ECONOMY

Water bottler eyes expansion in the Balkans

SOFIA – Bulgaria’s water bottler Devin, owned by Austria’s Soravia Group, hopes to acquire up to three beverage companies in the Balkans over the next two years, its chief executive said yesterday. Tsvetan Lazhanski said Devin, which is a leader in Bulgaria with some 30 percent market share, may invest up to 50 million euros per acquisition but declined to name any potential targets or countries. «We definitely intend to buy… up to three strong companies, as part of our strategy to make Devin a regional leader,» Lazhanski told Reuters in an interview. Acquiring local brands and distribution networks in the Balkans, where the bottled water market expands at an average of about 15 percent a year, was a good strategy, he said. Potential for growth in the region is large as bottled water consumption is about 90 liters per capita annually in Bulgaria and 60 liters in Romania, compared with an average of about 130 liters in Western Europe, Devin’s data showed. With a planned new bottling line and export boost, Lazhanski predicted about a 15 percent rise in profit in 2008. He said he expected similar stable growth over the next few years. Devin posted a net profit of 1.5 million levs ($1.2 million) in 2007 after the company acquired the distribution network of energy drink Red Bull in Bulgaria. It had a loss of 4.7 million levs in 2006. Devin, named after a renowned Bulgarian spa resort, will launch exports to Romania next month and hopes to sell 10 percent of its output there in the first year, Lazhanski said. The company, which was acquired by Soravia in 2005, will release its new designer bottles next month, hoping to raise sales this year. Last July, Devin raised some 19.7 million levs in an initial public offering that was 11 times oversubscribed. It has invested most of the proceeds to renovate its production facilities and expand capacity, Lazhanski said.