Morocco boycott slows sales growth at Danone

A man shops in a supermarket where Danone yogurts are displayed in Shanghai. (AFP)
Updated 17 October 2018

Morocco boycott slows sales growth at Danone

  • Seeks to rebuild consumer trust in Morocco
  • Sales growth shows slowdown

PARIS: Slacker demand for baby food in China and a consumer boycott in Morocco slowed third-quarter sales growth at Danone, although the French food group said it was sticking to its earnings growth targets.
Danone said it was banking on cost savings and a push into lucrative, healthy eating trends to meet those goals, despite lower sales of infant formula in China and the broad boycott in Morocco launched earlier this year on social media against what protesters said were unfair prices set by large companies.
Chief Financial Officer Cecile Cabanis cautioned the slowdown in China would last several quarters while the Moroccan boycott would weigh on the second half of the year.
Danone, the world’s largest yoghurt maker with brands including Actimel and Activia, said third-quarter sales reached $7.1 billion, a like-for-like increase of 1.4 percent — slightly above analysts’ forecasts for 1.2 percent growth.
Nevertheless, this marked a slowdown from 3.3 percent growth in the second quarter and 4.9 percent in the first quarter, and Danone shares fell 2.8 percent in early trading.
“The main miss is on Specialized Nutrition where infant milk formula is down 20 percent in China in Q3 ... We were not expecting such a drop” said Oddo analyst Pierre Tegner.
Danone, however, kept its annual financial targets.
Growth had accelerated at its dairy and plant-based business in North America, where Danone is integrating organic food group WhiteWave, and its European dairy division was on the road toward stabilization, it said.
Danone, which is targeting an operating margin above 16 percent and like-for-like sales growth of 4-5 percent by 2020, reiterated its expectation for a double-digit rise in 2018 underlying earnings per share (EPS), excluding the impact of the sale of a stake in Japan’s Yakult.
Sales of Danone’s ‘Early Life Nutrition’ products in China fell 20 percent in the third quarter following a period of strong growth and amid signs of changes in market dynamics.
The sales of the China-focused infant formula products had grown by around 30 percent in the second quarter of 2018 and by over 50 percent in the third-quarter 2017.
In China, where Danone competes in the baby food market with Nestle and Reckitt Benckiser, there has been strong demand for baby formula products thanks to a sharp rise in birth rates tied to the end of China’s one-child policy, and the emergence of new cities and an affluent middle class.
The peak in birth rates, however, happened in 2016 and started slowing down in late 2017, leading Danone to caution that the Chinese market will progressively show more normal trends from the second half of 2018 onwards.
Danone’s indirect E-commerce infant formula sales had also benefited last year from China’s decision to delay regulation of cross-border e-commerce, which led to stocking up by traders.
Cabanis said that although there were fewer births in China, Danone continued to benefit from demand for its ultra-premium infant formula products such as Nutrilon and Aptamil.
Morocco, which counts for 2 percent of group sales, was another weak spot as a result of the consumer boycott.
In September, Danone announced measures in Morocco to regain consumers’ trust, including price cuts, but sales in Morocco were still down 35 percent in the third quarter.

Tesla rival Lucid Motors wants to build factory in Saudi Arabia

Updated 15 min 46 sec ago

Tesla rival Lucid Motors wants to build factory in Saudi Arabia

  • Lucid Motors eyes production plant in Kingdom after raising more than $1bn from the Public Investment Fund
  • California-based electric-car maker hopes to sell first vehicles for more than $100,000 

LONDON: A US-based electric-vehicle company that raised more than $1 billion from Saudi Arabia wants to build a factory in the Kingdom, and says its mission to build “the best car in the world” is well underway. 

The California-based Lucid Motors is developing its first model, the Air, which it hopes to sell for more than $100,000 when it enters production in less than two years’ time. 

Financial backing from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF), announced last year, will allow Lucid to proceed with the development of the all-electric sedan, as well as fund the $240 million cost of building the first phase of its factory in the US.

Peter Rawlinson, chief technology officer at Lucid Motors — and a former engineer at rival Tesla — said the company wants to eventually build a production plant in Saudi Arabia, and sees a “long-term” partnership with the Kingdom.

“I can see a really bright future, with a tangible manufacturing facility or facilities,” Rawlinson told Arab News.

“We’d love to do that … We’re currently in a period where we are investigating all these options. 

“There is a vision that there will be some sort of production facility in the future.”

Rawlinson added that it is “early days” for such a plan, but said he sees many opportunities for electric vehicles in Saudi Arabia — not least, because of the abundant sunshine and potential for solar power.

“We are undertaking the appropriate studies, but I’m really excited about the potential of this. This partnership is huge for us; we can benefit the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in a significant, meaningful and long-term manner,” he said. 

“One of the great assets of the Kingdom is its endless reserves of sunshine, and how that can be harvested with solar energy. We’re a battery-storage technology company; that’s a way we could contribute. We’re exploring a number of avenues along those lines.”

Lucid is positioning itself in the luxury market, and Rawlinson said its Air model is looking to compete with the likes of the Mercedes-Benz S-Class. The Lucid Air is the company’s first car, but Rawlinson said an initial public offering (IPO) could be on the cards to develop future models.

The engineer brushed off the idea of a competitive threat from Elon Musk’s Tesla, where he once worked as chief engineer for the Model S.

“We don’t see Tesla as a key, direct competitor. We see the German gasoline cars — the petrol engine cars … as our core competitive set,” he said. 

“I’ve spoken to many people … who would gladly buy an electric car but say they’re not going to give up their Mercedes-Benz to buy a Tesla because of the interior. You’ve only got to step inside a Tesla to realize it’s not true luxury.”