Taking on the World, One Paper Cup at a Time

  • CEO says company could even do a transformational acquisition
  • Huhtamaki planning to set new targets as shares reach record

Finland’s Huhtamaki Oyj is on the hunt for acquisitions - possibly even a large-scale deal - as the world’s biggest listed food-packaging company seeks to expand in new countries and build on profitable North American operations.

The maker of paper cups and bowls for global fast-food and coffee chains like McDonald’s, Chipotle and Starbucks has made a dozen acquisitions since 2011, and is planning a fresh round, Chief Executive Officer Jukka Moisio said in an interview at the company’s headquarters in Espoo, near the capital Helsinki. Any sizable purchase could be funded with the sale of shares, which reached a record Thursday.

Jukka Moisio.

Source: Huhtamaki

“We look to find companies that complement our current focus and geographic footprint because there are many countries where we’re not present,” he said. “The main areas are southeast Asia and Africa.”

A fresh wave of acquisitions would build on a decades-long transformation of Huhtamaki from a conglomerate making everything from women’s clothing to electronics components. Named after founder Heikki Huhtamaki, the son of a village baker who started a candy-making business almost a century ago, the company’s focus grew out of an in-house packaging operation. It now competes with Denmark’s Hartmann A/S to be the world’s largest egg-carton maker, and vies for disposable-cutlery customers with Dart Container Corp. in the U.S. and Italy’s Seda.

Huhtamaki has between 400 million euros ($446 million) and 500 million euros available for acquisitions and is in the market for targets in developed markets with annual revenue of 50 to 100 million euros, Moisio said.

The company is looking at smaller targets in emerging markets such as Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. Positive Packaging, an Indian company that Huhtamaki bought last year to add some 220 million euros in annual revenue, was an unusually large find, he said.

The CEO said he would consider issuing new shares or selling reserve stock to finance a larger, transformational acquisition, and the recent share price development has boosted the potential returns from any stock sale.

Shares fell 0.5 percent to 37.47 euros as of 12:21 p.m. in Helsinki. They reached a record Thursday in part because first-quarter results published April 21 showed a boost from U.S. growth.

Huhtamaki’s North American segment, which supplies Unilever with cups for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, grew by 10 percent during the period, and Moisio said the company is now reaping the benefits of investments made three to four years ago.

“We need to build on that platform,” he said. “We are working on plans to advance the North American operations in the years to come.”

The performance in the U.S., which represents about 35 percent of Huhtamaki’s revenue, will be important as Moisio looks beyond mid-term goals unveiled in March 2015. These included comparable sales growth of 5 to 7 percent and an operating profit margin of at least 9 percent. The company reached 6 percent sales growth in the first quarter after 4 percent for all of 2015, and a margin of 8.7 percent in 2015.

“If we’re very close to our targets, or achieving them, it’s an important thing and a signal to our stakeholders and ourselves that we’ve achieved what we wanted to achieve and now it’s time to set a new horizon,” Moisio said. The company will likely announce new goals for the next few years at a capital markets day later this year, he said.

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