Brazil’s Stratus Launches Consolidation Push in Food and Drugstore Sectors

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Source: WSJ PRO - Private Equity
By Luis Garcia

Brazil’s Stratus Group has finished deploying its second fund with two deals that will put the midmarket investor’s “buy-and-build” strategy to test.

The São Paulo private-equity firm in the past three months acquired majority stakes in Farma Participações SA—the owner of pharmacy chain Poupafarma—and packaged-food company Alnutri Alimentos Ltda. for a total of about 200 million Brazilian reais ($54.6 million), said Álvaro Gonçalves, a Stratus co-founder and managing partner. Poupafarma and Alnutri became the first operational companies of two platforms—Investfarma SA and DGH Participações SA, also called DGH Foods, respectively—Stratus created to expand each business.

The acquisitions were the final two transactions Stratus made out of its previous fund, Stratus Capital Partners II, which closed in 2014 on $150 million and now is fully invested, according to Mr. Gonçalves.

During the next two years, Stratus plans to invest a total of at least BRZ350 million, including through co-investments, in new acquisitions by both platforms, he said.

Stratus has raised at least $46.2 million so far of the $200 million it is seeking for its third fund, Stratus Capital Partners III, according to documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The amount may not include commitments from investors based in Brazil and other markets outside the U.S. The $200 million offering amount indicated in the recent SEC filing is lower than the $250 million the firm was looking to raise back in 2017.

With the Poupafarma and Alnutri deals, Stratus went beyond its traditional approach to buying companies and then helping them expand. The firm established the pharmacy and food platforms before pursuing the deals. It hired management teams not only to run the businesses but to also lead acquisition efforts, Mr. Gonçalves said.

“You can apply the consolidation model simply by investing in a company and when it can, it will buy others,” he said. “Or you can have a project that already contemplates many companies…which is the case of these two deals.”

Investfarma will look for acquisition targets that can more easily replicate Poupafarma’s discount model. That includes smaller and streamlined drugstores located in lower-income areas, Mr. Gonçalves said.

“This is the big challenge of the business,” he said. “Try to establish an operation based on discount[s].”

Poupafarma operates about 90 stores in São Paulo state and generates about BRZ450 million in annual revenue, he said. Stratus plans to expand the chain in smaller cities and neighborhoods surrounding larger ones, where Brazil’s main drugstore brands still have a limited presence, according to Mr. Gonçalves.

Investfarma’s acquisitions likely will become part of Poupafarma’s chain, he said. But Stratus plans to turn DGH into a holding company that houses many different brands of regional packaged-dry food distributors, of which Alnutri is the first. He added that Brazil currently suffers a shortage of such distributors with a national presence in Brazil.

“In theory, the entry barrier for this business is low,” he said. “But then companies can’t get enough critical mass to distribute products very far from [their factories].”

Based in Contagem, a city in central Brazil, Alnutri supplies dry-food products such as beans, peas, peanuts, as well as corn and manioc flour, to supermarkets and other retailers. The company recorded about BRZ300 million in revenue last year, Mr. Gonçalves said.

Including the two new deals and co-investments, Stratus has deployed a total of around $210 million of Fund II across 17 deals, he added. Ten of those deals were add-on acquisitions for platforms Stratus has established in the movie theater, fleet outsourcing, contact center, fitness gym and logistics sectors. The most recent of these add-on acquisitions include two units of Swiss logistics company Kuehne + Nagel International AG that Stratus portfolio company BBM Logística SA purchased in 2017.