C.e.o. pleased with more balanced Cott

by Eric Schroeder
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TORONTO — It’s been less than a year since beverage producer Cott Corp. laid out five strategic priorities designed to guide the company to profitability in the future, and progress so far has the company positioned as a more balanced business, said Jerry Fowden, chief executive officer.

In comments to analysts as part of the release of the company’s fiscal 2014 results on Feb. 24, Mr. Fowden said Cott continues to follow its business philosophy of implementing the four Cs of customers, costs, CapEx and cash, with a specific focus on cash generation.

Mr. Fowden said Cott has placed the highest priority on customer service and relationships. The effort resulted in the company being recognized for its service, including as a top 10 private label supplier to Wal-Mart during the year. Also as part of implementing its “Cs,” Cott managed CapEx tightly, coming in below $50 million, and delivered its sixth straight year of $100 million plus adjusted free cash flow.

On the second of its five strategic priorities, that of increasing contract manufacturing, Cott more than doubled its North American contract manufacturing volume, Mr. Fowden said. He said the company grew 24 million serving equivalent cases, or over 100%, during the year. The effort has put Cott ahead of its 2014 goal and well on its way to achieving a three-year goal of 50 million to 80 million serving equivalent cases.

Refinancing is a third priority for Cott, and Mr. Fowden said the company made progress by redeeming $375 million of 81/8 2018 notes, and successfully issued $525 million of 53/8% notes, increasing debt capacity by $150 million while lowering cash interest costs by a further $2 million.

A fourth priority was to increase the company’s return of funds to shareholders up to 50% of free cash flow over a 12-month period. Mr. Fowden said Cott continued its stakeholder dividend and converted it from Canadian currency to U.S. dollars. Doing so, he said, provided “an effective dividend increase.” The company repurchased $11 million of stock at an average price of $6.89.

Finally, Cott made it a priority to accelerate in both pace and scale by diversifying through acquisitions outside of carbonated soft drinks and shelf stable juices. The company acquired Aimia Foods in the United Kingdom on May 30, 2014, and completed the transaction of DS Services in the United States on Dec. 12, 2014.

“The combination of these various actions in support of our five strategic priorities have resulted in Cott being a more diverse, lower risk, higher margin business that retains its high cash flow characteristics,” Mr. Fowden said. “Thus, overall Cott is now a much more balanced business, with approximately $3 billion of revenue and $350 million of EBITDA, with less than 20% of its revenues in carbonated soft drinks, and less than 50% of revenues in the large format retail channel.

“Our focus going forward will be to first redeem the preferred shares issued as part of the DS Services transaction, and then rapidly deleverage such that by the end of 2018, we should have a debt to EBITDA ratio in the low 3s, and should have transferred $4-plus per share from debt to common equity holders.

“Additionally, I believe the new diversified Cott is a business better placed to grow more in line with the total liquid refreshment beverage market, that being around 1% in volume, 2% in revenue and 3% in EBITDA, with lower specific risks from reduced products and customer concentrations. Also, with the recent DS Services acquisition, Cott has the potential to participate further in the value creating roll-up of home office water and coffee services, given the multiple independent operators that exist in these markets, and the attractive post synergy multiples such transactions offer.”

For the full year ended Jan. 3, net income attributable to Cott was $10 million, equal to 11c per share on the common stock, down 42% from $17 million, or 18c per share, in fiscal 2013. Revenues were $2,102.8 million, up from $2,094 million.
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