Nestle goes upmarket with deal for Brazil chocolate maker

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Logo of Nestle is seen in Konolfingen

The company's logo is seen at a Nestle plant in Konolfingen, Switzerland September 28, 2020. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann/File Photo Acquire Licensing Rights

ZURICH, Sept 7 (Reuters) - Nestle (NESN.S) is buying a majority stake in Brazilian premium chocolate maker Grupo CRM, the Swiss food group said on Thursday, as it seeks to expand into luxury confectionary.

Grupo CRM operates more than 1,000 chocolate boutiques in Brazil under the Kopenhagen and Brasil Cacau brands and has a growing online presence, Nestle said.

Nestle, which is buying the stake from private equity company Advent International, declined to give financial details for the deal, which is expected to close in 2024.

Website Brazil Journal on Wednesday reported that Nestle would pay about 3 billion reais ($602.78 million) for the company, while local newspaper Valor Economico reported the figure at 4.5 billion reais ($904.18 million).

Nestle said Renata Moraes Vichi would continue to lead Grupo CRM's operations as CEO and remain a minority shareholder.

The acquisition is part of a strategy by Nestle - producer of brands such as Kit Kat, Aero and Smarties - to expand its presence in the super-premium chocolate segment where it has a limited offering that includes Italian brand Baci.

During the first six months of 2023 Nestle's confectionary sales increased by 10.8% on an organic basis, which excludes acquisitions and currency movements.

The business has also improved its underlying trading operating profit margin by 70 basis points to 14.5%.

Swiss luxury chocolate maker Lindt & Spruengli (LISN.S) has also been doing well recently, increasing its sales by 10.1% in the first half of 2023, while operating profit jumped 38%.

"This acquisition further broadens and strengthens our confectionery presence in Brazil, enabling us to enter the high-end segment," said Laurent Freixe, Nestle's CEO for Latin America.

Chocolate bars under the CRM's Kopenhagen brand sell for 29.90 Brazilian Real ($6.01), while a box of chocolates retails for around 130 reals.

Jon Cox, an analyst at Kepler Cheuvreux, said the deal seemed unusual at first glance given Nestle's focus on its coffee, petcare and nutrition businesses, but made sense.

"Nestlé has a chocolate business in Brazil so it can integrate production, leading to synergies, while the premium chocolate category, as Lindt has shown, is a very, very, decent business if you get it right," he said.

($1 = 4.9784 reais)

Reporting by John Revill, Editing by Friederike Heine, Janane Venkatraman and Susan Fenton

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