CCHBC buys out major Serbian juice company

Bottler Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Co (CCHBC) will buy Serbian juice manufacturer Fresh & Co jointly with The Coca-Cola Company as part of its diversification into the non-carbonated drinks market. «The transaction is in line with CCHBC’s strategy to expand into the non-carbonated soft drinks market,» Chief Executive Doros Constantinou said in a statement on Friday. Analysts said the acquisition will reinforce CCHBC’s presence in the Balkans, allowing it to take advantage of its existing distribution network. «We expect the move to diversify CCHBC’s operations towards juice and non-carbonated drinks in Serbia and other Balkan territories as well as to generate significant regional synergies,» Proton Securities said in a note. CCHBC, 24-percent owned by The Coca-Cola Company, did not provide financial details. According to sources, the net worth of the acquisition is estimated at 19.5 million euros, including payment of Fresh’s debt but excluding the takeover cost. This estimate assumes the end-2005 debt of Fresh & Co will not exceed 23.1 million euros. CCHBC had ended negotiations with Fresh & Co on December 13, citing the Serbian bottler’s refinancing arrangement with financial institutions. Based in the northern town of Subotica, near the Hungarian border, Fresh notably produces the «Next» and «Su-voce» juice brands in its single production unit. The world’s second-largest bottler of Coca-Cola products by sales, with operations in 26 countries, recently made a series of acquisitions in the non-carbonated soft drinks market in Eastern Europe. As a result, it currently markets 240 non-carbonated drinks. Earlier this month, it made a bid for Cypriot drinks bottler Lanitis Bros, which has the Coca-Cola bottling franchise in Cyprus and produces a range of fruit juices and dairy products. CCHBC said it expected to complete the Fresh & Co acquisition by the end of February. The deal is subject to regulatory approval. Separately, CCHBC said it had appointed John Brady as its regional director, taking over from Tony Maher, who will leave the company at the end of February. Brady was previously president and chief executive officer of Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Bottlers’ Sales and Services Company. (Reuters/Kathimerini)

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