CEO of Duvel Moortgat
Duvel Moortgat is one of the largest Belgian brewery groups. In 1999 the group listed on the stock exchange. In 2012, however, the Moortgat family decided to remove the company from the stock exchange. In doing so they could count on the support of ING which guided them through the delisting and provided them with full financial backing. As well as the acquisition finance, a rolling credit facility spread across 3 banks was also set up, which from then on has financed the activities of Duvel Moortgat.
Duvel Moortgat's story is a long one. Literally. "We are now in the fourth generation," Michel Moortgat explains. When he, together with his brother Philippe, took over the running of the brewery in 1998, they were confronted with a fragmented shareholder structure. "Something needed to change."
Together with his brothers Philippe and Bernard, they bought out most of the other family shareholders in various stages. The 3 men increased their stake in the Duvel group from 25% to 88%. Their second cousin Veerle Baert remained a shareholder and went into collaboration with the 3 brothers. They had big plans for the company and therefore placed a quarter of the shares onto the Brussels stock exchange. Their aim: to become more professional by diversifying and growing through internationalisation.
Their growth strategy was therefore twofold. The group needed to become less dependent on its highly successful Duvel product and on the Belgian home market. "Duvel remains our star performer and the Belgian market continues to provide us with well over half of our turnover, but we still wanted to diversify," the CEO says.
Duvel Moortgat opted for a rather contradictory approach regarding internationalisation. The global beer market is still growing by around 2% annually, however that is mainly in emerging countries. In so-called "mature" beer countries – with an annual consumption of 80 to 100 litres per capita – there has been a stabilisation or even a slight decrease. "In any case, we opted to expand in the mature markets," says Michel Moortgat. "This is because beer consumption there is shifting. Less beer is perhaps being drunk, but the connoisseurs are opting for speciality beers much more often. And that is our speciality."
Duvel Moortgat set up sales, distribution and marketing structures in the Netherlands, France, the UK and the US. Today, the group has 800 employees. Of these, 90 work in the US, 25 in the Netherlands and another 25 in France. There is also a team of 30 people working in China.
Duvel remains the face of the group. However, over the last few years a range of beers has been added. Vedett got a second lease of life, while the brewery group also began to promote Maredsous, took over Brasserie d'Achouffe, became a partner in the Czech brewery Bernard, bought the American brewery Ommegang and became owner of Liefmans Brewery and De Koninck Brewery.
"We have been working on our strategy for more than 10 years," says Michel Moortgat. "Successfully: our turnover rose from 30 to 180 million euros, and the cash flow followed."
Interestingly enough, the stock exchange listing played no meaningful role in that story. "To our surprise, we realised that we had never once relied on the stock exchange to help our growth strategy," the CEO explains. "We did not even once go to collect money to help our expansion. We were a small cap in a big stock exchange, with a 25% free float. We did not have enough liquidity for institutional investors. We had all the costs with none of the advantages of a stock exchange listing."
Therefore, at the start of 2013 the 3 brothers and their second cousin bought back the listed shares. "With everything taken into account we have run a good race: from an initial price of 35 euros to a buy-back price of 95 euros. Everyone has had a chance to see some added value", says Michel Moortgat. Although it was by no means always a straight line to the top: during a certain period the price even sunk to 15 euros. "We found that to be very bizarre. The company was growing, but the value of the shares was going down..."
The decision to leave the stock exchange was not taken overnight. "Fellow entrepreneurs often asked me: "Michel, what are you doing on the stock exchange?" During the early years we also saw a number of other companies leaving the stock exchange. And then several bankers approached us, asking whether we would be interested in delisting."
The buy-back bid was one of the largest transactions on the Brussels stock exchange that year. The bid cost 125 million euros. The financing for it was provided by ING, which placed the credit with two other banks.
Michel Moortgat remains satisfied with the almost 14 year long experience on the stock exchange. "The introduction obliged us to quickly and resolutely become more professional. If I had to start over again, I would make the same choice."
But how does the group now view the future of its strategy? Michel Moortgat: "Growth is increasingly coming from abroad. We are therefore going to concentrate more on that. We will definitely consider brewing more beer abroad. In that case I am not thinking about Duvel, but about other speciality beers. And in any case we will implement the growth strategy in steps, at a pace we can cope with. We have discovered that 15% in 1 year is our maximum – both for management and for production capacity, marketing and recruitment. You must know your limits."
Moortgat relies on classic loans to finance this growth, boosted where necessary by corporate bonds. "Duvel Moortgat has a solid solvency, a strong reputation and an excellent relationship with its bankers. I think it is a good time to take on liabilities. We will continue to grow."