Food Empire Holdings is basically a food manufacturing and branding company as its name indicates. It produces ready-to-make food products like instant coffee, teas, frozen food products, snacks and confectionery. Its key brand and best-seller is its MacCoffee 3-in-1 product. Its key markets include Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan where they have market shares of 50%, 40% and 70% respectively. Its products are also exported to over 60 countries in Asia, Middle East, Eastern Europe and the US.
From 2009-2012, the Group’s revenue and profits have showed a steady increase. Its ROA and ROE as of end 2012 stands at 9.7% and 12.7%.
FEM’s competitive advantage lies it its branding ability. In its core markets of Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, its brand is widely considered as the market leader. In the case of Russia, the company has shown its resilience in staying put through the Russian financial crisis in 1998 and 2008 while many foreign enterprises left. It has built the MacCoffee brand in Russia for 20 years and aims to do the same- organic brand building in the markets it is entering. The brands built by the company were recently valued at US$174.8 million by brand consultants.
In 2013, the CEO highlighted in his speech that his ﬁrst priority was to develop FEM’s business in Asia, Middle East and the African continent. Outside of its top three country markets of Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, the company will be concentrating growth efforts in the emerging markets of Myanmar, Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, China and the Middle East. FEM will also explore new opportunities in some African countries.
The company has also made investments in upstream projects, like a non-dairy creamer plant and a potato chips plant in Iskandar, Johor; a packaging plant in Klang, and an instant coffee powder plant in India. This moves were made to help mitigate the risks of fluctuations in commodity prices. The company will not be utilising 100% of these plants, and most of the capacity will be for external sale. Hopefully, FEM will be able to lift its margins by going upstream and also its revenues, by producing ingredients for other companies.
1. Political Stability in its markets – As Food Empire’s business is centered on emerging economies, political instability might affect its business. Currently, there are riots and protests in Ukraine, which may affect the company’s sales figures (I am unable to find information whether FEM was affected by this).
2. Currency Risks – FEM took 4 years to get back to its 2008 revenues due to the impact of the currency exchange of the Russian Rouble and the USD. According to the chairman, prior to the 2008 global financial crisis, it was 23 roubles to a USD. At the peak of the crisis, it was 40 roubles to a USD. In 2012, it was 30-33 roubles to a USD. FEM was impacted because its sales were in USD. As such, currency fluctuations in its different markets might affect the company’s performance going forward.
3. Legal battles with McDonalds on the use of brand name MacCoffee – In 2007, Food Empire lost its fight over the MacCoffee mark in Singapore. Should these legal issues be brought up in its target markets, it might pose a problem for Food Empire.
As of 18/3/14, I have divested my stake in Food Empire, due to the ongoing political crisis and the risk of currency devaluation, which I believe will significantly impact FEM’s profits. The company has seen earnings drop drastically in the last 2 quarters, as they undertake upstream projects. Furthermore, while researching more about the instant coffee industry, I realised that Nestle has been winning market share from many competitors in many emerging markets. A further talk with a Russian friend has proved it to be true. I sold off my stake at a cost of $0.425, which gave me a significant loss of -28.95%. I will be blogging more about this investment and the lessons learnt from it in the next post.