Fried chicken to crayfish wraps: Philippines' Jollibee eyes deals to grow

MANILA/SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Filipino billionaire Tony Tan Caktiong, who has built Jollibee Foods Corp JFC.PS into a near-4,000 store purveyor of sweet-style spaghetti, burgers and fried chicken, is looking to buy existing brands in mature markets to help fuel future growth.

Customers eat at a Jolibee fastfood outlet in Quezon City, metro Manila, Philippines September 22, 2017. REUTERS/Dondi Tawatao

Dominant at home, where Jollibee has 1,000 eponymous stores welcoming diners with its smiling bee logo, Tan now wants to reshape the $5 billion group as a global fast-food company, bankers and fund managers say.

Primary targets include the United States and China, where it already has joint ventures, including Dunkin' Donuts DNKN.O.

Tan, 64, said at a company event in July that half of Jollibee’s total sales would come from overseas stores in the next five years. Currently, foreign stores including joint ventures account for 30 percent of sales.

This week, people familiar with the matter said Jollibee was considering bidding for Pret A Manger, a UK-based chain selling organic coffee and wholesome sandwiches to office workers. It is still working out a valuation and has not yet decided to bid, the people said.

“Jollibee has to keep chasing growth. They own pretty much every large chain in their home market,” said a regional banker who has dealt with the company. “They are definitely not shy when it comes to looking at mature markets.”

Ysmael Baysa, Jollibee’s chief finance officer, told Reuters this week that buying new businesses “has always been part of our growth strategy.”

Tan started out with two ice cream parlours in the 1970s, and expanded Jollibee rapidly into a fast food chain dubbed “the McDonald’s of the Philippines”. Forbes ranks him as the country’s eighth-wealthiest man.

“They see where they could utilize the knowledge and synergies they have,” said Robert Ramos at Unionbank, who helps manage $795 million in funds and holds Jollibee stock. “They are increasing the revenue stream beyond the businesses they have now... They are choosing businesses in line with their core competence.”

As discretionary incomes have grown in Asia, the region has become the second-largest fast food market globally after North America.

Jollibee has created new domestic brands and has tie-ups with foreign chains. It bought a stake in Highlands Coffee, which outsells Starbucks SBUX.O in Vietnam, and opened its own outlets in Saudi Arabia and the United States.


Jollibee’s interest in Pret A Manger - which owner Bridgepoint is said to be preparing for a U.S. listing this year - comes just two years after Tan paid around $100 million for a 40 percent stake in U.S.-based chain Smashburger, his biggest overseas deal to date.

“If Jollibee wanted to do a $1 billion acquisition, it will have access to capital. It’s very liquid whether overseas or onshore. Jollibee is a premium credit,” said a person close to the company, who was not authorized to speak to the media and asked not to be named.

“Jollibee is very clear where they would like to grow: the Philippines, China and the U.S.”

In China, the company operates about 400 stores of various brands, including joint ventures.

While Jollibee’s original menu is a hit at home and among the diaspora of millions of Filipinos working overseas, it’s a challenge to broaden its appeal to international diners - hence the drive to acquire global brands.

Jollibee’s revenue has more than tripled over the past decade to 113.9 billion pesos ($2.2 billion), its net income has jumped to 6.16 billion pesos, powered by strong consumer spending in one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, and its shares trade at around 242 pesos each, up from 51.50 pesos a decade ago.

Other Philippine companies, too, have used their plentiful cash and access to bank credit to make overseas deals, such as Universal Robina Corp's URC.PS acquisition of Snackbrands Australia for $462 million last year, and Alliance Global Group's AGI.PS earlier $291 million buy of Bodegas Fundador from Beam Suntory.

Reporting by Neil-Jerome Morales in MANILA and Anshuman Daga in SINGAPORE; Editing by Clara Ferreira Marques and Ian Geoghegan