Under pressure from the American activist fund Third Point, the management continues to reshape the agri-food group.

By Laurence Girard Posted today at 11:36

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Nestlé, in Vers-chez-les-Blanc, Switzerland, in 2014.
Nestlé, in Vers-chez-les-Blanc, Switzerland, in 2014. FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Nestlé just put a new ad online, Thursday, February 14th. On Valentine's Day, the world's leading agri-food company announces that it is ready to part with the Herta charcuterie. A flagship brand in France, known for its industrial charcuterie, but also its pasta pie and, recently, its vegetarian range.

The rumor was recurrent. In any case, since the group of Vevey has started a grooming of its activities. A strategy spearheaded by the American activist fund Third Point. The fund, led by Daniel Loeb, made a big splash into the Swiss giant's capital in June 2017 and claims to own 1.3% of the shares.

In a statement, Nestle says "Explore strategic options for Herta's charcuterie business, including a possible divestiture". The scope covers France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, the United Kingdom and Ireland. That is a group that weighed 680 million Swiss francs (598 million euros) in 2018. In France, this business employs 1,800 people and includes two factories. One in Saint-Pol-sur-Ternoise in Pas-de-Calais has 1,000 employees; the other, at Illkirch-Graffenstaden (Bas-Rhin), 350.

Accelerated development

The group would continue to market in France under the Herta brand, pasta pie and the vegetarian range known under the label Le Bon Végétal. Products that are not manufactured in France but in Switzerland for pasta and in the Czech Republic for the vegetarian range.

Nestle sees this operation as "A further step in the evolution of its portfolio towards attractive high-growth categories". Exit the activities that slow down the engine of the group. However, in France, since the broadcast of programs criticizing the composition of ham, and the publication of studies highlighting the health risks of excessive consumption of cooked meats, the French have reduced their purchases. This trend particularly affects ham, which has been hitherto popular with households. A market that weighs 1.5 billion euros, but a fund of 2% per year.

Ulf Mark Schneider, who was appointed head of Nestlé two years ago, has made accelerating development one of his priorities. Especially since in 2017, the group posted its weakest organic growth in twenty years, at 2.4%. For 2018, it amounts to 3%, for a turnover of 91.4 billion Swiss francs according to data released Thursday. The operating margin also increased to 15.1%. Net profit jumped 41.6% to 10.1 billion Swiss francs. Inflated by the proceeds of the disposals.

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