PARIS — Robertet, the world’s largest natural fragrance and flavors maker, has vowed to remain independent after two of its competitors took minority stakes in the company over the last few months.
Givaudan was the most recent, purchasing 108,109 Robertet shares last week that represent 4.68 percent of the group.
Robertet in a statement dated Feb. 4 wrote that it “did not solicit the acquisition of this holding and it was not the subject of any negotiations.”
Firmenich, meanwhile, entered uninvited into the family-owned company’s capital in late 2019, after which Robertet maintained that its own independence was non-negotiable.
Companies today are keen to tap into natural ingredient producers, which are key to nourishing the swiftly rising trend of natural fragrances and beauty products around the world.
Robertet said last week in the statement that to the best of its knowledge, its shareholder structure now stands at 47.02 percent of the group’s capital and 67.5 percent of its voting rights being held by the Maubert family.
“The family wants to maintain the independence of the company because it is the only way we can grow and develop the business,” Christophe Maubert, president of Robertet’s global fragrance division, told WWD.
He pointed out that even if all the Robertet “other” shares, which are traded on the Euronext market, were purchased by Firmenich, Givaudan or another entity, none would come close to having the Maubert family’s majority voting rights.
“We have no obligation to invite them on the board; they would be completely outside the operations of the company,” said Maubert, who added Robertet’s company culture has been a part of its success.
Bob Weinstein, president and chief executive officer of Robertet USA, said: “In order for the company to continue its path of growth…we need to do that independently because otherwise we would be part of a larger group and it would not be positive for the perennity of [Robertet], nor for the products that we make and our clients.
“We have spent 170 years in the naturals area, with direct sourcing, controlling the supply chain of 600 botanical raw materials, which is far greater than any of our competitors and is serving us well in the marketplace where the trends for health and wellness in consumer goods are accelerating,” he continued. “It’s not a fad, it’s an accelerating trend in cosmetics, in ingestible products. So we are extremely well-positioned.”
Maubert said it’s also important for the fourth generation of his family, which includes his brothers Philippe and Olivier, as well, to hand the group, “with the same level of independence,” to the fifth generation.
It was in September when Firmenich revealed that it had inked an agreement with First Eagle Investment Management to acquire the stake held by its advisory clients in Robertet, which represented about 17 percent of the firm’s share capital, and that it was open to taking a controlling interest in the company.
Firmenich said at the time it was prepared to be a “passive long-term shareholder of Robertet alongside the Maubert family. Firmenich is also open to having friendly discussions for a larger participation or establishing a broader collaboration to support the long-term success of the company. Should it be invited to do so, Firmenich may also consider taking a controlling interest in Robertet.”
The deal represented a price of 683.30 euros a share.
“The independence of our company is not negotiable,” said Philippe Maubert, chairman and ceo of Robertet, in a statement released on Dec. 11.
Robertet’s board of directors had met in early December after Firmenich had entered the company’s capital uninvited by buying shares on Sept. 26 and Oct. 11.
“The board of directors, ruling unanimously, stresses that this entry into the capital of Robertet is unsolicited and that no discussion with the company Firmenich on points of rapprochement has been deemed opportune,” Robertet said in the statement. “Robertet is a medium-sized heritage and family-owned company with a differentiated positioning, human scale, is visionary and for a long while in naturals.”
The company said it has no debt and the financial capacity to develop without the support of a competitor. Robertet emphasized that Firmenich is among its direct competitors.
“Consequently, the group does not envisage offering it the possibility of being represented on the company’s board of directors or of building a collaboration with it that will limit [Robertet’s] operational and strategic flexibility,” it said.
During the interview with WWD, Christophe Maubert explained: “We are talking about Firmenich and Givaudan taking shares, but actually our concern is more that we try to acquire other companies. We do not hesitate if we find a good fit close to our DNA.”
Robertet’s sales in the first half of 2019, the most recent available, reached 287.7 million euros, up 6.2 percent versus the same prior-year period.
In 2018, the Grasse, France-based company posted revenues of 524.9 million euros, a 4.2 percent year-on-year rise.
Robertet has 1,800 employees, of which just over half are based in its domestic market. The company’s largest markets are Europe, North America and then Asia. Thirty-seven percent of its business stems from the perfumery segment, 34 percent from aromas, 28 percent from raw materials and 1 percent from actives.
Robertet counts 14 creative centers around the globe and culls natural raw ingredients from 60 countries.
“The strategy and vision is to maintain our leadership in natural materials and the consumer goods that are created from [them],” said Weinstein, adding that the group has expanded with a health and beauty division that includes active ingredients for nutraceuticals and cosmeceuticals, for instance. “We are not deviating from the botanical nature of our DNA, of our heritage.”
Merger-and-acquisition activity, among fragrance and flavors suppliers, has been rife. In late July, for example, Givaudan revealed it had bought German fragrance-maker Drom.