The co-founder of newly listed Fever-Tree has called on more UK food and drink entrepreneurs to hold off from ceding control of their companies too early.
Fever-Tree began trading on London’s Alternative Investment Market on Friday after raising £93.3m in an IPO valuing the upmarket mixer drinks business at £154.4m.
The deal enables co-founders Charles Rolls and Tim Warrillow to retain operational responsibility for Fever-Tree’s ambitious growth plans, something Rolls accuses other food and drink company owners of giving up too quickly.
“A lot of people sell out too early,” Rolls said. “I’ve been through it myself when selling Plymouth Gin, but I can’t think of anything more exciting in the world than driving a fast growing business and I’d love to see other businesses doing what we’re doing.”
Of the proceeds, £89.3m was used to enable private equity backers LDC, and other shareholders, to cash in, with Fever-Tree’s founders also selling some of their shares. Just £4m invested in strengthening its balance sheet. As such, the float was not about raising funds to support Fever-Tree’s global expansion plans, but to avoid a situation where Fever-Tree might be swallowed up by a larger firm in the near future.
“LDC has been brilliant for us and gave us money when we really needed it,” Rolls explained. “The problem with private equity is they are always going to sell their best assets first and we were facing a situation where LDC would almost certainly have put us into play within 18 months.
“So Tim [Warrillow] and I took the decision to go to LDC to say that we want to go public so we can drive that growth without having to worry about what happens in 18 months’ time.”
Rolls said Fever-Tree plans to expand the number of countries in which it has scale from three to 10 within the next five years.
However, the priority will remain deepening and broadening distribution and SKUs within those core markets where Western drinking habits are well established.
“There is no change in strategy,” Rolls said. “We’ve got our plan and we know what we’re doing.”
Fever-Tree and sole bookrunner Investec shook off depressed equity market conditions to build a book that was “well covered” by “real blue-chip, long-term UK investors”.
Media reports had suggested the deal hoped to value Fever-Tree at as much as £200m, but an Investec source rubbished the £200m figure, while an unconnected City expert called the £154.4m valuation a “very good deal” for the sellers and “fully priced based on underlying economics”.