Anthony Agostini

SUSTAINING GROWTH: Agostini’s Ltd managing director, Anthony Agostini.

MANAGING director of the publicly-traded Agostini’s Ltd, Anthony Agostini admits it is “almost embarrassing” how well the company did during the Covid-19 pandemic.

He’s cognisant that during that period some businesses struggled and folded and for now, the economy itself is also going through a tough period.

And on the road ahead is inflation and possible food shortages brought on by the war in Ukraine.

Agostini’s Ltd is majority owned by the Mouttet family and its chairman is Christian Mouttet. The company’s pandemic profitability is attributable to its two essential lines of business- fast-moving consumer goods and pharmaceuticals/healthcare.

Agostini’s after-tax profit increased by 15 per cent to $194.52 million for the year ended September 30, 2021. Its third-party revenue increased by 5.2 per cent to $3.68 billion in its 2021 financial year.

To keep on that trajectory, the company is focused on sustained growth outside of T&T.

On April 6, 2022, Agostini’s Ltd gave notice that it signed a sale and purchase agreement with the shareholders of a Barbadian company, Collins Ltd and its subsidiary Carlisle Laboratories Limited.

In an interview with the Sunday Express last Thursday, Agostini explained there are a great deal of potential synergies for the local company from the acquisition of the Barbadian firm.

He said Agostini’s Ltd is already exporting food products to the Caribbean, but the acquisition would really create synergies in the distribution and sale of pharmaceutical products.

Agostini’s Ltd is the parent company of Smith Robertson, the largest pharmaceutical distribution company in the country and SuperPharm, the largest local pharmacy chain.

Agostini noted that with Smith Robertson, the company was “pretty big” in T&T on the pharmaceutical side and SuperPharm on the retail side.

“So we’ve been trying to grow outside of T&T, and this opportunity came up in Barbados with Collins and Carlisle. Carlisle is their manufacturing arm. They manufacture a number of well known products that are sold throughout the Caribbean. On Collins’ side, they also distribute and have the rights to distribute in a lot of these small islands in the region.

“So having Collins, you sort of get a jump into the whole region. So with the expertise we have in distribution and pharmaceuticals in Trinidad, we can then play through this Collins acquisition to try and also do a good job of distribution throughout the Caribbean area,” he said.

“Collins does a fantastic job right now. We’re just saying that we’ll continue to do that and continue to see where the opportunity is and use the contacts we have from both countries, from the suppliers from both countries to see how we continue to grow,” he said.

He observed that it makes good business sense to expand in businesses that are doing well.

Agostini’s Ltd has three major pillars in the group: pharmaceutical and healthcare contributing 33 per cent of third party sales in 2021 and fast moving consumer goods (food and distribution) contributing 63 per cent. Industrial and construction add the balance.

“So we haven’t really ventured too far outside of those because those are the businesses that we have worked in for a long time and we understand them well. So if you’re doing well, you get sort of maxed out in size in one country, and so the obvious thing to do is to try and go to neighbouring countries and grow,” he explained

Asked if he felt that Smith Robinson was maxed out here in T&T, Agostini chuckled.

“Well, it’s a fairly big distributor. And you start to get a lot of conflicts of lines if you try to continue to grow. And then there’s the Fair Trading Commission that might say you have too much of a percentage share in a particular area of business. There’s no sense getting every single brand offered in a particular area and then you’ll have so much competition. The suppliers would look at you and say but you have this one and you have ours too. And it gets very tricky. You can do a certain amount of separation but when you get to a certain size, it’s difficult to add products, so it’s easier to look outside and find new markets,” he explained.

Profits

Agostini acknowledged that when the Smith Robertson acquisition of Oscar Francois took place, there were concerns about the dominance of the market share of the company.

“It’s natural that people who were looking after the consumers would raise concerns,” he said.

Last March, facing public concern over the acquisition, the FTC said it took four months to evaluate the Smith Robertson acquisition before granting it approval.

Agostini said a part of the process involved the company showing the FTC its product lines and market share.

Smith Robertson has partnerships with 28 global pharmaceutical companies, including AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Novartis, Bayer, Roche and GlaxoSmithKline.

