(Bloomberg) -- Nestle SA put its Palforzia peanut-allergy treatment up for sale only two years after buying it, as Chief Executive Officer Mark Schneider reverses course on one of his biggest acquisitions beyond the Swiss company’s traditional food and beverage operations.
Schneider told investors Tuesday that Nestle is trying to correct mistakes quickly and aims for consistent results in the coming years even as the market becomes more volatile. He set new targets for earnings growth and profitability through 2025.
“We did have high hopes for this business,” the CEO said, speaking at a strategy seminar in Barcelona. “Instead of a blockbuster, what this looks like more and more is a very potent and very successful niche therapy.”
The course-correction is the biggest strategy shift since the Swiss company was targeted by activist investor Third Point in 2017. Nestle bought out the maker of Palforzia in a $2.6 billion deal in 2020, and its launch was marred by the pandemic. Going forward, Schneider said Nestle will sharpen the focus of the health-science unit on consumer products and medical nutrition, areas that benefit from relatively inelastic demand.
Nestle will seek potential partners for the business or consider a straight sale, Greg Behar, head of the Nestle Health Science business, told investors. The company expects a significant impairment related to Palforzia, he added. Pharma will no longer be an area for expansion via M&A.
Palforzia’s marketing investments weighed down the health-science business’s profitability, and after the pandemic eased, it became apparent that fewer than expected patients would take up the drug, Schneider said.
The CEO set new financial targets Tuesday ahead of an investor meeting in Barcelona. Underlying earnings per share should rise 6% to 10% annually in constant currency through 2025, the maker of Nespresso capsules and DiGiorno pizzas said. Schneider also gave margin targets for those years that exceed analysts’ estimates.
Palforzia is the first and only treatment that has approval from the US Food and Drug Administration to be sold to help reduce the severity of allergic reactions to peanuts, which can be fatal. The Swiss company originally expected the treatment could become a blockbuster with sales of $1 billion.
Nestle shares fell as much as 1.1% in Zurich.
Schneider’s M&A track record is mostly positive, with the CEO completing more than 60 deals during his seven years as CEO. Nestle said the net annual return on acquisitions since 2018 is between 11% and 13%. Schneider admitted that two exceptions have been Palforzia and Freshly, a meal-subscription company Nestle bought in 2020 for $950 million.
Nestle has agreed to merge Freshly with Kettle Cuisine, a gourmet food company owned by private equity firm L Catterton. The Swiss company will hold a minority stake.
Schneider also said Nestle will keep looking for acquisition targets and that there are M&A opportunities in the vitamin, mineral and supplement sector. The 57-year-old CEO said he’s fully committed to his job and is “here for the long-term.”
The company has gained 86 billion francs ($91 billion) in market value under his watch.
Nestle raised its sales forecast for this year to organic growth between 8% and 8.5%. The previous guidance was about 8%. The company also forecast that its underlying trading operating margin should grow to between 17.5% and 18.5% by 2025, up from about 17% this year.
(Updates with comments from Nestle Health Science chief in fifth paragraph.)
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