Greek Coke bottler eyes opportunities in east Europe

Greek Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling (CCHBC) is looking for small- to medium-sized buyout opportunities in central Europe and Russia to broaden its product range, Chief Executive Doros Constantinou said. Constantinou told Reuters in an interview yesterday that CCHBC, the world’s second-largest bottler of Coca Cola drinks, is looking to boost its non-carbonated drinks portfolio which includes juices, water, energy drinks, teas and coffees. He also said he saw some minor increases in PET plastic prices next year, a contributor to the company’s cost of goods sold. «For the following years, the focus is to fill in the gaps we have in our portfolio that are primarily in juice in central Europe and water in countries such as Russia,» he said. The bottler has bought into eleven water and juice firms in Europe and Russia in the last six years to cash in on consumers’ shift to healthier drinks. Its largest acquisition involved the purchase of a 50 percent stake in Russian juice producer Multon in 2005 that cost a total of -360 million ($528.8 million). «(Future buyouts) will not be anything in the size of Multon,» said Constantinou. CCHBC’s emerging-countries segment is its key growth driver in terms of sales volume. According to its nine-month figures, sales volume in emerging markets grew by 18 percent year-on-year versus a 12 percent annual growth rate in established and developing markets. Last month, the bottler raised its 2007 volume growth target to 13 percent from a previous range of 11 to 13 percent. It is also targeting earnings per share of 1.91 euros for 2007. Input costs controlled Constantinou said the impact of rising energy prices on packaging costs, such as PET plastics used for bottles, will not be large next year. «We can expect some minor increases in PET next year,» he said. «In 2008, we see the environment in the aluminium market improving,» he added, without giving further details. PET and aluminium expenses account for about seven and five percent of costs of goods sold (COGS) which rose 15 percent in the nine months ending in September to -2.9 billion. Another significant cost factor is sugar which accounts for 12 percent of COGS. Constantinou said the bottler is «more or less fully hedged for 2008» against world market prices and negotiations are currently taking place with European sugar suppliers. Under the new EU sugar regime, sugar reference prices will be cut by 36 percent over three years as of the last quarter of 2008. CCHBC trades at about 23 times estimated 2007 earnings, compared with a multiple of 19 for Coca-Cola Enterprises, the world’s largest bottler of Coke drinks and about 22 percent for Australia-based Coca-Cola Amatil. The shares have gained about 47 percent since the start of the year, outperforming a 15 percent gain for the Athens general index due to the bottler’s strong growth prospects.