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Enter the Foodiverse: Rafael Boix, CEO of Foodiverse

Rafael Boix, CEO of healthy food specialists Foodiverse, speaks with Acuris Capital Intelligence about planting the seed for future growth.

Interview by Barbara Pianese

Q. What is your operational outlook for 2021? Are key elements of the pre-pandemic growth strategy still in place or have they changed?

We have been growing sustainably and have multiplied our turnover by more than 2.5 since 2014, bringing our current turnover to €311 million (2020). During COVID-19, we did not suffer because of our relationship with customers, but we noticed a decrease in sales of ready-to-eat salads because of the lockdown. Therefore, we have a projection of increasing our revenue as the market comes back to normal.

Q. Are there any non-organic growth plans for 2021?

In 2014, we started a buy-and-build strategy in the production and distribution of fresh and healthy products—which is a highly fragmented sector—with a special focus on the fresh-cut salads business segment.

As part of that strategy, in 2018, we acquired the German ready-to-eat salad maker Thurländer Salate, and in 2019, we purchased Switzerland’s Josef Müller Gemüse and Italy’s Novanatura. The three acquisitions became part of the one we made in the agricultural segment (Agromediterránes) in 2014.

M&A is part of our DNA—we are becoming one of the main consolidators of the sector. Our main targets are fresh-cut salads production companies with a turnover ranging between €30 million and €100 million in Europe and nearby countries.

Q. What strategic objectives have you set for 2021 and beyond?

We aim to become the go-to platform for healthy convenience food across all ages, to continue on our solid growth path and to be a main actor in the consolidation of the European fresh-cut salads market.

More specifically, our objective is to continue growing organically and inorganically in the 30 countries in which we already operate, through innovation and competitiveness, and set even higher standards of food safety and sustainability. We also want to grow in countries in which we still don’t have a presence.

Q. What risks do you see to this outlook?

I think 2021 will be a good year as soon as we can restore the normality of our lives. However, the pandemic is not over yet and it is still unclear whether the COVID-19 crisis will have long-term consequences.

Q. How does your capital position support these ambitions?

We usually finance our acquisitions with a mix of equity and bank financing, but we are open to alternative ways of financing, such as private lenders, private placements or bonds.

Q. Can you tell us about your debt refinancing or new debt issuance plans for the year?

We are very conservative with our debt and our liquidity, so we started 2021 with large cash reserves. This is why we are ready to face almost any situation in 2021. But we are always talking with our pool of banks willing to find the best finance structure in all the scenarios.

We know that it’s a good time for us to do this because there are many other sectors facing difficult restructurings.

In our case, our revenues were strong last year. Our banks support us because we have a solid position and our sector has shown resilience during 2020. Our business and our sector are good both for banks and investors because they reduce risk in their portfolios.

Q. How is the debt issuance environment for your business and sector?

We see two realities: Financial institutions worry that delinquency rates in corporate debt will worsen while, at the same time, governments and the European Central Bank are opening very powerful lines of financing in order to reactivate the economy.

Our opinion is that financing will flow without major problems for the sectors that have demonstrated solidity and resilience during the crisis.

Q. Would you consider equity placings in 2021?

We are always receiving calls from potential investors. At the moment, we are focused on growing with our own resources. In the next few years, we will probably need someone to help us take the next step, evolving from €500 million in revenues to a €1 billion revenue company. In any case, we are always open to discussing interesting opportunities that support our business objectives and provide attractive returns for all our stakeholders.

Q. What kind of capital solutions are advisors pitching at the moment?

As I mentioned before, we are being contacted by many types of investors interested in our company, from large industrial corporations that want to associate their brands with our healthy and fresh food components, to the top PE firms in USA and Europe. But we are staying calm and following our roadmap.

Q. What M&A deals are being pitched at the moment?

In the past two years, we have worked with several M&A advisors and boutiques. We only mandate for the specific operation that each advisor brings us, and therefore there is always an opportunity to work with us if you have a good asset. During the pandemic, we also found companies with financial problems that were open to acquisitions.

A bit of a background: Foodiverse (formerly Grupo Alimentario Citrus) has headquarters in four countries (Spain, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy) and specialises in preparing fresh and healthy foods, covering agricultural production, ready-to-eat salads and vegetables, and child nutrition. The company employees 2,500 people and closed 2019 with turnover of over €320 million.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.