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The announced merger of Kraft and Heinz made major headlines in the food industry as it has now become the largest deal ever seen, valued at US$40 billion. Kraft’s spin-off company, Mondelez, has now become the subject of speculation regarding a possible auction of its popular cream cheese brand Philadelphia in Europe. Given the fact that cheese does not fit perfectly with Mondelez’s primarily sweet snacks business, this news is perhaps unsurprising. Should it be up for sale, Philadelphia will prove a valuable asset for many companies including the new powerhouse The Kraft Heinz Company. Yet this large billion dollar food brand operates in a stagnating European cheese market and future prospects remain bleak with just 1% real CAGR growth over 2014-2019. As Mondelez refocuses on its faster growing snacks business, who would be possible suitors for this cash cow? Euromonitor International assesses how attractive Philadelphia is as a potential target for acquisition as well as the likelihood of the Kraft Heinz Company being in the running.
Philadelphia is Europe’s leading brand in spreadable cheese, worth just under one billion dollars in 2014 and can be found in many households, especially in Western Europe. Yet the brand’s largest markets in Europe are also those that will post the lowest growth over 2014-2019 as cheese has reached its maturity. After all, Europeans already eat the most cheese in the world at 7kg a year, four times the global average. Amongst European markets the UK is expected to be one of the worst off with a real value sales decline of -1% CAGR over the next five years, and Italy is also expected to post negligible growth. Combined, Italy and the UK make up over a third of Philadelphia’s European sales, something that could be of concern to future investors.
Philadelphia Sales in Processed Spreadable Cheese vs Forecast Growth by Market
Source: Euromonitor International
As the European grocery landscape is changing to reflect cost efficiency for cash stripped consumers, more pressure is put on manufacturers to keep prices down. In addition, retailers are delisting brands in a response to reduce shelf space for low margin products, such as cheese. Within modern retail channels, discounters have grown strongly with a 5% CAGR over 2009-2014, while supermarkets and hypermarkets fell behind with just 3% in Europe. Consumers seeking value for money products has seen private label share rise from 21% in 2008 to 23% in 2014 in Western Europe. This poses a real threat to active brands in this space as cheese is such a commoditised product. When confronted with a choice in the grocery aisle, consumers are more likely to choose between product types such as Cheddar over Gouda, and are less fussed by choosing brands such as Philadelphia over Valio. As a result, retailers’ priority is to delist cheese brands and reduce the number of SKUs, which is a major concern for cheese brands.
Philadelphia’s brand equity it has built up over the years makes the brand a useful addition to many dairy companies such as Bel Groupe and Lactalis. Whilst cheese is not growing strongly compared to many other packaged foods, European sales of Philadelphia still grew by US$100 million over the last five years. This makes it the third largest growing brand in Europe by absolute growth, just behind Valio and Hochland that mainly operate in faster growing Eastern Europe. Philadelphia’s push to increase the number of occasions which consumers might enjoy cream cheese has benefited the brand as consumers enjoy the ability to use the same product for different occasions, such as spread on bread or as an ingredient for cooking. Therefore whilst growth of cheese might be slower than other packaged foods such as sweet and savoury snacks, its value is twice as big, meaning a smaller growth will actually equate to more sales. In addition, with the European love for cheese not likely to disappear overnight, Philadelphia is a steady source of revenue for future investors.
Despite the lack of dynamism in cheese, potential acquirers would obtain a steady source of revenue with a billion dollar brand which, due to the commoditised nature of the product, will not disappear overnight. After all, Europeans will continue to eat cheese as it’s so widely absorbed in their diet. Additionally, Philadelphia is the leading spreadable cheese brand in Europe and enjoys favourable recognition as a quality brand with continued new product development, be it Lactose free variants or Philadelphia Simply Stir. Seeing as the North American arm of Philadelphia is already owned by the Kraft Heinz Company, it is a logical step for the company to add the European arm, as it can benefit from cost savings in terms of synergies in production in marketing. With squeezed profit margins, improving cost efficiencies is top priority for the Kraft Heinz Company operating in slow growing staple foods. As such, it can apply this strategy to a commoditised good like cheese.