Taste Delays Luxury Unit Sale

  • Owner of S. Africa Starbucks franchise wants to focus on food
  • Seeking funds to roll out U.S. brands including Domino’s Pizza

Taste Holdings Ltd. has suspended the auction of its business selling jewelry and high-end watches after failing to find a buyer willing to pay an asking price of as much as 400 million rand ($31 million), according to two people familiar with the matter.

The South African company said in April it planned to fully focus on expanding its food unit, which includes the local franchises for U.S. brands Starbucks Corp. and Domino’s Pizza Group Plc. The luxury goods division would therefore be sold, the Johannesburg-based company said at the time.

Selling the owner of the Arthur Kaplan and World’s Finest Watches chains remains the Johannesburg-based company’s long-term strategy, said the people, who asked not to be identified as the process is private. However, if a sale can’t be done, Taste will need to find an alternative source for funds to pay down debt and roll out Taste’s major U.S. food brands, they said. The company has already raised as much as 120 million rand this year from the issue of new stock to investors.

“Taste cannot comment on market speculation,’’ spokesman Mike Caminsky said in an emailed response to questions.

The company has decided to focus on the unprofitable food division due to the “hugely attractive” five-year potential of the business, Chief Executive Officer Carlo Ferdinando Gonzaga said in Taste’s full-year earnings statement on May 29. It will take as many as two years to reach “real profitability,” he said. The luxury goods division, which enables South African shoppers to buy watches such as Rolex and Cartier, reported operating profit of 52.7 million rand in the year through February, while food made a loss of 90.1 million rand.

Taste shares have slumped 29 percent this year, and have declined more than 70 percent since the 2015 contract with U.S. coffee chain Starbucks sent the stock to an all-time high. Taste had three Starbucks stores at the end of February and 49 Domino’s Pizza outlets. Other chains owned by it include Maxi’s burgers and The Fish & Chip Co.

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