PHOENIX — What’s a company to do when the bulk of its business lies in declining categories? For Toronto-based Cott Corp., the answer is diversification.
With 60% of its business in carbonated soft drinks and shelf-stable juices, the beverage maker said it plans to change and improve its mix, in part through acquisition.
“As we look back on 2013, the market did not pan out as expected, with the overall C.S.D. category declining 4%,” said Jay Wells, chief financial officer, May 13 at the Barclays High Yield Bond and Syndicated Loan Conference in Phoenix.
The company said it plans to diversify its portfolio with a focus on other beverage categories and beverage adjacencies, while driving channel mix beyond large-format retailers and supermarkets.
“When we talk adjacencies, we’re talking maybe coffee, tea, protein drinks, not just the standard liquid refreshment you would think of,” Mr. Wells said. “Do they co-pack? Do they do a little private label? … Not high marketing spend. But they are a branded-type business. Those are the type of companies we’re looking at, and we’re finding a very good pipeline of opportunities within the 6.5- to 7.5-acquisition multiple.”
Pricing actions from branded players and big-box retailers have contributed to the category’s downward trend, as well as to a loss in market share for Cott.
“National brand promotion and pricing activity in pursuit of volume, predominantly in carbonated soft drinks in the large-format retail channel, is currently reducing the price gap to private label,” Mr. Wells said. “Such pricing activity is not a sustainable solution to the C.S.D. market decline we’ve been seeing and will not restore growth in the long term. Ultimately, capacity rationalization and beverage innovation better aligned to consumer needs and wants, along with a meaningful shift in production mix, is required.”
Mr. Wells added he expects the pricing environment to stabilize.
“History shows that it’s only for a duration,” he said. “It isn’t the new status quo. These are some of the biggest brands in the world that are selling close to private label prices. I don’t see the value proposition there. So, one would believe that it will get back to normal.“In the meantime, we are going to move on our diversification strategy to make C.S.D. a much smaller of a business as possible, run it for cash, not really invest behind that part of our business, and really extract the cash out of it, invest behind diversification.”