By ADEBAYO OBAJEMU
Businesses come and go but some have enduring and resilient quality to withstand storms, harsh weather, political and economic upheavals, and at the end, attain generational longevity and glory. In our clime, an hundred years is like eternity yet it may just a generation; elsewhere, there companies of several hundreds of years.
In this rarefied club of longevity, we have few members. At the beginning were Leventis J.B. Ollivant, Kingsway, UTC, Lever Brothers and PZ Cussons among the original conglomerates that dominated the business landscape at independence. Of this group of pioneers, only the PZ has remained almost in its original form and business; the rest has either disappeared completely or swallowed up.
Recently, PZ Cussons celebrated its120 years of businesses in Nigeria amid the challenges of harsh business climate and compounded by unfair competition from China. The company is part of a multinational consumer goods business, PZ Cussons Plc. It manufactures and distribute some of the most popular brands in Nigeria, from Imperial Leather to Cussons Baby, Morning Fresh to Thermocool and Robb. Its products are in five core categories – personal care, beauty, home care, food and nutrition and electricals.
Impact of Competition and Harsh Environment
PZ Cussons’ revenue has come under pressure in recent years due to weak consumer demand following the recession of 2014 to 2017. The firm makes a wide range of consumer products which includes electrical appliances, personal and home care products, and dairy brands under the Nutricima business line which includes Nunu, Olympic and Coast milk brands as well as drinking yoghurt “Yo!”
PZ Cussons Nigeria 2018 full year profit halved as a result of weak consumer demand, competition and higher borrowing cost last year. PZ Cussons issued low profit warning ahead of release of first-half results. These challenges fueled speculations that the company may be contemplating divesting from the country, which it however strong refuted.
The company had a challenging 2018FY, with Q4 earnings particularly showing persisting difficult trading conditions. PZ Group (the parent company) did confirm that trading conditions in Nigeria have been the “toughest” it has experienced “in many years”, with less optimistic outlook. In response, the group is implementing a number of revenue improvement initiatives, including cost savings, but the immediate impact on earnings is difficult to adapt into its model, given the extremely uncertain economic and consumer recovery, as well as inflation outlook.
Nevertheless, BusinessHallmark’s findings revealed that some of the company’s products such as Robb, Morning Fresh, Thermocool and Imperial Leather are leaders in the market segments.
At Agege market Mrs. Alice Johnson, a distributor said “though the competition is keen in the category of household products, Morning Fresh still out sells its competitors. Also Robb has never lost its lustre, though in recent year, Aboliki from Benin is giving it a run.”
At Abule Egba, Martin Electricals, a distributor of electrical and electronics products, Mrs. Yewande Sesan, a business woman came to purchase a fridge. When asked why she picked Thermocool, her reply was sharp and brisk: “I cannot trade Thermocool for another brand .” One of the store attendants who identified himself as Kayode said most people that come to the store ask for Thermocool.
At Pelewura market in Lagos Island, most of the stores visited by this reporter said Morning Fresh, Thermocool and Robb are still market leaders.
Revenue Improvement Initiatives
The Group said pack resizing and new launches have taken place across the HPC portfolio, with a view to improving revenue going forward. In Electricals, a new range of energy efficient models “suitable” for the Nigerian market has been launched to offer a competitive hedge in 2019E.
BusinessHallmark learnt that the company is focusing on portfolio expansion, accessibility, affordability, and push for higher margin – a trend observed among the universe of local consumer goods companies.
Ambrose Omordion, a consumer analyst and stock broker told BusinessHallmark that PZ Cussons has been “passing through harsh weather, like many companies in the country. To be a serious manufacturing company in Nigeria is really challenging but it has kept faith. It has a conservative business model, probably, things will be better, but now I can forecast 5% revenue growth in 2019E, as the group’s trading statement in June suggests trading conditions are yet to improve in Nigeria as at early Q1-19.
“But the company still retained its average 10% revenue growth forecast for 2020-2021E on better economic outlook, as it expects the new launches would have gained stronger acceptability among consumers.”
Efforts to speak with the company’s public affairs manager on their challenges failed as he was said to have travelled, and calls to his mobile phone was not answered.
As it celebrates its 120th year anniversary in Nigeria, the company says it remains committed to the Nigerian economy and will continue to invest in expanding its business and resources to ensure increasingly better returns for its shareholders.
PZ Cussons Nigeria reaffirmed that it believes the Nigerian economy has enormous potential and it will continue to partner with the government in the development of the economy. This assurance was made recently when a delegation of the Board and Management of PZ Cussons Nigeria led by the Chief Executive Officer, Mr. Christos Giannopoulos visited the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) to commemorate the company’s 12 decades of operations in Nigeria.
Giannopoulos assured that PZ Cussons Nigeria, which has been listed on the NSE for 58 years, remained committed to growing its business and delivering better returns to shareholders.
“We are 58 years on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE). We are here to stay, we are not going anywhere. Investors need to have confidence in our shares. We have in the region of 76,000 shareholders which we are expected to make returns to and they have been getting returns from consistent dividends declared by the company over the years that we have been listed,” Giannopoulos said.
According to him, the company’s future is bright as Nigeria continues to offer growth opportunities as the biggest economy in Africa and population in excess of 190 million.
“We will continue to invest and expand on our capacity; we always upgrade our equipment so that we have the latest and best produce quality products. Let me assure our shareholders and other stakeholders, we are here and very strong though we are going through challenges right now, but the fundamentals of the company are extremely good. The financial results are positive and not negative,” Giannopoulos said.
He pointed out that the seeming low liquidity of the company’s shares on the Exchange was due to shareholders’ loyalty as investors who have the company’s shares hardly want to sell noting that with more than 76,000 shareholders, the company has a large domestic shareholders’ base.
He outlined that the company is focusing on its investment in palm oil as a growth sector of the Nigerian economy, pointing out that the company had made significant investment in capacity expansion in the last four years.
“Palm oil, for us, is very important. For me, it is, probably, number or number two biggest agricultural opportunity for Nigeria because the world started palm oil from Nigeria; the first fruit came from here.
We are working very closely with government and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to ensure that we find ways to fund small farmers for palm oil. So, we have been working together. We have already started a number of initiatives. It takes time, like three to five years to grow and start producing significant palm oil,” Giannopoulos said.
How it all began
PZ Cussons’ history dates back to the 1800’s, when the minds of two extraordinary people – George Paterson and George Zochonis – met in Sierra Leone and embarked on a journey of exploration and opportunity. The company has witnessed and survived many storms, and was listed on the Nigeria Stock Exchange in 1958.
The company is PZ Cusson’s largest and most diverse single market, operating in Personal Care, Home Care, Food and Nutrition and Electricals.
Key Categories and Brands
Personal Care – Imperial Leather, Carex, Cussons Baby, Premier, Robb, Venus, Joy Home Care – Zip, Morning Fresh
Electricals – Haier Thermocool, TEC
Food and Nutrition – Yo!, Nunu, Coast, Mamador, Devon King’s and Olympic