He said Agostini’s Ltd brought in branded drugs and there were many more generic drugs on the market.

“So we had to show all of that to them, to show that even though we were bringing in two or three new houses from Oscar Francois into Smith Roberson, the consumer still had a lot of choice out there from other places, other options, generics and so on,” he said.

Last year, Smith Robertson completed its acquisition of two other pharmaceutical companies—Oscar Francois and Intersol.

According to Agostini’s 2021 annual report, the Oscar Francois/Intersol acquisition is expected to be accretive to earnings in the current financial year.

Agostini’s Ltd paid $92 million for Oscar Francois/Intersol.

The Oscar Francois/Intersol acquisition was partly financed by a long-term loan of $50 million from Republic Bank.

The acquisition of Oscar Francois/Intersol was Agostini’s group first of two in 2021. The group also acquired 100 per cent of Process Components (Pro-Com), which is in the business of distributing and servicing oilfield and manufacturing equipment. ProCom cost $78 million.

Agostini said the company is also restricted in its pricing.

“You can’t just sort of put any markup that you feel on products,” he said.

He said there are suppliers who are keen that mark-ups be fair on their products. “There are many checks and balances along the way, that you can’t just sort of run away with it. Then you have the affordability,” he said.

He noted that Smith Robertson was not affected by the shipping crisis because pharmaceuticals were coming in by air freight.

In February, the company declared after-tax profits of $90.44 million for its first quarter ended December 31, 2021, which is 37.9 per cent higher than for the comparable quarter in 2020.

It reported that revenue for the period October 1 to December 31, 2021, was $1.13 billion—which is 17.4 per cent more than its sales in the prior year.

“Our FMCG business had a robust quarter, driven by strong execution across all markets and continued growth in exports.

“Pharmaceuticals and healthcare performed well, benefiting from improved sales in distributions and retail, as well as the synergies created from the integration of Smith Robertson with the recently acquired Oscar Francois and Intersol businesses,” Mouttet had said.

The Agostini group’s revenue has almost tripled in the last ten years, increasing from $1.25 billion in 2011 to $3.42 billion in 2020. Agostini said this allowed them to increase the amount it put into the Group’s Victor and Sally Mouttet Foundation by $1 million, above the one per cent profit that each company contributes to the foundation.

The Group’s Share structure

According to the 2021 annual

report, the ten largest

shareholders are:

1. The Mouttet family owns a total of 39,925,538 Agostini’s shares, or 57.77 per cent of the company. According to the company’s 2021 annual report, 33,525,538 Agostini shares are owned through Victor E Mouttet Ltd, 4,800,000 by GNM Properties (fourth largest shareholder) and 1,600,000 through JMM Properties (seventh largest shareholder). Christian Mouttet is the chairman of the 12-member Agostini’s board while his brother Francois is a director. They are described as connected parties.

2. The Ahamad family, the owners of new car importers Southern Sales and Services, are the second largest shareholder of Agostini’s. The Ahamad’s own 10,084,712 shares in Agostini’s through two companies, Universal Ltd (second largest shareholder) and Proteus Ltd (fifth largest shareholder), which control 6,054,937 and 4,029,775 shares, respectively.

3. The National Insurance Board is the third largest shareholder with 5,951.940 shares while Republic Bank is the sixth largest shareholder with 2,001,920 shares

4. Amalgamated Securities director John M Aboud, who is a director of Agostini’s, owns 1.72 per cent of Agostini’s through Pelican Investments Ltd, with 1,189,994 shares. Pelican is the eight largest shareholder of Agostini’s. As at April 30, 2020, John Aboud indirectly owned 25 per cent of Endeavour ABRA Holdings, which owns 97.32 per cent of publicly listed Endeavour Holdings Ltd. Endeavour is the landlord of four of the nine SuperPharm stores (Price Plaza in Chaguanas, Valsayn, Gulf View and in Westmoorings).

5. First Citizens Trust is the ninth largest shareholder with 916,153 shares.

6. First Caribbean Barbados is the tenth largest shareholder with 840,000 shares.

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