The focus of this research is to analyze the strategic developments of the food company Raisio Group over the years. This is done by looking at the past trends of the company’s performance and correlating it with the type of strategic objectives implemented at that time. Through this process we can also deduce the challenges the company faced and how they planned to overcome them.
The history of the company shows that it had a strong entrepreneurial drive and with scarce resources, was able to create the necessary manufacturing equipment through innovative means. It was also focused on Research and Development, which bore fruit in the form of Sterol Ester, an ingredient used in their margarine with health benefits which put them up on the global map.
With global expansion, their strategic objectives changed accordingly. The company sought out an expansive strategy to promote its new margarine Benecol to the US market. They did so by a joint venture with McNeil’s subsidiary Johnson & Johnson. However, Raisio retained its control over the production and supply of Sterol Ester. It built new plants and increased its production to meet the high demand. Unfortunately, an overestimation of targets and over reliance on their global partners cost them dearly, and they were forced to make drastic changes in their strategic set up. They reduced their hold in the margarine market which they felt was no longer feasible. They sold that division, along with other divestments which they believed were not generating enough revenue. Now they focus their attention on promoting the rest of their products, which come into the category of functional foods.
From our research we conclude that competition is stiff for Raisio and it has to pitch itself against many strong competitors. Raisio also has a weak market share outside Europe and it has incurred a lot of debt due to its takeovers of rival companies (such as Big Bear). The company’s current strategy is to continue to expand while relying on its sales to maintain profitability. Overall, the company has adopted an aggressive strategy for expanding into lucrative markets in the next few years.
The company started its humble beginnings as Oy Vehnä Ab (Wheat Ltd), a small grain mill built to provide flour to its owners. However the Second World War delayed its construction which was finally finished in 1942. There was strict rationing of grain at that time; hence the government of Finland was taking the responsibility of distributing the commodity. This proved beneficial for the company, which as still new, did not need to market its product against its competitors.
In the coming years, the company started to diversify by creating animal feed in 1948 using the mills by-products. More importantly, in 1950, Oy Vehnä Ab started collaborating with Oy Kasviöljy-Växtolje Ab (Vegetable Oils Växtolje Ltd), an oil milling company, for the cultivation of rapeseed (also called Canola seeds). The company also started making malt in the 1950’s and over the coming decades made a substantial jump in their exports.
By the end of 1970, the majority of Raisio’s revenue was derived from exports to other European Nations. Their Melia branded products were leaders in flour, muesli and pasta in areas of Estonia and St Petersberg. By 1996, thirty nine percent of their sales were outside their country and by 2011, 70% of the malt produced is sold abroad.
However, the entrepreneurial drive to expand their company was closely correlated with their focus on Research and Development as well as their ability to optimize their resources. Infact, when they were making their malting plant, the war had made it extremely difficult to acquire parts for its manufacture, forcing the company to assemble equipment in their workshop using spare parts and scrap metal. Also, had it not been for the R&D the company would not have produced Stanol Ester, the main ingredient in their cholesterol reducing margarine Benecol, which would subsequently put them in the world market. (Simojoki et al., 2005)
The company’s history with margarine is aptly described in their company’s online profile when they said that:
“Two separate developments led to the founding of the margarine plant. The rapeseed oil being refined at the oil milling plant was still a new and strange raw material for existing margarine producers. So in order to stimulate demand, the company needed to develop its own processing operations, and at the same time, individual retailers wanted to found their own plant.” (Raisio, n.d.)
When the company came out with Benecol, it was met with widespread acclaim. The company formally launched its product internationally in 1996, starting with Sweden. Demand was outstripping their production. The value of their stock quintupled, and Raisio saw an opportunity to tap into the international market, especially the multibillion dollar market of USA.
The next few years were vital in planning a proper strategic development strategy for Raisio. By 1997 companies were approaching Raisio with offers on licensing Benecol, the Stanol ester technology or both. The company had to decided what would the most optimum strategy to take advantage of the market potential USA had to offer. Two issues were raised. First one was that should the brand Benecol be sold or its active ingredient Stanol Ester supplied? Second, considering the limited facilities and experience of their company outside their home market, should they license their intellectual property to other companies and create a joint-venture or refuse to share their technology and use it themselves? (Grant, 2009)
More problems were in need to be addressed. Marketing strategies, distribution policies and product formulation would have to be adapted for the requirements of the respective countries, and that includes their food regulations which would vary in each country.
Raisio finally made its decision in 1997. They agreed to a joint venture with McNeil Consumer Products, a division of U.S based company Johnson and Johnson. Raisio saw that McNeil had the resources and knowledge that would be vital in helping Raisio enter the US market with their product effectively. According to Raisio’s Annual Report of 1997, the joint venture would give McNeil the sole right to use the Benecol trademark in the United States, Canada and Mexico, however, Raisio will retain the right to supply the Stanol ester required for the products. Raisio will also receive enumerations and royalties of the products sold.
