Barry Callebaut announces 500 million Swiss franc investment plan

ZURICH (Reuters) -Swiss chocolate maker Barry Callebaut on Wednesday said it would spend 500 million Swiss francs ($563 million) over the next two years as part of a new strategic investment plan.

The world’s biggest chocolate maker said it would also overhaul its structure, increasing its number of regions from three to five while also reducing its executive committee to six members from nine previously.

The investment plan, labelled BC Next Level, aims to reduce annual costs by 250 million francs, the Zurich company said. The money will be spent on areas such as improving service, and research and development.

Savings will come from “optimising the manufacturing footprint, streamlining enabling functions, leveraging shared service centres and a rigorous focus on end-to-end supply chain excellence,” Barry Callebaut said.

The intention is to increase the speed to market of Barry Callebaut’s products, which include chocolate for food suppliers like Unilever for its Magnum ice creams and Costa Coffee for its drinking chocolate.

As part of the shake-up, current Chief Financial Officer Ben De Schryver will become the regional head of Barry Callebaut’s North American business.

He will be replaced as CFO by former Ontex CFO Peter Vanneste, effective Nov. 1.

Further details of the plan will be announced on Nov. 1, Barry Callebaut said.

The statement caused an uptick in Barry Callabaut’s share, which have lost 22.5% in the last 12 months, with analysts saying the investment represented a strong bet on new CEO Peter Feld, who took charge in April.

The plan was welcomed by Jacobs Holding, Barry Callebaut’s biggest shareholder with a 30.1% stake.

“We support the new CEO and its management team in moving the company closer to customers, in fostering simplification and digitization and in accelerating value creation,” the investor said.

“We will remain involved and fully committed to Barry Callebaut as reference shareholder in the long run.”

($1 = 0.8887 Swiss francs)

(Reporting by John RevillEditing by Miranda Murray and David Evans)