message: if Weetabix is good enough for the Queen of England, what better guarantee of safety and quality for Chinese consumers?

That was in the back of the mind of executives at Bright Food, the Chinese state-backed group, when it acquired a controlling stake in the 82-year old cereal brand two years ago.

Bright Food also hopes to exploit growing domestic demand for health-oriented foods, since Weetabix also owns Alpen muesli and Ready Brek porridge oats. “Chinese consumers have the chance to have authentic, healthy and British-style breakfast cereals,” said Bright Food at November’s launch of Weetabix into 4,000 outlets in the Shanghai region.

“Food safety is a big issue, and in addition the middle class in China, particularly in cities such as Shanghai, aspire to western brands,” says Giles Turrell, Weetabix chief executive.

But adapting a western brand to Chinese local tastes takes time and research. While British consumers usually pour cold milk into cereal, which is often sweetened, the Chinese prefer a hot, savoury and often rice-based, breakfast.

“We’ve gone into Chinese homes and eaten breakfast with families. We’ve even been on breakfast safaris – following consumers to work to study their breakfast habits,” said Mr Turrell. “The traditional Chinese breakfast can take a lot of time to make. So we believe there is a role for western-style breakfast, which is much quicker to prepare.”

The Chinese ready-to-eat breakfast market is dominated by Switzerland’s Nestlé and General Mills of the US, according to data from Euromonitor.

Torsten Stocker, partner at consulting firm AT Kearney, says: “If Weetabix can create its own version of Chinese cereal, for breakfast or other ‘ready-to-eat’ occasions, it should be able to get good traction, given Bright’s distribution network, as well as rising consumer demand for healthy and convenient foods.”

He cites PepsiCo’s Quaker Oats as having adapted successfully, by offering “sweet and savoury congee [China’s traditional rice-based breakfast cereal] containing ingredients said to be particularly healthy and nourishing such as wolfberry, white fungus or red dates”.

Mr Turrell is considering green tea flavours, cranberries and sesame seeds to appeal to a savoury palate. Its Alpen muesli and cereal bars are selling well, says the company, partly because of China’s snacking culture.

“Alpen bars and porridge will be easier to adapt to the Chinese market,” says Mr Turrell. “Weetabix will take time.”

今年以来,中国收购国际食品生产企业的兴趣以前所未有的速度增强,这反映出了在这个全球第二大经济体中,日渐壮大的中产阶级对于更加丰富的食物有着强烈渴求。

汤森路透(Thomson Reuters)的数据显示,食品饮料行业的海外兼并收购在中国今年到目前为止的并购总量中占到了17%,几乎追平占比20%的能源电力行业——通常来说能源电力行业是最主要的交易发起方。

中国食品饮料行业的海外并购标的包括澳大利亚葡萄酒生产企业Hollick,以色列奶酪和消费食品供应商Tnuva,以及参与世界各地农业原材料定价与流通的企业的贸易部门。

在中国掀起这股海外收购热潮的一年前,美国猪肉制品生产商史密斯菲尔德食品(Smithfield Foods)被双汇国际(Shuanghui International)斥资70亿美元收购,两者整合之后形成了万洲国际(WH Group)。来自汤森路透的数据显示,这笔交易目前仍是中国企业有史以来规模最大的海外收购。

野村证券中国(Nomura China)董事长兼首席执行官杨志忠表示:“中国在消费品行业的海外投资活动呈上升趋势,并将以比其他领域投资快得多的速度增长——包括自然资源领域。”

催生当前这股并购热潮的主要原因在于,中国正在从对能源、自然资源以及基础设施有着巨大需求的出口导向型经济转向由日渐崛起的消费阶级驱动的新型经济。

世界银行在上周五发表的一份有关中国食品消费模式变化的特别报告中指出,中国过去三十年间的快速发展已使“中国民众的日常饮食显著改善”。

与1980年相比,单一个体每日摄入的卡路里总量平均增长了40%,并且“膳食结构变得更加‘丰富’”——基础主食的摄入减少,来源于畜牧业的产品摄入增多,例如肉食和奶制品。

世界银行指出:“未来二十年,中国的人均食品消费量仍将持续快速增长,其中未来十年的增长速度将会更快,主要受居民收入增长驱动。”

财富的增长同样催生了对品质更好、安全性更高、生产过程更加可靠的食品的需求,中国消费者认为一些西方品牌能够提供这类食品。此前中国曾经爆出过多起涉及食品污染的丑闻,被污染的食品包括婴儿配方奶粉。

万洲国际董事长万隆(见上图)指出,“史密斯菲尔德凭借先进的生产技术和安全标准,能够提供高品质的放心产品”,而其利润率较高的猪肉产品,例如火腿和香肠,正愈发受到中国消费者的喜爱——这两点是此次收购中这家美国企业最吸引人的地方。

野村的杨志忠表示:“随着中国的中产阶级变得愈发富裕,他们在食品和服务方面的品味将变得愈发精致。中国本土的食品供给不够丰富,因此他们必须将目光投向中国以外的地区。食品安全在中国一直是一个重大问题。凭借充足的资本支撑,中国宁愿选择收购而非单纯进口。”