In conclusion, Raisio made the following decisions. Number one, they kept the production of Stanol Ester with themselves. Number two, they decided to market and supply the product in their home country Finland, and the neighboring countries on their own. Number three, they will cooperate with a strong partner to distribute and market their products globally. (Grant, 2009)
However, the risks did not end there. Time was running out, and they needed to make important strategic decisions quickly. There were three challenges that they were now facing. First of all was the supply of Stanol Ester that they needed to increase due to their global expansion. Second was the food Regulations which vary in different countries and can hinder the introduction of the product in the market. Finally, there was competition from rival companies who were introducing their own version of cholesterol reducing margarine. (Grant, 2009)
Supply Of Stanol Ester
Raisio realized that it was barely meeting domestic demand for Stanol Ester. With the company’s global expansion goals, immediate steps were taken in order to supply the ingredient to McNeil when they launch their product worldwide. Raisio made joint ventures with Les Derives Raisiniques et Terpeniques in France and American Westvaco Corporation in USA to construct new Stenol production plants to meet the demand in the years to come. (Grant, 2009)
Competition and Food Regulations
There were a total of six competitors that Raisio was facing at that time. The biggest of them was Unilever who was preparing to launch a similar product of their own. Raisio wanted introduce the product in the market before them by reducing the delay involved with approving the product by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a dietary supplement. However, FDA refused and with the delay both Raisio and Unilever entered the market at almost the same time. Unilever had produced the ester in a cheaper way and was able to lower its product price. Other competitiors of Raisio were Novartis, Paulig, Procter & Gamble, Archer Daniels Midland and Monsanto. (Grant, 2009)
In 2000, the company was suffering heavy losses in the Benecol division in US. Upon analysis, it was noted that while the company invested heavily in procurement and expansion of Stanol Ester, it had a slow market penetration which was mostly just focused on USA and UK. Only 20% of the target was met, and the company was overoptimistic about the sale of its product (Raisio, 2000).
Raisio realized the main problem was its complete dependency on McNeil’s subsidiary Johnson & Johnson to market and sell Benecol. Unfortunately, Unilever had taken first place and Raisio realized that it still had limited power in marketing strategy and sales. By the end of 2000, Raisio’s share price fell by 85% compared to its value in 1998. The CEO changed, and a new strategy was implemented that year. Sterol production joint ventures were revised and re-negotiated and some plants even suspended production. Most importantly, a new agreement was made between Raisio and J&J. Under that, a new more effective market drive strategy was formulated and Raisio gained international distribution and selling rights of Sterol Ester. Also under the new strategy, operations would be organized into three business sectors, Raisio Chemicals, Raisio Nutrition and Raisio Life Sciences. (Raisio, n.d.)
In 2004, the company again changed its strategy. It focused majorly on Raisio Nutrition and Raisio Life Sciences and tried to reduce its debt problem, which had exceeded 200 million Euros by the end of 2003. Their target was to increase their current equity ratio of 32% to around 40-50% in the long term. (Beacham, 2004)
One of the strengths of Raisio is its diversification of personnel. Internal, as well as external education is provided to employees with a strong foundation of equality with no discrimination against race, gender, colour, religion or political inclinations (Raisio, 2004). Another strength of Raisio is its competitive advantage in Raw Materials (Raisio, 2010). As mentioned in the history of the company’s strategic development, Raisio had a strong hold on the production and supply of the main ingredients in their products (Schienstock and Tulkki, 2001).
The weaknesses of Raisio are its weak market power in regions other than its home country Finland and Europe. Improper strategic development and not effectively foreseeing potential problems and threats have been a source of concern for them. (Freedman, 2001). For example, in USA, they failed to enter the market effectively after a joint merger with McNeil, and even after revisions in market strategies. Another of Raisio’s weakness is its overestimation of potential markets and an overoptimistic target for sales. Their marketing weakness stood out when their product Benecol was at a higher price than the Unilever’s product NutraSweet. Also, Benecol was supposed to be effective when it was to be taken three times a day. This was not feasible for many consumers, with new buyers getting discouraged and old customers alienated from using it. (Heasman and Mellentin, 2001)
Currently the biggest competitors’ of Raisio are Danisco A/S of Denmark, Groupe Danone of France and Greencore Group Plc of Ireland. The industries where Raisio compete are Grains, Beverages, Nonalcoholic Beverages, Energy, Sports, Health & Nutritional Drinks, Candy & Confections and Packaged Cookies & Crackers (Hoovers, n.d.). They are proving to be a stiff competition for Raisio both in terms of quality of products offered as well as the retail prices. This might prove to be disastrous since its expansion plans are bringing extensive costs in relation to its company size (The German Society for Ad-hoc publicity, 2011) and low profit margins will bring everything to a halt. The problem can further worsen due the low buying power of the consumer due to the recession.
