ITC likely to buy GSK-owned Horlicks brand in India if valuation is right

ITC Ltd may consider the acquisition of GSK-owned Horlicks brand in India, provided its valuation is right. The bid is expected to be opened next month. However, ITC is not interested in the Complan brand of health drinks from Kraft Heinz. 

It is suggested that in case of a takeover of this brand, the acquirer may also have to take over several other brands like prickly heat powder Nycil and glucose drink Glucon D. 

Both brands are owned by the Kraft Heinz Company in India.“If it (Horlicks) is the right price, why not? But I don’t think the bid has been opened for that”, Sanjiv Puri, managing director of ITC, said when asked if ITC is in the fray. 

Asked if Complan is also under consideration, he said, “That is a very clear no.”Both these malt-based health drinks are reportedly up for sale and have been drawing interest from several other FMCG firms. 

Recently, ITC launched packet milk in Bihar, marking its foray into the dairy business, and adding health drink brands would only increase this portfolio. In the Rs 70-billion health food and drinks market, GSK is the leader and holds 49 per cent share, followed by Bournvita from the Mondelez stable at 11 per cent and Complan at 7 per cent. “We can also do something organically and from an open mind,” Puri said.

Chairman Y C Deveshwar said that protein-based supplements are now more popular than milk-based products. 

According to Puri, revenue from the non-tobacco business for ITC stands at around Rs 260 billion, accounting for 59 per cent of its total revenue, with capital employed in non-cigarette business at Rs 1.9 billion

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Gross profit from this part of the business accounted for Rs 33.39 billion in the last fiscal. “As older categories now have scale, they are in a position to give better returns,” he said. 

Last year, ITC had announced its interest in foraying into health care and has set up a team for this. A report is expected to be submitted in a year’s time, after which a decision on this venture will be taken. Deveshwar, during the AGM, said ITC had little knowledge and expertise on this front and would not rush into it. 

On its hotels business, with a strong presence of owned properties and six others currently under the construction phase, including one in Colombo, ITC will be focussing more on managing properties rather than invest in buying assets. “With an asset right model, we’ll be able to grow faster,” Puri said.

ITC is also pursuing a long-term strategy to build a cost effective cold-chain that would lend a new growth driver to the agri business, while contributing to raising rural incomes, Deveshwar said. The company’s investment in setting up integrated consumer goods manufacturing and logistics facilities will  help co-locate a distributed network of cold-chain infrastructure at a shared marginal cost, he said.


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