ECONOMY

Food manufacturing sector retains title of biggest investor

Greek listed food manufacturing firms were no exception to the stock market crash in 2002, and the shares of most of them posted a negative performance. The price-to-earnings (P/E) ratios of most are at relatively high levels compared to the Athens bourse average, which is now about 13. Nevertheless, the food manufacturing sector maintained the title of biggest investor in Greek industry, with most firms installing new lines of production and expanding installations. The competitiveness of Greek foodstuffs remains at relatively high levels, while neighboring Balkan and Eastern European markets are still the main targets of exporters. The sector did not witness mergers or acquisitions last year; most firms focused on adapting to the euro and cutting costs, as the fat profits from capital gains from stock trading dried up. Firms were generally cautious about expanding abroad, trying to maintain positions and reserves, as 2003 is projected to be as difficult as 2002. One of the most important developments in the sector, and on the Greek business scene as a whole last year, was the listing of Coca Cola Hellenic Bottling Company (HBC) on Wall Street, which confirmed its position as the second-largest bottler of the refreshment worldwide. The decision by beverages group Boutari to sell 46 percent of its subsidiary Mythos Breweries to Scottish & Newcastle – the world’s sixth-largest beer maker – signaled the entry of another multinational into the Greek market. Another important development was the acquisition of 58 percent of Olympic Airways catering subsidiary by fast-food chain Everest. Snacks manufacturer Chipita International, already with considerable sales in Germany, is launching Chipita Italia that will distribute its pre-packed croissants and Swiss Rolls. Its founder and chairman, Spyros Theodoropoulos, says «we are interested only in setting up commercial companies in Western European markets, not local production units.» The company has local plants and a running partnership with Pepsico in Russia and Mexico. At home, it plans to buy two similar firms, as part of efforts to focus on the croissant segment of the market, and create four new production lines, bringing the total to 29. Sales are estimated to have risen by 8 percent and profits by 20 percent in 2002. Greece’s biggest meat processing firm, Nikas, which reported 22 percent group profit growth after taxes and minorities on turnover growth of 22 percent to 87 million euros in the first three quarters of 2002, plans to expand to the USA and the Balkans over the next three years. It also hopes to boost market share and profitability through cost reductions and better utilization of fixed capital.