很多中国收购方都是全国性的国有企业,例如粮食交易商中粮(Cofco),该公司近期斥资15亿美元收购了来宝集团(Noble Group)某子公司的股份,组建了一家经营食糖、大豆、小麦等农产品的合资企业。来宝集团是总部位于新加坡的大宗商品集团。

另一个买家群体隶属于中国地方政府。其中包括上海市政府所有的光明食品(Bright Food),该公司已经收购了英国早餐食品品牌维他麦(Weetabix),上月还斥资近10亿美元收购了Tnuva的控股权。

像万洲国际这样的私营企业同样变得活跃起来,而所有买方的海外并购目标清单都经过了精心挑选。

摩根大通(JPMorgan)欧洲、中东以及非洲地区的并购顾问主管卡米洛?葛雷柯(Camillo Greco)表示:“中国企业正在寻找最具战略意义的并购机会,在我们看来,他们收购企业为的是获取自身尚不具备的技术技能,或者是一个他们能在中国进一步发展壮大的品牌。”

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光明食品曾表示,其目标领域之一是现代农业——这也是该公司对Tnuva该兴趣的原因之一。光明食品还表示,正在寻找奶制品、食糖、甜味剂、烈酒以及葡萄酒等领域的并购机会。

投资银行家们指出,中国买方由于缺乏管理企业的专业技能,越来越倾向于保持并购对象的现有管理层不变。

汇丰(HSBC)并购业务的全球主管弗洛里安?福斯(Florian Fautz)表示:“他们还开始涉足仅能收购少数股权的交易。他们已经不再单纯寻求能收购100%股权的机会。”

但要使规模更大的海外投资能够顺利推进,还需要在政策层面上采取更多举措,以促进中国融入全球经济。

福斯指出:“欧洲依然是中国买方很感兴趣的地区,中国与欧盟之间也有很强的经贸联系,欧盟是发达经济体中中国最大的贸易伙伴。中欧如能达成双边投资协议,将有助于使投资流动更加便利。”

维他麦计划进军中国早餐餐桌

维他麦近期在上海的一个贸易展上宣布开始进军中国大陆市场,当时该公司的展位上方是一个巨型金色皇冠样式的硬纸板顶棚。

这一展示——炫耀了这家英国早餐谷物生产商的英国皇家认证资质——传递出的信息非常简单:如果维他麦对英国女王(Queen of England)来说已经足够优质,中国消费者还需要什么更好的安全和质量保证呢?

这正是光明食品的高管们内心深处的想法,这家有政府背景的中国企业于两年前收购了拥有82年历史的维他麦的控股权。

光明食品还希望利用国内消费者对健康食品日益增长的需求,因为维他麦旗下还拥有Alpen瑞士风味干果早餐麦片和Ready Brek燕麦粥等产品。去年11月光明食品开始在上海地区的4000个销售点上架维他麦产品时表示:“中国消费者有机会享受到正宗、健康的英式谷物早餐。”

维他麦的首席执行官贾尔斯?特瑞尔(Giles Turrell)表示:“食品安全是一个重大问题,此外中国的中产阶级,特别是在像上海这样的城市,对西方品牌非常向往。”

但使一个西方品牌适应中国人的口味偏好需要时间和调研。英国消费者通常会将冷牛奶倒入麦片中,而且麦片常常是加了糖的,中国消费者则偏爱热腾腾的、咸味的而且通常是以大米为主要原料的早餐。

特瑞尔表示:“我们曾走入中国百姓家中,和他们一起吃早餐。我们甚至开展过早餐之旅——跟随消费者的上班路程并研究他们的早餐习惯。传统的中式早餐可能需要很长时间烹制。因此我们相信,制作起来更加快捷的西式早餐能够拥有一席之地。”

来自欧睿国际(Euromonitor)的数据显示,瑞士的雀巢(Nestlé)和美国的通用磨坊(General Mills)在中国的即食早餐市场中占据了主导地位。

咨询公司科尔尼(AT Kearney)的合伙人唐仕德(Torsten Stocker)表示:“如果维他麦能够开发出中国特色的谷物食品,适合于早餐或者其他“立等可食”的场合,那么,考虑到光明食品的分销网络,以及中国消费者对健康方便食品的需求日益上升,该公司应该有能力形成很强的市场抓力。”

他举了百事可乐(PepsiCo)的桂格燕麦(Quaker Oats)为例,称其成功地适应了中国市场,靠的是提供“甜味和咸味的粥品(中国以大米为主要原料的传统谷物早餐),其中包含枸杞、银耳或红枣等据称格外健康有营养的配料”。

特瑞尔正在考虑用绿茶风味、蔓越莓和芝麻来迎合中国人偏好咸味的味蕾。维他麦表示,该公司旗下的Alpen瑞士风味干果早餐麦片和谷物棒的销售情况很好,部分原因在于中国有着零食文化。

特瑞尔称:“Alpen的谷物棒和燕麦粥更容易适应中国市场。维他麦将花点时间慢慢来。”

译者/马拉

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