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Calbee jumps on breakfast boom

by Yuki Yamaguchi

Bloomberg

Move over rice and fish. Granola with yogurt could be the new breakfast of champions for modern Japan.

Calbee Inc., Japan’s biggest seller of potato chips, is considering buying yogurt makers or food companies as part of its plan to diversify from its snacks-making business, Chief Executive Officer Akira Matsumoto said in an interview. The company is prepared to spend as much as ¥30 billion on acquisitions to add to its snacks and cereal businesses.

“Yogurt would be the best match,” Matsumoto said. “We could potentially do the yogurt business on our own, but we are not a yogurt maker.”

Calbee, 20 percent-owned by PepsiCo. Inc., is introducing new products and expanding into more overseas markets as it sees limited room for growth in a country with a declining population. With more women joining the workforce, Japanese families have less time for traditional cooked fare, such as steamed rice with fish and soup or the hand-rolled rice balls known as “onigiri.” This has prompted a shift to Western-style breakfasts that are easier to prepare, Matsumoto said.

This is a trend that Calbee, better known for its potato and shrimp chips, is keen to capture, the executive said June 23. A lack of new products will dampen Calbee’s operating profit growth this fiscal year, according to the former head of the Japanese unit of Johnson & Johnson.

The growth of Calbee’s operating profit will probably slow to 14 percent this fiscal year from 25 percent in the year to March 2014, the company said.

Calbee could also seek partnerships as it expands its breakfast options and may borrow cash for any acquisitions, Matsumoto said. It plans to raise sales of its granola-based Furugura-branded cereal, its fastest-growing product, to ¥50 billion from ¥9.5 billion in the fiscal year ended in March, he said, declining to give a time frame.