Nestle freshens up image with Sweet Earth vegetarian meals takeover

Nestle is buying Sweet Earth, which sells frozen burritos stuffed with quinoa, beans and other vegetarian ingredients. (AP)
Updated 09 September 2017
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Nestle freshens up image with Sweet Earth vegetarian meals takeover

GENEVA: The maker of Hot Pockets wants to go vegetarian, California-style.
Nestle, the world’s biggest food and drinks company, is buying husband-and-wife startup Sweet Earth, which sells frozen burritos stuffed with quinoa, beans and other vegetarian ingredients.
The move echoes efforts by packaged food conglomerates across the world that have been trying to appeal more to consumers who favor fresher foods, smaller, local brands and are worried about the ingredients they eat.
Nestle, whose frozen food brands include Lean Cuisine and Stouffer’s, recently invested in online meals company Freshly, which delivers cooked meals to customer’s doorsteps that it says are gluten-free and don’t contain refined sugars. In 2012, Campbell Soup bought natural foods maker Bolthouse Farms.
And on Thursday, rival Unilever said it was buying Pukka Herbs, a small but fast-growing organic herbal tea business.
“This segment has been identified for us globally as a key area a few years ago,” said Wayne England, head of strategic food operations at Nestle. “Giving the world better access to vegetarian-based or plant-based food is something we want to do.”
Nestle, which is based in Vevey, Switzerland, said Sweet Earth, which reportedly had $25 million in revenue last year, will remain a stand-alone business, and stay at its headquarters in Moss Landing, California. It declined to specify the cost of the deal.
Gaurav Gupta of the strategy management firm Kotter International said the Sweet Earth and Pukka deals amounted to “another reminder that food businesses need to look outside for innovation and growth.”
Nestle will need to scale up Sweet Earth and draw on its knowledge and processes if it hopes to reap the full benefits from the deal and alter the consumer’s conception, he said. Many people associate Nestle with chocolate and coffee.
“Really changing consumer perceptions will take a shift in products within the core brands, not just adding on some healthier products through acquisitions,” said Gupta in an email.
Sweet Earth co-founder Kelly Swette, who will continue to run the company with co-founder and husband Brian, said in an interview: “We believe in redefining frozen food.”
She said several companies approached Sweet Earth about a buyout, but declined to name them. The deal with Nestle, she said, will help get Sweet Earth into more frozen food aisles. It’s currently in more than 10,000 stores, including Walmart and Whole Foods. England said Nestle wants to protect and grow the Swette’s relationship now with 273 Whole Foods stores.
Sweet Earth’s best-selling products are its burritos, but it also sells other frozen meals, including mushroom ravioli and veggie burgers.
“At the moment, if you look at the range at Sweet Earth, it’s very much hand-held Burritos, this kind of (product). I think we can work with them to extend it into frozen meals,” Nestle’s England said. “We can help them accelerate.”
Nestle said the deal will give it “immediate entry” into the plant-based foods segment that is expected to be a $5 billion market within three years. It said up to half of all US consumers are seeking more such foods in their diet.
It said the Sweet Earth acquisition is aimed to complement its growing vegetarian, plant-based offer in Europe, such as “charcuterie vegetarian” — essentially plant-based cold cuts — under the Herta brand in France, and the launch of the Garden Gourmet line. It said the market has been growing in high double-digit percentage rates.
“We would see this Garden Gourmet brand being our Sweet Earth of Europe, and then within that, we would look for the products to be shared,” England said.
At its core, the deal is about Nestle’s need to constantly adapt to changing consumer tastes, particularly among health- and “authenticity”-minded consumers like many millennials these days.
Such consumers “look for more transparency, more natural, more ingredients they understand, that can relate to their own kitchens,” England said. “We have a drive to find the trend of authenticity in every one of our products.”


Bahrain to use Huawei in 5G rollout despite US warnings

Updated 44 min 20 sec ago
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Bahrain to use Huawei in 5G rollout despite US warnings

  • Washington has warned countries against using Chinese technology
  • ‘We have no concern at this stage as long as this technology is meeting our standards’

DUBAI: Bahrain plans to roll out a commercial 5G mobile network by June, partly using Huawei technology despite the United States’ concerns the Chinese telecom giant’s equipment could be used for spying.
Washington has warned countries against using Chinese technology, saying Huawei could be used by Beijing to spy on the West. China and Huawei have strongly rejected the allegations.
VIVA Bahrain, a subsidiary of Saudi Arabian state-controlled telecoms firm STC, last month signed an agreement to use Huawei products in its 5G network, one of several Gulf telecoms companies working with the Chinese company.
“We have no concern at this stage as long as this technology is meeting our standards,” Bahrain’s Telecommunications Minister Kamal bin Ahmed Mohammed told Reuters on Tuesday when asked about US concerns over Huawei technology.
A senior State Department official said the US routinely urges allies and partners to consider the risks posed by vendors subject to extrajudicial or unchecked compulsion by foreign states.
The US Fifth Fleet uses its base in Bahrain, a Western-allied island state off the Saudi coast, to patrol several important shipping lanes, including near Iran.
Bahrain expects to be one of the first countries to make 5G available nationwide, Mohammed said, although he cautioned it would depend on handset and equipment availability.
Early movers like the United States, China, Japan and South Korea are just starting to roll out their 5G networks, but other regions, such as Europe, are still years away and the first 5G phones are only likely to be released in the second half of this year.
Bahrain’s state-controlled operator Batelco is working with Sweden’s Ericsson on its 5G network, while the country’s third telecoms group Zain Bahrain is yet to announce a technology provider.
No foreign company is restricted by the government from providing equipment for Bahrain’s 5G network, Mohammed said, adding mobile operators choose who they work with.
Australia and New Zealand have stopped operators using Huawei equipment in their networks but the European Union is expected to ignore US calls to ban the Chinese company, instead urging countries to share more data to tackle cybersecurity risks related to 5G networks.
Mohammed said the rollout of the 5G network was an “important milestone” for Bahrain, which is hoping investments in technology will help spur its economy, which was hit hard by a recent drop in oil prices.
“It is something we are proud to have,” he said.