Czech finance minister goes food shopping in Poland

By bne IntelliNews November 12, 2015

Czech billionaire Finance Minister Anrej Babis is on the lookout for more acquisitions in Polish food sector, an official at one of his investment funds said in comments published on November 12.

Earlier this year Babis’ investment fund Hartenberg spent nearly CZK1bn (€37mn) to buy Polish rice cake manufacturer Good Food. It is now investing CZK100mn to add new production lines at the company's plant in Poznan and plans to spend CZK200mn more in the Polish company over the next two years, Jozef Janov, managing partner at Hartenberg Capital, told Hospodarske Noviny.

Yet, Babis is reportedly interested in extending his Polish interests further. The Czech Republic’s second richest man is mulling investing another CZK1bn or so on further acquisitions in the Polish food sector, Janov claims.

At the same time, such acquisition plans make it less likely Hartenberg Capital will to pursue a deal to buy Czech food producer Hame, according to the paper. Hartenberg was reported to be in competition with China’s CEFC for the pate producer, which is estimated to be worth CZK4.5bn.

Babis’ increased interest in neighbouring Poland comes despite fact that he has had bad experience doing business with Poles in the past. The billionaire - tipped as a future prime minister - is still reported to be smarting from having lost several legal cases he brought against Polish oil concern PKN over its refusal over a decade ago to sell the petrochemical assets of Czech Unipetrol to his conglomerate Agrofert. Babis claims he had a prior agreement with PKN to buy the assets after the privatisation of Unipetrol, the country’s leading oil refiner and petrochemical company.

There is also a recent history of petty fighting between the Czech and Polish food sectors. Scandals around meat, salt and alcohol saw high level barbs being flung between Warsaw and Prague in 2012-13.

Babis, whose businesses in the Czech Republic experience no little competition from the neighbour to the north, has not been shy in criticising the quality of Polish food. 

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