Raisio has made full use of the opportunities in the food industry to expand its market share through acquisition and mergers of other corporations. Raisio was able to make acquisitions due to the divestments it had done in the turnaround phase of its plan. It had sold its margarine business to Bunge for 80 million Euros. With strong liquidity at their side, they acquired Glisten and were able to gain a significant amount of market share in the United Kingdom (Raisio, n.d.). The graph below shows the market share of Raisio in different parts of the world.
Currently, the company does not have any threats of new competitors entering and taking their market share. Raisio has made sure of that by aggressively acquiring food companies in different parts of the world (for instance the acquisition of Big Bear Group in 2010). Also, the company has a strong established Research and Development division in which they invest heavily to produce low cost high quality raw materials, which they also patent and copyright. This makes them have a cost advantage over any new company who would face barriers to entry if they wish to enter (Raisio, 2010).
The threat of substitute products is fairly high. Raisio faced massive losses when their product Benecol went up against Unilever’s Nutra Sweet. Unilever was able to take the market lead with its stronger marketing capabilities and lower price. It was the main reason why after a few years Raisio stepped out of the division and concentrated on marketing its other food products. (Heasman and Mellentin, 2001) Even now, with new competitors rising up it is very difficult to maintain a market share, with the only viable solution (which Raisio seems to be implementing) is the acquisition of food companies that already have a strong consumer base (Raisio in middle of growth phase: Food & Drink Business, n.d.).
The bargaining power of customers is also high since most of the companies Raisio is competing with are reputable firms. The buyers would not mind switching from a Raisio product to another similar one made cheaper by Unilever or Novartis. Raisio had realized this when their product Benecol was being marketed in United States which was costlier and due to ineffective marketing was not reaching the consumers effectively about its healthy benefits (Bower, Saadat and Whitten, 2001).
Since Raisio has largely controlled its own sources and raw materials, it does not have to face the threat of suppliers leverage. The company has its own distribution and supply chain of raw materials due to the highly sensitive and heavily invested innovative products that they create (Grant, 2009).
The intensity of the rivalry is very high. The company is constantly fighting for a bigger market share than its competitors and has to incur large expense accordingly. This is also one of the main factors hindering their global expansion to other parts of the world especially North America. (Heasman and Mellentin, 2001)
Raisio’s core factors that define its strength and strategy are as follows :
Raisio’s current business strategy is based on reforming the food market through ecology, health and food that caters to a mobile lifestyle and ensures continuing growth and profitability for the company.
The strategy was devised from the consumers concern for ecology and the environment that has become one of the factors they look in the production of products which they consume. Raisio has started to work more responsibly co-operating with primary producers to secure a low price for their raw material supply, giving them a competitive advantage of other companies. (Halme and Huse, 1997)
Apart from that Raisio has also set goals to reduce the environmental impacts of livestock production and feeding solutions. (Raisio, n.d.)
The key values of the company are Competence, responsibility and open cooperation. (Raisio, n.d.) The company had invested heavily in the training of its personnel and making them competent enough to adapt to the rapidly changing markets and its challenges.
From 2007 onwards, the company had developed a three-phase approach to increase its profitability and growth over the years. (Raisio, n.d.)
The three phases are:
- Turnaround (2007)
- Profitability (2008-2009)
- Growth (2010-2011)
The company sold some of its unprofitable divisions and shares to cut the losses to a minimum. Furthermore, Raisio also took back its rights of sale and distribution of Benecol from McNeil and initiated their own retail services and pricing.
From the fiscal year of 2008 to 2009, the company’s main focus was on increasing its profitability following the implementations it did in the turnaround phase. The company realized that it can no longer support the margarine business due to high level of competition with rival companies which had reduced the profit margin considerably. Hence Raisio shifted its attention to grain based products and its other businesses. At the end of the phase, Raisio was the most profitable listed food company in Finland (Raisio, n.d.).
The growth phase will focus on maintaining the current profit profile of the company. However, it will also expand its business to try and reach potential markets. The company can also take advantage of the concept of ‘embeddedness’ that would help improve the inter-firm relationships in Raisio. This would accelerate growth of the firm (Halinen and Törnroos, 1998).
