Coca-Cola buys Costa Coffee from Whitbread for PS3. 9bn

Other suitors werent wearing the right suit or driving the right car Alison Brittain

The soft drinks giant Coca-Cola is buying the Costa Coffee chain in a near-PS4bn deal that underlines the scale of the global coffee revolution.

The takeover will overnight turn Coca-Cola into the UK’s biggest coffee shop player and devote it a foothold in what is one of the world’s fastest-growing beverages categories. The global coffee shop market alone is worth $165 bn( PS127bn ).

Alison Brittain, the chief executive of Costa Coffee’s owner Whitbread, said the coffee chain had been approached by a number of potential purchasers but Coke’s desire to snap up the 4,000 -store chain was a” dream bargain” for investors.

Coffee shop figures

Whitbread, which also owns the Premier Inn hotel chain, bought Costa from its founders Sergio and Bruno Costa for PS19m in 1995 when it had only 39 stores. Shares in the UK group soared on the back of the deal, closing up more than 16% as delighted investors responded to the much higher than expected sale price.

” The other suitors weren’t wearing the right suit or driving the right vehicle ,” explained Brittain of the other approaches it received.” It’s Coke we decided to go up the aisle with, with a very large ring on our thumb .”

The takeover is the latest in a series of blockbuster bargains as beverages manufacturers reinvent themselves for an age in which the sugar-laden soft drinks that induced their names are in decline. PepsiCo recently bought the fizzy drinks maker SodaStream while the Swiss food giant Nestle has struck a $7.3 bn bargain to license Starbucks-packaged coffees and teas around the world.

The UK could be nearing peak coffee, however, with the increasing numbers of shops growing from 10,000 in 2007 to 24,000 today, according to analysts at Allegra World Coffee Portal. There are nearly twice as many Costa Coffee branches in the UK as there are Starbucks and virtually four times the number of Caffe Neros.

Alison
Alison Brittain, the chief executive of Costa Coffee’s owner Whitbread, said:’ It’s Coke we decided to go up the aisle with, with a very large ring on our finger .’ Photograph: Nick Ansell/ PA

For Coca-Cola the award is a global one, as demand for coffee grows at 6 % a year, far ahead of its traditional soft drinks heartland where marketings are under pressure as consumers seek out healthier drinkings. In potentially huge marketings markets such as China, the coffee culture is still in its infancy.

” They[ Coca-Cola] have no coffee in their range ,” Brittain explained.” You could see Costa perfectly everywhere, in vending machines, hotels, restaurants, taverns, coffeehouses- in all the places you assure Coke today .” Alongside the world-renowned Coke drinks, Coca-Cola’s fizzy brands include Fanta and Sprite, while its healthier products include Abbey Well water and Innocent smoothies. Last year Coca-Cola posted sales of $35.4 bn, while Costa’s revenues were PS1. 3bn.

When the bargain completes in the first half of next year Coke will own 4,000 Costa stores in 32 countries, with more than 2,400 of those in the UK, as well as more than 8,000 self-serve Express machines.

” Hot liquors is one of the few[ drinks] segments where Coca-Cola does not have a global brand ,” James Quincey, Coca-Cola’s British-born chief executive, said.” Costa dedicates us access to this market with a strong coffee platform .”

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Coca-Cola’s move into coffee comes in the same week the government once again put fizzy beverage manufacturers in the spotlight over their role in the health of young people. On Wednesday the government announced a ban on the sale of energy drinks such as Relentless, which is owned by Coke.

Angus Grierson, the managing director of the advisory firm LGB Corporate Finance, said the lightning speed the bargain was done- it was brokered in five weeks- reflected theurgency with which Coca-Cola wanted to reduce its reliance on sugary drinks.

” The bargain is an attempt to adapt rapidly to changing savors , notably the continuing rise in popularity of coffee, particularly among millennial consumers ,” Grierson said.” Customers are choosing lower-sugar assortments of soft drinks more than they ever have, with sales of sugary drinks declining rapidly, down 11% in 2018, thanks in part to the introduction of the UK’s first-ever sugar tax .”

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