10 April 2018

Rossopomodoro: The American driving the relaunch of the Italian restaurant chain
The plans of OpCapita CEO Henry Jackson. The firm has chosen Marco Airoldi, former CEO of Benetton and Roberto Colombo of Autogrill to run Rossopomodoro: "The second best-known restaurant chain in Italy after McDonald's and there is further room to grow."
In the past, when the American-native Jackson dined at Rossopomodoro's restaurants as a customer, he would order a Margherita with rocket and ham. Now that his firm OpCapita has acquired Sebeto, one of the leading Italian restaurant operators that includes the Rossopomodoro chain famous for Neapolitan pizza, it is likely that Jackson will have to sample some of the other menu items.

For the European investment firm, this is the first investment in Italy, having spent several years studying the Italian market and seeking suitable opportunities.

"We are delighted to have at last agreed to acquire a leading company based in Italy" says Jackson. "I believe this is a good market in which to operate".

Originally from New York, Jackson was previously an investment banker before starting his own business together with two colleagues, who remain in the firm today. Jackson has an appreciation for Italy and all things Italian, including the language, which he can speak. Rossopomodoro will surely receive the attention it requires to grow, because OpCapita has called in two experts to help: Roberto Colombo, ex-CFO of Autogrill, will assume the role of CEO, and Marco Airoldi, former CEO of Benetton Group and former senior partner of BCG, will become Executive Vice Chairman.

The founders Franco Manna and Pippo Montella will remain minority shareholders and continue to sit on the board, Manna as president while Montella will continue to manage the relationships with key suppliers.

Although Jackson did not provide the details of other potential acquisitions, it is known that OpCapita, which has already completed acquisitions in the United Kingdom, Spain, France and Germany, focuses on the retail, consumer and leisure sectors, and particularly businesses relevant to key stakeholders with revenues between 250 million and one billion euros, which are underperforming their potential and/or peers, so as to deliver improvements in profitability and create long-term, sustainable value.

"We have invested in numerous sectors which are very different from each other, such as furniture, clothing (German clothing retailer, NKD, which also has stores in Italy), video games and a frozen food company. We are interested in anything that is directed at consumers and has potential for growth". And the restaurant sector has this potential. "The casual dining sector in Italy is still in its infancy, but it is growing rapidly and worth around €1.4 billion, with an average increase of 8% per year since 2006" says Jackson. "This positive trend is benefitting all the chains operating in Italy and we expect further significant growth over the next five years. The phenomenon that the British call 'chainification' is a global trend with very significant annual growth rates in many countries bordering Italy".

Market share for restaurant chains for lunch and dinner has been increasing. In Italy, it represented 3% of the market 15 years ago, before rising to 4% ten years ago and today market share is at 7%. "Chains continue to be a small part of the Italian market, but in Western Europe their market share is around 22%, while in the US, chains represent 56% of the market. Rossopomodoro is the second best-known restaurant chain in Italy after McDonald's. Before thinking about expanding into other countries (even if it is already abroad, for example in the UK) we want to further improve and grow the Rossopomodoro brand in Italy".

Since the company founded by Manna and Montella has a relationship with Eataly (as Eataly's exclusive pizza supplier), could there be any closer relationship with the creator of Eataly? "It's all too early. I went to visit some of our restaurants inside Eataly in the United States and we see that the consumer loves the product, but we have not talked to Eataly yet. The relationship we have is working and I think they are a good partner for us ".

No negative thoughts on the many disruptive factors around the world that can affect market trends, like Brexit or American duties? "I have just come from a conference in Geneva and there are many unanswered questions. Nobody has a clear vision of what might happen. But for example, regarding Brexit, people continue to invest, and there are both political and economic solutions being explored. We try to focus on the fundamentals of companies and businesses that can grow, regardless of what is happening in the macro environment".

Founded in 2006, OpCapita has invested c.€600 million in businesses in the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain. OpCapita closed its second dedicated fund, OpCapita Consumer Opportunities Fund II LP, on €350 million in 2016. The team adopts a hands-on approach to the companies in which it invests, drawing on exceptional management talent to deliver on its investments.

L'Economia, 3 aprile 2018