Eir boss backs plan for organic food ‘champion’

Xavier Neil joins with two French businessmen in sustainable consumer goods Spac

Three businessmen have joined forces to create a blank-cheque company that caters to the demand for organic food and more sustainable consumer goods. Photograph: iStock

Three businessmen have joined forces to create a blank-cheque company that caters to the demand for organic food and more sustainable consumer goods. Photograph: iStock

 

Three prominent French businessmen, including the telecoms billionaire Xavier Niel, who is a major shareholder in Eir, have joined forces to create a blank-cheque company that caters to the demand for organic food and more sustainable consumer goods.

They plan to raise €250 million-€300 million via a “special purpose acquisition company” that will be listed on the Euronext exchange in Paris.

Mr Niel has teamed up with Centerview Partners banker Matthieu Pigasse, although the sectoral expertise and strategic vision comes from their partner, Moez-Alexandre Zouari. The 49-year-old French entrepreneur has built a small empire in food retail as the franchise partner of supermarket chain Casino, and also jointly owns frozen-food group Picard.

Their new shell company, or Spac, will be called 2MX Organic in a nod to its founders’ initials and their target market.

Like other Spacs, it plans to raise cash from investors on the basis that managers will buy a company or return the money after a certain date if they are unable to complete a purchase.

“We want to build a European champion in organic food,” said Mr Zouari. “People want to consume differently nowadays, not only for their health and wellbeing but for that of the planet.”

The men have mapped out a strategy to consolidate Europe’s fast-growing but fragmented organic food market. They want to create a “vertically integrated” group, so would consider acquisitions both in retail and in the production of organic foods or sustainable household products.

Share target

Deutsche Bank and Société Générale will carry out the bookbuilding from Monday, with a target of selling 25 million shares for €10 each. The shares are expected to start trading by mid-December.

The trio want to capitalise on the momentum among consumers and investors increasingly looking for companies built around environmental, social and governance themes.

“Our objective is to do the first acquisition as quickly as possible in 2021,” said Mr Pigasse. The first deal should be worth “around €2 billion” so as to serve as a platform for subsequent deals.

“We have four or five targets in mind already, and want to be quite ambitious for the first acquisition,” said Mr Niel.

Long a niche corner of finance, Spacs are one of the hottest trends on the US equity market because they offer a faster route to market without the cumbersome process of a traditional initial public offering. Hedge fund stars such as Bill Ackman and former banker Michael Klein have adopted them, and banks reap lucrative fees from the transactions.

Spacs have raised a record $64 billion in the US this year, according to Bloomberg, compared with $786 million in Europe.

Scripted drama

Mr Pigasse and Mr Niel created France’s first Spac in 2015 with the aim of consolidating the television production industry. Their company, Mediawan, has since bought roughly 30 businesses to become a leader in scripted drama in Europe, highlighting how Spacs can be used to raise money quickly for dealmaking.

The pair hope to repeat Mediawan’s experience in a new sector – consumer goods with a sustainable twist – by capitalising on Mr Zouari’s expertise. “He is the well-kept secret of French retail,” said Mr Niel.

Mr Niel sought to distance the trio’s long-term approach from the get-rich-quick tactics used by some Spac sponsors in the US. At Mediawan, he and Mr Pigasse have not taken money out and have continued to back its expansion.

“We are here to build up a real company that will operate and expand over time,” said Mr Niel of the new Spac.

The three will buy at least €6 million worth of shares in a separate share sale reserved for them, and will collectively own about 30 per cent of the company after the listing.

Mr Zouari said he would separately seek to buy up to €30 million worth of shares in the main rights offer, depending on availability. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2020