Ever since the company had expanded with its Benecol brand on a global scale, it had experienced a lot of ups and downs. Its share price has fluctuated a lot from 1996 to 2000 but now it is showing signs of stability. The reason would mainly be the three fold strategy they had created (turnaround, profitability and growth) in order to control the balance sheet anomalies. The details of the debt are shown in the figure below:
The table shows that the company had clearly downsized in the year 2004, with Captial Employed falling sharply to 215 million Euros as compared to 2003 in which it was 505 million Euros. The same trend is followed by Capital Employed and Enterprise value both have which have fallen till 2006. Net working capital had also fallen to less than half of what it was in 2000. The main factor leading to these trends is the divestment strategy the company had used recently to cut its expenditures and nonprofit divisions. (Carnagie Group, n.d.)
The company’s 2010 Income statement in the Appendix shows that the same trend has followed onwards.
Figure 2 shows that in 2010, Raisio’s net sales had increased to 17.9%. EBIT was 19.4 million Euros which consists of about 4.4% of net sales. This is in accordance with their current strategic plan to maintain profitability to around 4-5%. Apart from that the company had also invested in the acquisition of food company Big Bear Group which now makes United Kingdom the largest market for Raisio’s business as it provides them with about 150 million Euro’s of sales (Raisio in middle of growth phase: Food & Drink Business, n.d.)
The Earnings per share has not shown signs of a high increase, though it is showing consistency in its earnings.
In total, Raisio’s Net sales in its brand division increased to 236.4 million Euros as compared to last years 177.6 million Euros. Its EBIT in the brands division remained roughly the same at 20 million Euros in 2009 and 2010. However, in the Business to Business division of Raisio the EBIT fell sharply from 12.3 million Euros to just 3 million Euros which further fell to 2.1 million Euros in 2010. (Raisio, n.d.)
Raisio made it clear in its report about the future risks it would have to face:
“There is a risk that economic recovery may accelerate the rise of valuation levels and slow down growth through acquisitions. Furthermore, general instability in financial markets may also complicate acquisition financing” (Raisio, 2010)
The biggest challenges the company is expected to face are the volatility of the prices of raw materials and the quality and supply of the next crop. The external operating environment is getting tougher as well. However, the outlook of Raisio remains for the most part unchanged (Cision Wire, 2008).
The company, in order to increase its capitalization value, had started the share based incentive scheme for key personnel so that they remain committed to the objectives of the firm. The company has continued running that in the third year as well. (Cision Wire, 2010) This shows the company is planning on expansion and requires the necessary capital to do so. Unfortunately, this will also increase the company’s debt. When Raisio acquired Big Bear group, it paid EUR 95.3 million from its cash reserves and took a loan of EUR 52 million to pay for the rest. (Food and Wine, 2011) However Raisio seems to be firm in the belief that the acquisition will boost its earnings per share which will offset the above-mentioned problem.
The company also needs to realize that with the economic recession in place the bargaining power of the customers has also fallen substantially. This would dampen their sales which may offset a spiraling downturn if they do not control their debts and continue with their expansion.
There are many ways the company can ensure that it remains stable in the future (Mintel, 2010):
- Retailers should be encouraged to cross brand their functional foods to encourage customers to buy a variety of Raisio’s products
- Raisio’s food products are termed as functional foods (those that represent health benefits). The company should remove consumer skepticism by aggressively campaigning about their product’s health benefits
- Functional foods are mostly compromised of 16-24 year olds. The older age group should also be capitalized and marketed so that the sales are boosted.
Following its Growth phase; Raisio should try to maintain the value of its share, which during the turbulent times in 2000 had fluctuated drastically which resulted in a fall in confidence to invest in the company. The company is now starting to gain more debt, mostly due to its expansion and acquisitions. The company is planning to offset that by divestments and improvements in their sales growth. However, too fast an expansion would be harmful for the company in case there is a sudden fall in the sales of the company’s products. At the moment, their targets are meeting on track and now with a stronger balance sheet they have made acquisitions of major food companies in Europe. While their market share in Europe and UK is very strong, it is very small in the rest of the world.
The one final problem would be if Raisio makes the same mistakes it did back with the Benecol debacle. Those mistakes were, the ineffective marketing strategy (as compared to its rival Unilever), and the overestimation of its expansion and targets both by the company employees as well as the third party investors who had started buying its shares heavily, increasing its value many folds. As soon as the company realized that it was not meeting even a quarter of its target sales, the whole house came tumbling down. Share prices fell drastically and the company made changes in its marketing strategy but it was already too late. (Bower, Saadat and Whitten, 2001)
This time the risks are even higher. The company has acquired debt due to its aggressive acquisitions and has reduced its company size because of divestments, all the while expecting the growth sales to be on target. This is all they are relying on. In the case that the sales fall below their expectations, the same downward spiral may begin which would again take Raisio years to recuperate from (Gustafsson and Wikström, 2008).
In conclusion, we see that the current strategic development process of Raisio Company is stable and they are making the right moves at the right time. They are anticipating any risks before hand and making sure they have a competitive advantage in the production of raw materials even in times of recession.
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